Remembrance of Things Past: or, The Card Catalog – ACCESS CLOSED!

What better way to close Open Access week than with a post on the card catalog? The Library of Congress’s In Custodia Legis (the blog of the law librarians of congress) has posted a photo of a notice users still find at the entrance to the card catalog, and librarian Christine Sellers explains: “When you walk into the Reading Room of the Law Library of Congress, you might notice something you haven’t seen in a while. A card catalog that is still in use, though no new cards have been added since December 1980.”

Open Access is necessary – efficient, effective, fair. But more, the virtual world, its backlit windows, are like Whitman’s “…Houses and rooms [are] full of perfumes, the shelves [are[ crowded with perfumes, I breathe the fragrance myself and know it and like it, The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.” Though we can not smell it, the virtual world still attracts us, like a sterile flower.

We miss not just the card catalog, its thumb-worn cards housed in red oak, carefully annotated by the librarian’s perfect pencil, but we miss too the smell of the open stacks, the aisles and shelves of books like Ferlinghetti’s Backroads to Far Places. But that’s not all we remember and miss. We miss the mimeograph machine, helping teacher turn the drum, watching the press emerge, holding the freshly inked papers to our face, smelling the wet ink. We miss the feel and smell of the pages of books, the large windows full of available light, and when the sun slanted through the library windows on warm summer evenings, the lighted air in the high-ceilinged library, like Ezra Pound’s, from Canto XCIII: “…The light there almost solid.”

Free Parking at the Library of Congress

ParkingWe try to imagine a world without cars. Given our experience, it’s difficult: our MOS was wheeled and track vehicle mechanic; we parked cars at the old LA International while working our way through college; we underwrote autos for a time. Our first car was a 1956 Chevy, purchased for $75 from our friend Gary leaving for Vietnam – he never returned. Our second car was a 1949 Ford pickup truck, called the “Peace Truck” for a small peace sign decal we put in the center of the rear window – we used the truck for surf trips. Then we went through a series of old Volkswagens, mostly bugs, but we did have a VW van for a time – it blew a rod one night on way home from a Jimmy Hendrix concert. We try to imagine Kerouac’s On the Road without cars: impossible.

We try to imagine a parking space at the very spot and time we need one. We’ve always talked to our cars, but parking spaces don’t listen. We remember our first time parking in the Columbia Tower in Seattle: the entrance to the underground parking garage is a concrete circle that descends quickly around and around and around for seven stories below the building, the massive concrete beams just inches overhead – not a place for the claustrophobic, almost as bad as the MRI machine, another circle of hell. Dante would love it, were he in Seattle with a car to park. After parking, one must take four separate elevators to get to even the 33rd floor.

John Grisham’s A Painted House contains a theme related to cars: it’s 1952 and the characters are struggling to survive on small cotton farms in rural Arkansas; some leave for the north, where they find jobs in the automobile industry, in Flint, and they travel back in their big new automobiles to visit and show off. The irony in the end of the story, underdeveloped, is that as the main characters finally give up the dream of making the farm work and follow the exodus to Flint, today’s reader knows they’ll be back – imagine cities full of hollow parking garages, empty parking lots.

What in the world brought on this reverie of the car? A road trip? A particularly gruesome commute? No. This, a post at the Inside Adams blog at the Library of Congress site: “Long Live the Parking Garage.” There will be free parking as soon as we get rid of the cars; meantime, we should caution you that if you are susceptible to following links you may never find your way out of the parking garage post.