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The More Things Change…

July 20, 2009

When people say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” I catch their drift, but I’m not sure they’re saying what they mean.

I think it’s true that while things change all the time, people remain largely the same in their needs and behaviors. Thus, human behavior hasn’t changed much in the last century, although many things about our lives have changed.

It’s also true that things change all the time but only occasionally is something improved. Are emails better than letters? Email is a great addition to our communication options. It’s fast like a phone call but politely passive, too.

However, email invites fast response, leading to carelessness in spelling and, sometimes, thought. Direct mail solicitation costs money; email Spam costs almost nothing and so proliferates.

What’s better than email? Text-messaging? It is for phone companies, which charge a premium for the service, despite it being less demanding of a network than a voice call.

Sometimes, the excellence of old-fashioned ways is forgotten, such as clean, clear phone calls. Even in the big city with better cell phone service, I find cell phone conversations thin and uncertain. Something is missing.

Consider books on tape. There’s even a company by that name, although we’re several generations removed from tape. Most audiobooks come on CDs now, and there are also books as MP3 files on CD and as downloadable files from the Internet.

However, if you don’t have a CD player or MP3 player that can “bookmark” were you left off, playing an audiobook can be tiresome. Audiotapes, of course, have a built-in “bookmark.” You stop the tape. You start the tape.

And believe it or not, tapes are more rugged than CDs, which scratch if you look at them wrong.

The Dewey Decimal System has been called old-fashioned, despite the fact that it is continually updated. There are other systems for organizing books, etc., on shelves. The Library of Congress system is typically used by universities.

The Rangeview Library District north of Denver recently converted from Dewey to BISAC, a system used by book stores. Some people love it, but any possible advantage for browsers is quickly lost in a large collection.

In the old days at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, I usually went to a clerk at a computer terminal to pinpoint exactly where I should look for a particular book. Shelf browsing is better rewarded by Dewey, I think.

For some people, the old card catalog remains unsurpassed by any new computer catalog system. You didn’t have to ask anything of the card catalog. It just sat there waiting for you to flip through its cards.

Of course, you couldn’t use it from home as you can a modern library catalog, and cards could go missing, as they often did in university libraries. You couldn’t perform keyword searches or place a hold from home.

An old card catalog was full of hidden beauty: beautiful, old-fashioned handwriting; interesting annotations (especially in old university catalogs); old printing on aging card stock.

We still use one small card catalog for our old sheet music collection.

Otherwise, we haven’t used the card catalogs in a decade. And so it’s time to move them out of the basement.

We’ve had inquiries over the years, and so we’ve decided to do a silent auction for the two larger card catalog files. They’re on display outside the meeting room until Friday. Then, the gavel comes down.

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