Skip navigation
Hardcover | $32.00 Short | £30.95 | ISBN: 9780262015899 | 224 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 24 figures, 1 table| August 2011
 

Paper Machines

About Cards & Catalogs, 1548-1929

Overview

Today on almost every desk in every office sits a computer. Eighty years ago, desktops were equipped with a nonelectronic data processing machine: a card file. In Paper Machines, Markus Krajewski traces the evolution of this proto-computer of rearrangeable parts (file cards) that became ubiquitous in offices between the world wars.

The story begins with Konrad Gessner, a sixteenth-century Swiss polymath who described a new method of processing data: to cut up a sheet of handwritten notes into slips of paper, with one fact or topic per slip, and arrange as desired. In the late eighteenth century, the card catalog became the librarian's answer to the threat of information overload. Then, at the turn of the twentieth century, business adopted the technology of the card catalog as a bookkeeping tool. Krajewski explores this conceptual development and casts the card file as a "universal paper machine" that accomplishes the basic operations of Turing's universal discrete machine: storing, processing, and transferring data. In telling his story, Krajewski takes the reader on a number of illuminating detours, telling us, for example, that the card catalog and the numbered street address emerged at the same time in the same city (Vienna), and that Harvard University's home-grown cataloging system grew out of a librarian's laziness; and that Melvil Dewey (originator of the Dewey Decimal System) helped bring about the technology transfer of card files to business.

About the Author

Markus Krajewski is Associate Professor of Media History at the Bauhaus University, Weimar. He is a developer of the bibliographic software Synapsen: A Hypertextual Card Index (www.verzetteln.de/synapsen)

Table of Contents

  • Paper Machines
  • History and Foundations of Information Science
  • Edited by Michael Buckland, Jonathan Furner, and Markus Krajewski
  • Human Information Retrieval
  • by Julian Warner
  • Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia
  • by Joseph Michael Reagle Jr.
  • Paper Machines: About Cards & Catalogs, 1548–1929
  • by Markus Krajewski
  • Paper Machines
  • About Cards & Catalogs, 1548–1929
  • Markus Krajewski
  • translated by Peter Krapp
  • The MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • London, England
  • ©
  • 2011
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • © für die deutsche Ausgabe 2002, Kulturverlag Kadmos Berlin
  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
  • For information about special quantity discounts, please e-mail special_sales@ mitpress.mit.edu
  • This book was set in Stone Sans and Stone Serif by Toppan Best-set Premedia Limited. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
  • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
  • Krajewski, Markus, 1972–
  • [Zettelwirtschaft. English]
  • Paper machines : about cards & catalogs, 1548–1929 / Markus Krajewski ; translated by Peter Krapp.
  •  p. cm. — (History and foundations of information science)
  • Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • ISBN 978-0-262-01589-9 (alk. paper)
  • 1. Catalog cards—History. 2. Card catalogs—History. 3. Information organization—History. I. Title.
  • Z693.3.C37K7313 2011
  • 025.3′109—dc22
  • 2010053622
  • 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  • Contents
  • 1 From Library Guides to the Bureaucratic Era: An Introduction
  •  1
  • 2 Temporary Indexing
  •  9
  • I Around 1800
  •  25
  • 3 The First Card Index?
  •  27
  • Addressing Ideas
  •  27
  • Data Streams
  •  32
  • Copy Error: The Josephinian Card Index
  •  34
  • Floods
  •  35
  • Canals
  •  37
  • The Algorithm
  •  38
  • Error: Buffer Overflow
  •  42
  • Paper Flow: Taming, Duration
  •  43
  • Revolution on Playing Cards
  •  45
  • 4 Thinking in Boxes
  •  49
  • The Scholar’s Machine
  •  50
  • Genealogy: Johann Jacob Moser and Jean Paul
  •  53
  • Elsewhere
  •  56
  • Banknotes
  •  58
  • Balance Sheet
  •  62
  • In Praise of the Cross-Reference
  •  63
  • On the Gradual Manufacturing of Thoughts in Storage
  •  65
  • 5 American Arrival
  •  69
  • Do Not Disturb—William Croswell
  •  69
  • Early Fruits and Dissemination
  •  78
  • II Around 1900
  •  85
  • 6 Institutional Technology Transfer
  •  87
  • Reformation: Dewey’s Three Blessings for America
  •  87
  • Transfer: Library Bureau
  •  90
  • Library Supplies
  •  90
  • Standardization
  •  91
  • Corporate Genealogy
  •  92
  • The Transfer
  •  95
  • Product / System / Manufacturing
  •  100
  • Digression: Foreign Laurels
  •  102
  • Industry Strategy
  •  104
  • 7 Transatlantic Technology Transfer
  •  107
  • Supplying Library Supplies
  •  108
  • The Library
  • Ge-stell
  •  108
  • Punch Card
  •  110
  • The Bridge
  • Enters the Office: World Brain 113
  • 8 Paper Slip Economy
  •  123
  • System / Organization
  •  125
  • Universal / Card / Machine
  •  127
  • Invalidation
  •  131
  • The War of the Cards: Copyrighting the “Card Index”™
  •  133
  • Depiction / Decision
  •  135
  • Summary: Order / Cleanup
  •  139
  • Afterword to the English Edition
  •  143
  • Notes
  •  145
  • References
  •  181
  • Index
  •  207

Reviews

“Markus Krajewski has done the history of cataloguing and the history of information management a considerable service: I recommend it highly.” — Professor Tom Wilson, Editor-in-Chief, Information Research

Endorsements

"Krajewski draws on recent German media theory and on a rich array of European and American sources in this thought-provoking account of the index card as a tool of information management. In investigating the road from the slips of paper of the sixteenth century to the data processing of the twentieth, Krajewski highlights its twists and turns--failures and unintended consequences, reinventions, and surprising transfers."
Ann M. Blair, Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, Harvard University, and author of Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age

"This is a fascinating, original, continuously surprising, and meticulously researched study of the long history of the emergence of card systems for organizing not only libraries but business activities in Europe and the United States. It is particularly important for English language readers due to its European perspective and the extraordinary range of German and other resources on which it draws."
W. Boyd Rayward, Professor Emeritus, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana