May 28, 2022

University of Virginia: A Collaborative Effort Will Preserve Physical Card Catalog Containing 4 Million Cards

From UVA Today:

As preparations continue for the renovation of Alderman Library, which replaced the Rotunda as UVA’s central library in 1938, a volunteer effort is preserving one small part of its past: the card catalog.

Created over a 50-year span from 1939 to 1989, that catalog grew to about 4 million cards in 65 cabinets with 4,000 drawers.

These little index cards from the library’s old physical card catalog might contain information that is unique about a particular book – and therefore, the library’s holdings and the University’s history. The information neatly typed on the cards – which library workers sometimes supplemented with handwritten notes on front and back – includes details that in many cases are not typically part of the electronic catalog system, Virgo, that the University Library switched to in 1989. At the time, the catalog was transferred by scanning that captured only the front of the cards.


Last week, as English professor Elizabeth Fowler moved stacks of cards in an orderly fashion into file boxes labeled with particular call number sequences, she said, “We don’t know what future research will be like. We can’t predict that.”

Fowler, who described the library as “the laboratory of the humanities,” was one of about 40 volunteers who answered a call to help pack up the cards. Two Ph.D. candidates in the English department, Neal Curtis and Samuel Lemley, are spearheading the volunteer project. Fowler described them as “selfless” for taking the time to help the next generation of researchers.

In addition to volunteers packing up the cards this week, their effort will continue with fund-raising to ensure that the information from the catalog cards will be available eventually through the online catalog.

Read the Complete Article (approx. 1400 words)

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.