By Markus Krajewski
Today on virtually each table in each workplace sits a working laptop or computer. 80 years in the past, computers have been outfitted with a nonelectronic facts processing desktop: a card dossier. In Paper Machines, Markus Krajewski strains the evolution of this proto-computer of rearrangeable components (file playing cards) that grew to become ubiquitous in workplaces among the area wars.
The tale starts with Konrad Gessner, a sixteenth-century Swiss polymath who defined a brand new approach to processing information: to chop up a sheet of handwritten notes into slips of paper, with one truth or subject consistent with slip, and set up as wanted. within the overdue eighteenth century, the cardboard catalog grew to become the librarian's solution to the specter of details overload. Then, on the flip of the 20 th century, enterprise followed the expertise of the cardboard catalog as a bookkeeping instrument. Krajewski explores this conceptual improvement and casts the cardboard dossier as a "universal paper computing device" that accomplishes the easy operations of Turing's common discrete laptop: storing, processing, and moving information. In telling his tale, Krajewski takes the reader on a couple of illuminating detours, telling us, for instance, that the cardboard catalog and the numbered road tackle emerged while within the similar urban (Vienna), and that Harvard University's home-grown cataloging process grew out of a librarian's laziness; and that Melvil Dewey (originator of the Dewey Decimal method) helped lead to the expertise move of card documents to business.
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Additional info for Paper machines : about cards & catalogs, 1548-1929
15 It seems to be the fate of libraries that a particular order always coincides with a director’s term of service. As soon as a new director, prefect, or manager takes over, one of the ﬁrst acts tends to be rejection of the present order in favor of establishing a new, often completely different one, mostly legitimized by the allegedly encountered chaos that almost forces reorganization. “I have not yet read the biography of a librarian which does not report that he found the library in complete or partial disorder upon taking ofﬁce.
Speculations about a shortage of paper as a consequence of the war, result- The First Card Index? 111 The work of the Bureau de Bibliographie, set up carefully in the Louvre, progresses rapidly and owing to the unexpected arrival of abundant new material is soon reinforced by more helpers. Numerous new employees are hired for an ever more differentiated division of labor, and soon enough, forty-three people are at work on the national bibliography. 2 million cards record 3 million volumes. By no means all of the over 10 million works suspected to exist in the country ever reach Paris; only about 4 million are recorded on playing cards.
Thus, the material of the scholar’s machine awaits skilled interrogation in the shape of addressable aggregations of paper slips kept in appropriate boxes. 11 In Placcius’s anonymous treatise of 1637 and Harsdörffer’s Erquickstunden of 1653, these professional pieces of furniture appear miniaturized, adapted to serve as containers for paper collections. A reﬁned blueprint for such an excerpt collection, proudly Thinking in Boxes 53 presented by a proliﬁc writer of the eighteenth century, is discussed as an example in the following episode.