USC Gets Rid of its Card Catalog but ... Ours Holds the Dead

USC will be getting rid of its card catalog. Its demise is happening with celebration. Staff at the University of South Carolina’s Thomas Cooper Library are working to hold a series of events called “It’s All in the Cards” to honor the card catalog, its use in the transformation of knowledge, and the people who created and used it.

Two personal reflections:

1. Back in my Library School days, I was an intern in the Thomas Cooper Library's Technical Services department which means I helped create some of the more than 4 million cards stored in 3168 drawers.(Nothing has been added since 1991). Although seldom does a month go by without a customer saying, "I liked the card catalog cards better," if you ever had to make or edit the physical cards, you wouldn't find the destruction of a paper-based card catalog file so lamentable. Hands down, without any doubt, without any equivocation, well designed and implemented library automated catalogs are vastly superior to the old hand-typed, hand-filed card sets that every library had when I entered Libraryland in the 1980s. The trouble is in building a reliable, dependable, data rich automated library catalog and keeping it running day-in and day-out (and yes, this is a not-so-oblique reference to the current and continuing problems with the SCLENDS catalog).

2. When I interviewed with Beaufort County Library back in 1999, one of the questions I was asked was: "What is your least favorite library task?" "Filing catalog cards." "The SC Room has the only card catalog file left in the library system -- but we use it to file obituaries." (Hillary Barnwell, RIP) Surprise: I got the job anyway.

And 10+ years later, we are still filing obituaries in the card files in the re-named Beaufort District Collection -- but I make the Beloved BDC docents do it now so I don't have to! When you get to be the manager, sometimes you can pawn off tasks you hate to others. And we're still thinking how best to get the information about who is listed in those files out to the public. For those of you who want to see, smell, and thumb through a library card catalog, drop by the BDC Research Room. We'll show you ours.

Currently, there are in excess of 20,000 people represented in the files. That's a fairly good sized database to keep up. We have reached the practical limits of the html format so we're trying another format that allows us more flexibility about adding and editing the information. We're running a BETA version of our re-designed Online Obituary File. Please try the BETA version and tell me what you think at

About the Author

Grace Cordial has been responsible for the day-to-day operation of the Beaufort District Collection at the Beaufort County Library since 1999.  The Beaufort District Collection exists to acquire, preserve, maintain and make accessible a research collection of permanent value which records the history, culture, and environment of our part of the South Carolina lowcountry.  Besides the research room, Cordial manages the “Virtual BDC:” the BDC web pages, the Online Obituary Index, two digital collections, a new BDC.BCL Facebook page, and the Connections blog.  
Among her duties is to coordinate or present programs about local history, Gullah culture, and our coastal environment, including occasional instructional sessions about how to perform historical and/or genealogical research.