These cards show not only bibliographical information such as when the library acquired the books, but also if they have been lost, stolen or moved into storage to make room for new acquisitions. They might have notes on the provenance of individual volumes, referring to where they came from or who donated them. The cards may also note which professors or departments requested which books for the library to purchase.
Especially after the 1895 fire that damaged the University’s original library in the Rotunda, many books were donated to rebuild the collection.
Last week, as English professor Elizabeth Fowler moved stacks of cards in an orderly fashion into file boxes labeled with particular call number sequences, she said, “We don’t know what future research will be like. We can’t predict that.”
Fowler, who described the library as “the laboratory of the humanities,” was one of about 40 volunteers who answered a call to help pack up the cards. Two Ph.D. candidates in the English department, Neal Curtis and Samuel Lemley, are spearheading the volunteer project. Fowler described them as “selfless” for taking the time to help the next generation of researchers.