Surfing around with respect to library card catalogs, I ran across John Blyberg‘s Library Card Generator this afternoon. Anyone who’s playing at the intersection of analog and digital zettelkasten is sure to love the possibilities here.

Yellowed library card catalog card with top red horizontal line and two vertical lines that split the card into three colums. Printed on the card are a red 9/8j on the left with the contents of Niklas Luhmann's jokerzettel card typed out. There are a few scribbles handwritten onto the card as well.

Incidentally, if you’re still into the old-school library card catalog cards, Demco still sells the red ruled cards!

Book Club on Cataloging the World and Index, A History of the

Dan Allosso has been hosting a regular book club for a few years centered around sense making, note taking, and topics like economics, history, and anthropology. Our next iteration over the coming month or so will focus on two relatively recent books in the area of intellectual history and knowledge management:

This iteration of the book club might be fruitful for those interested in note taking, commonplacing, or zettelkasting. If you’re building or designing a note taking application or attempting to create one for yourself using either paper (notebooks, index cards) or digital tools like Obsidian, Logseq, Notion, Bear, TinderBox etc. having some background on the history and use of these sorts of tools for thought may give you some insight about how to best organize a simple, but sustainable digital practice for yourself.

The first session will be on Saturday, February 17 24, 2024 and recur weekly from 8:00 AM – 10:00 Pacific. Our meetings are usually very welcoming and casual conversations over Zoom with the optional beverage of your choice. Most attendees are inveterate note takers, so there’s sure to be discussion of application of the ideas to current practices.

To join and get access to the Zoom links and the shared Obsidian vault we use for notes and community communication, ping Dan Allosso with your email address. 

Happy reading!

My Reading Practices for Book Club Selections

As part of my reading process, particularly for book club related reading, I’ve lately settled on what seems to be a particularly productive method of reading for my needs. Generally I’ll pull up a short review or two to see what the topic broadly covers as well as to see how others are associating it to their own areas of work. I’ll usually do a quick inspectional flip through the table of contents and index to highlight any thing I think is particularly relevant to me. 

Following this, I’ll check out an audiobook copy of the text from my local library and listen to it at 1.5 to 2x speed. This allows me to highlight/bookmark some of the most interesting portions and gives me a good inspectional read as well as a solid first read through. I can then read either a physical copy of the book or a digital one and more thoroughly mark it up in an analytical read.

Sometimes I don’t manage to get to the analytical portion until after some preliminary discussion for the book club, but the process allows me to be better prepared for our discussion which also helps me to be better informed for the analytical portion of the process. Obviously the more I’m able to do prior to the book club discussion, the better things can potentially go in terms of what I’m able to contribute with respect to the conversation I’ve had with the book to be able to share with others.

When it’s not a particularly dense/interesting text, or it’s fiction, I can easily leave off a full analytical read and still manage to get most of what I feel the book has to offer.

Three notebooks stacked up next to three separate piles of 1,300 index cards.

On average, the typical A5 sized notebook (Leuchtturm, Hobonichi, Stalogy, Moleskine, Midori, Clairefontaine, Apica, Kleid, etc. ranging from 192 to 368 pages) has an equivalent square footage of writing surface to the front (only) of about 420 4 x 6 inch index cards. On a cost basis, for the same amount of money, on average one can buy 1,200 index cards for what they’re shelling out for equivalent notebooks.

Steelcase 8 Drawer Steel Card Index Filing Cabinet for 4 x 6 inch cards

Maybe I didn’t have enough filing space for index cards yet? Maybe it was because the price was too alluring to resist? Maybe it was because of the stunning black and grey powder coat? Maybe it was because I didn’t have any serious Steelcase in my atomic era furniture collection yet? Maybe it was the stunning art deco styling touches on the aluminum drawer handles and label frames? Regardless of the reason, the undeniable fact of the matter is that, as of yesterday, I’ve got another card index filing cabinet or zettelkasten. 

