University of Texas at Arlington

Scholarly Communication

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Largest release of digital catalog records in history

by Samantha Dodd August 16, 2017

Before computers and Google, if you wanted to find a book about the Alamo, or search for materials related to the Texas Revolution, you found yourself digging into a card catalog. In this early system an individual could find resources by title, author, publication date, subject headings and genre. Catalog records can be traced back to just after the French Revolution when the revolutionary government used playing cards to document property seized from the church. Before the widespread use of typewritten cards, cards for the catalogs were handwritten, the objective being to create identical and readable cards by each individual in all libraries.

Card CatalogIn an effort to increase accessibility and allow for greater research into questions such as trends in subject matter and semantics, the Library of Congress (LOC) has made 25 million digital catalog records available online. This free data set includes records from 1968 to 2014. The decision to allow for free use of this information represents the LOC’s commitment to public service and a continued desire among information professionals to share data.

After only a month, the results of this information release are popping up on the web. Early experiments with the data include: a zoomable list of nine million unique titles, and a natural language interface with the data. Others are looking at these records as a way to practice map-making and explore geographic patterns with visualizations based on the data.

The research potential with this data set are endless and open to anyone.

Read more about this data release and upcoming projects here: