I still remember the old card catalog at the main university library. I don’t think I ever used it. My mom worked in the cataloging department and sometimes I’d walk by the rows of drawers on my way to the reading room, where I’d sit and read children’s books or Garfield comics while I waited for her work to end so we could go home. Once, during a summer when I’d been at the office more often – probably after some regularly scheduled daytime activity – someone pushing a shelving cart stopped me as I walked through the cataloging department with a kid’s book in hand and, perhaps thinking I was enrolled in a course on children’s literature, asked: “Do you go here now?”
A few blocks away, in library automation, my dad and his colleagues eventually put the card catalog out of existence. When it was finally dismantled, library staff were given the option of carrying the old cards home. Even now, decades later, you can still find catalog cards in my parents’ house, usually by the phone, the blank sides serving as scratch paper for notetaking.
I’ve grown up around libraries, but until recently I never seriously considered working in one. I’m still not sure I ever will. It would be easy to draw a direct line from my experience as a grad student in history, spending much of my time in libraries and archives, to my current position as a graduate student in the field of libraries and archives, but it wouldn’t be right. I’ll explain why in a later post.
The Krugman anecdote silbey excerpts here reminds me of how I ended up finally deciding, after leaning that way for about a year, to major in history. I was sitting in a political science lecture when the professor, who had worked out a generalized model for explaining certain phenomena, said somewhat off-handedly that while political scientists try to simplify things and create models, historians pick at those models and point out all the ways they don’t quite fit particular instances.
At least that was the gist of what he said; it’s been years since I took that class and I remember him making the point in a pithier way. He wasn’t disparaging history, but it was clear from the way he said it (if it wasn’t already clear from the fact of his being a political science professor) that he preferred the political science way of thinking. Anyway, I heard that and I thought, that settles it–I’m majoring in history.