The empty frame of the black Steelcase filing cabinet sitting in a corner next to a wooden barrister's bookcase. Eight empty drawers lined up on the floor in a 4x2 matrix makes it easy to see the storage capacity of the Steelcase card index. Close up of one of the 16 aluminum index frames on the exterior of the cabinet featuring several sets of milled lines in each frame giving it an art-deco vibe. Fully assembled Steelcase card index filing cabinet next to a bookcase

This one is is a 20 gauge solid steel behemoth Steelcase in black and silver powder coat and it is in stunning condition with all the hardware. It stands 52 1/4 inches tall, is 14 7/8 inches wide, and 28 1/2 inches deep (without hardware). Each drawer had two rows of card storage space totaling 55 inches. With 8 drawers, this should easily hold 61,000 index cards. 

Close up on a single drawer full of 7,000 cellophane wrapped index cards in blocks of 500.

Sadly, someone has removed all the card following blocks. I’ll keep an eye out for replacements, but I’m unlikely to find some originals, though I could probably also custom design my own. In the meanwhile I find that a nice heavy old fashioned glass or a cellophaned block of 500 index cards serve the same functionality. The drawer dimensions are custom made for 4 x 6 inch index cards, but A6 cards and Exacompta’s 100 x 150mm cards fit comfortably as well. One of the drawers also has a collection of 3.5 x 5.5 inch pocket notebooks (most are Field Notes) which are also easily archivable within it.

Based on the styling, I’m guessing it dates from the 1940s to early 1960s, but there are no markings or indications, and it will take some research to see if I can pin down a more accurate date.

Close up feature of the aluminum handle, index frame, and lock mechanism on the front of the Steelcase drawers. Each features matching milled lines which give an art deco feel to the cabinet.

A few of the indexing label frames on the unit are upside down and one or two are loose, but that’s easily fixed by removing a screw and cover plate in the front of the drawer and making a quick adjustment. I’ve also got a few extra metal clips to fix the loose frames.

Two metal rectangle clips with a small hole punched out of their centers. These would grab onto the posts of the index frames to hold them onto the filing cabinet

Much like my Singer card index, this one has internal sliding metal chassis into which the individual drawers sit. This allows them to be easily slid out of the cabinet individually for use on my desk or away from the cabinet. The drawers come with built-in handles at the back of the drawer for making carrying them around as trays more comfortable. The drawers are 10.6 pounds each, each chassis is 4.6 pounds, and the cabinet itself is probably 120 pounds giving the entire assembly a curb weight of about 240 pounds.

Angle on a Steelcase card index drawer and chassis. The back of the drawer features a hole just large enough to put one's hand through to make carrying the drawer as a tray easier. Card index drawer on the floor in front of a Steelcase filing cabinet with a steel drawer chassis pulled out. The Steelcase card index with a few drawers inserted, but one removed and featuring the silver metal chassis which is pulled out to accept its drawer.

Placed just behind my desk, I notice that the drawer width is just wide enough, that I can pull out the fourth drawer from the bottom and set my Smith-Corona Clipper on top of it. This makes for a lovely makeshift typing desk. The filing cabinet’s black powder coat is a pretty close match to that of the typewriter.

A drawer is pulled out of the filing cabinet and a black typewriter sits on top of it as an impromptu typing desk.

I’ve already moved the majority of my cards into it and plan to use it as my daily driver. This may mean that the Singer becomes overflow storage once I’m done refurbishing it. The Shaw-Walker box, which was just becoming too full and taking up a lot of desk real estate, will find a life in the kitchen or by the bar as my recipe box.

I’ve also noticed that some of my smaller 3 x 5″ wooden card indexes sit quite comfortably into the empty drawers as a means of clearing off some desk space if I wish.

This may be my last box acquisition for a while. Someone said if I were to add any more, I’ll have moved beyond hobbyist collector and into the realm of museum curator.

View of a steel desk with a typewriter on top of it. Behind the desk is a swivel chair, a Steelcase card index, and a barrister bookcase full of books.