Computers displacing card index

By Katrina Kelly

Computer-shy students hunting for books in NIU’s Founders Memorial Library might not find what they’re looking for in the library’s card catalog.

The library’s seven computer terminals now store most of the information needed to locate library books, and a freeze on the card catalog has caused a discrepancy between information filed on the computers and listings in the card catalog.

“Traditional users of the library card catalog are only interested in (a book’s) author and title, and that information is not being filed (in the card catalog),” said Ted Welch, director of NIU libraries.

“Effective July 1, 1987, author/title cards were no longer filed (in the card catalog),” said Elizabeth Titus, the library’s assistant director for public services.

The library stopped filing books by subject in the card catalog on July 1 of this year, she said.

Titus said the library is in a “transition period” because of the dual cataloging system. She called the LCS (library computer system) terminals “the next generation of the card catalog.”

The concept of a closed card catalog—one to which no cards indexing new books are added—”is under review and discussion,” she said.

Welch said the library “wants to stop (using) cards entirely.” The annual budget to maintain the card catalog, including the cards and the labor involved in typing and filing them, is about $12,000, he said.

The card catalog is not the only indexing method suffering a lag in accuracy. “For a little while, there will be a slip (a difference between books the library has and those listed on the computer),” he said.

Titus said once the library receives a book, it takes three to six months to process it and put it on a shelf. During this time, the book shows up on the LCS terminal with its call number.

“There is always a time lag, but a book can now be traced sooner,” she said.

LCS terminals include a “user interface,” which means the computer’s user is given continuous instructions to follow while searching for a book. Titus said the computers soon will be connected to printers, which will give students a copy of the information they find on the terminals.

The computer system is not without its disadvantages, though. The small number of LCS terminals makes fast reference difficult at times. “Using one computer is like hogging the entire card catalog,” Welch said.

The library plans to add five LCS terminals to the five computers already located in the general reference section, he said. Welch estimated the computers will cost $1,500 to $2,000 each.