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What is an online library catalog?

A database of library materials

photograph of a card catalog

An online library catalog is an electronic bibliographic database that describes the books, videotapes, periodicals, etc. carried by a particular library.

The online library catalog evolved from a printed source, the library card catalog. Before the advent of online catalogs, library catalogs were pieces of furniture that contained numerous small drawers. In these drawers were contained the records of particular items in the library.

These records were printed on small 3"X5" cards and each element of that record had an individual card produced for it. So for each item in the library there was:

A copy of John Grisham's The Firm might have four different cards filed in the different catalog areas: one for the author's name, one for the title, and one for each subject heading, like those below.

You could only search one element at a time and this could take quite a bit of time from your schedule. Very few libraries in Georgia have card catalogs anymore, but you might see the chest of small drawers hidden in a dark corner in some libraries.

Author card Author card: Grisham, John.  'PS3557 .R5355 F57 1991' in upper left corner. 'Grisham, John. The firm / John Grisham. 1st. ed. New York: Doubleday, c1991. 421p. ; 24 cn. 1. Government investigators--Fiction. 2. Organized crime--Fiction.'

Title card Title card: The firm. 'PS3557 .R5355 F57 1991' in upper left corner. 'Grisham, John.  The firm/ John Grisham. 1st. ed. New York: Doubleday, c1991. 421p. ; 24 cn. 1. Government investigators--Fiction. 2. Organized crime--Fiction.'

Subject card Subject card: Organized crime--Fiction 'PS3557 .R5355 F57 1991' in upper left corner. 'Grisham, John. The firm / John Grisham. 1st. ed. New York: Doubleday, c1991. 421p. ; 24 cn. 1. Government investigators--Fiction. 2. Organized crime--Fiction.'

Subject card Subject card: Government investigators--Fiction. 'PS3557 .R5355 F57 1991' in upper left corner. 'Grisham, John. The firm / John Grisham. 1st. ed. New York: Doubleday, c1991. 421p. ; 24 cn. 1. Government investigators--Fiction. 2. Organized crime--Fiction.'

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