How to Write a Library Catalog Card
Whether cataloging a small home library or a sizable archive, catalog cards can be used to organize any collection. Completing the cards is simple, using a few pieces of standard information. Most of the details included on a catalog card can usually be found in the book itself within the first few pages and on the cover. Once the catalog is complete, users can easily find what they need.
The library call number refers to an item's location within the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) or the Library of Congress Classification (LCC). The two systems were created to categorize items by subject and then break them down into subheadings -- mammals to dogs to bloodhounds, for example. The Dewey system is organized numerically into 10 subjects and then subdivided using decimal notation. Library of Congress notation is more complex, using both letters and numbers to differentiate topics and subtopics. On your catalog card, write the call number in the top left-hand corner.
Titles and Authors
Most people search for library items by title or author. When writing a title card, start in the middle of the card. Write the book title just as it appears on the cover, including any subtitles. Underneath the title, write the author's name, last name first followed by first and middle name or initial. When a work has two or more authors, write the second and following names in traditional form. If the collection is organized by author, simply reverse the placement of title and author on the card.
Publication Information and Subjects
The publisher's name and date of publication generally follow the author and title information on the lower half of the card. The order of the information varies slightly between collections, but it is important to include the publisher's name, the place of publication and the publication date.
Since the 1960s, an International Standard Book Number, or ISBN, has been issued to published works to further differentiate between editions and formats, such as hardcover or paperback. When including an ISBN number, write it in the lower right-hand corner of the card.
Place subject headings for nonfiction works at the very bottom of a catalog card. They are numbered with the main subject first followed by subtopics. For a biography of George Washington, for instance, they might be written like this: 1. George Washington 2. U.S. Presidents 3. U.S. Revolutionary War.
Today's Library Catalogs
Today, most public and university libraries have digitized their collection catalogs to make them remotely accessible from anywhere in the world. Library patrons can search for and download electronic media like videos, music and electronic books directly from a library website to their home computer. However, long-time library users and book collectors are occasionally more comfortable using card catalogs, so individual libraries -- including the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and some smaller-town and school libraries -- continue to keep card catalogs alongside their digital catalogs.
Andrea Godbout has been writing professionally since 2000. She has served as a columnist for Angie's List, highlighting products and businesses in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Godbout earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and creative writing from Barnard College and a Master of Arts in education from New York University.