Incidentally, if you’re still into the old-school library card catalog cards, Demco still sells the red ruled cards!
- Wright, Alex. Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age. Oxford University Press, 2014.
- Duncan, Dennis. Index, A History of the: A Bookish Adventure from Medieval Manuscripts to the Digital Age. 1st Edition, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2022.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.