Shhh — I snuck books into my high school library. Don’t tell anybody.
I was reminded of my one-man “conspiracy” when I read that the final run of hard copy library catalog cards was printed last Thursday — the end of an era.
Now, I realize some of you may have no idea what they were. One current meme portrays someone using the card catalog files as “Prehistoric Googling” — not inaccurate as an analogy.
See, I’ve always loved books and libraries. Then, I started discovering the seditious underside of libraries in about 7th grade when I ran across You’re Stepping on My Cloak and Dagger, a humorous memoir from an ex-OSS (Office of Strategic Services) officer about various missteps of military intelligence during WWII. Somehow, reading that during the time our country was escalating the war in Vietnam seemed like a direct act of subversion.
My father further abetted my exploration of the wonders of The Library by taking me on his bi-weekly visits to the downtown Houston library, housed in an incredible old building filled with nooks and crannies — and books and books and books. Here I would discover Franz Kafka and forgotten texts about topics like astral projection — which, to my great disappointment, never included the actual “how to” instructions.
We had a county library closer to our house, but the selection was extremely limited, so the vast resources of the downtown library opened my eyes to a much wider world of the written word. The key to that kingdom was the card catalog and the Dewey decimal library classification system of book cataloging. Crack the code and you gain access to vast volumes of knowledge.
By high school, I had discovered 2 additional resources for my insatiable thirst for more books: a nearby bookstore, B. Dalton’s in the Town & Country Shopping Center; but even more wondrous, the Rice library. Larry McMurtry has waxed eloquent over this monument to archived knowledge,especially through the eyes of his tremendous character, Danny Deck, in All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers.
Unfortunately, our high school library seemed sadly lacking compared to either the Rice library or the bookstore. It seemed more comparable to the little county library actually. Oh, our library was pleasant enough, and it held all the basic books and knowledge bases required for typical high school courses, I suppose.
But it lacked real depth or adventure. Bookstores offered contemporary viewpoints and radicals including Abbie Hoffman (Revolution for the Hell of It!). This was not available from our school library, nor were a lot of the similar books I wanted to read.
The illusion of the card catalog is that it promises to deliver whatever you can find within its contents. The reverse illusion is simply that if a book doesn’t show up in the card catalog, it simply doesn’t exist — bypassing the possibility (probability) that it does, but NOT within that library’s selection.
So, I decided to expand our high school library’s offerings by placing books by people like Abbie Hoffman — complete with check-out cards and pockets — in the library.
I don’t recall how many books I slipped into the library this way — 4 or 5, I think. I always typed the appropriate 3 catalog cards — title, author, subject — and placed those into the card catalog so students might find these subversive texts there as well as stumbling across them on the shelves.
I wrote about the Card Catalog Conspiracy, as I dubbed it, in a blank journal (one of my first) describing the project, including what had been done and how. This “caper” journal became the final unrequested addition to our high school’s library and I closed my career as a lone wolf conspirator.
My job was done.
Did anyone ever notice these out-of-place books or cards? I really rather doubt it — but I’d like to think that just maybe, some first-year student found one of these books his first visit to the library.
I hope it opened the world of written wonder a little further for that student.