Wednesday, July 06, 2011
Years after it fell in to disuse, Princeton University's Firestone Library is doing away with its card catalog. As an alumnus who did a lot of work in that library and the son of a librarian (indeed, a Firestone librarian), I have warm feelings about that catalog. Years later, I know what the drawers feel like, and I can remember the particular smell of the old cards. None of that, though, kept me from chuckling at this bit of academic "eco theater":
In mid-July, the Firestone card catalog will be dismantled and recycled....
The wooden sides and tops of the cabinets will be taken apart carefully and saved so they can be re-used in paneling or furniture in the renovated building. The fronts of the drawers will be removed and reassembled later in a display wall honoring the history of the library. The cards themselves will be sent out for recycling.
I find it hard to believe that this bit of conservation -- especially the part about saving the wood for use in no doubt custom, site-built "paneling or furniture" -- is not substantially more expensive than conventional demo. But Princeton has lots of money and loyal alumni who will give more (I am among them), so it should not surprise us that the university would spend some of it to this end, if for no other reason than to avoid the inevitable campus controversy over not "recycling" the catalog.
I worked in libraries in college, and my wife is a librarian. We're both plenty sentimental about stuff like card catalogs and microfiche. I'd love to see the card catalogs get used for something cool.
But I know it's a waste, errrr, *use* of resources, and I don't pretend otherwise. Sure, it's more expensive than standard demo and then some IKEA chairs or something -- and I'm fine with that. The idea that it is somehow more "eco" is just laughable non-sense. "Eco" is largely just a fashionable prefix for "greenwashing" things. People want to believe, they want to assuage their vague guilt about ecological impact, but they don't have any obvious effective options that don't require any serious impact on their own lives. (I'm just as bad.)
Princeton is not just your average, everyday University. You would think someone would want to preserve the cards, and their drawers for a few hundred years or so. Instead our great great grand children will have to look at digital replicas.