When the university opened its doors to students in the fall of 1868, it had no library building. That would remain the case for 23 years, while library collections found temporary homes in campus buildings until the University Library (now known as Uris Library) opened in 1891. Researchers discovered materials through a process that involved physically consulting reference books and card catalog drawers before even considering how they might actually read the titles they had identified. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the Library offered several fee-based, mediated electronic searching options, and later, collections of databases on CD-ROMs. But the biggest change for Cornell researchers came in 1988, with the introduction of the Cornell Library Online Catalog. In the following decade, the Internet made possible access to electronic journals, networked databases, and all of today’s essential research tools.
Images, left to right (click image to enlarge): The Olin Library card catalog, when it was first introduced in the early 1960s—a maze of 6 ft. high structures that occupied a large portion of Olin’s first floor public space; A card catalog drawer: Cards for any given item were filed in multiple locations: under its title, author’s name, Library of Congress Subject Headings, and – where applicable – variant titles and names. The card catalog cases were removed and the remaining cards recycled in 2007; Alumni News, 1962: "Constant use of Olin Library is part of Arts student's lot" Images, left to right (click image to enlarge): Main Reading Room (now known as the Arthur H. Dean Room, Uris Library), 1890s. University Archives; Uris Library, Arthur H. Dean Reading Room, early 1960s. University Archives; Carolyn E. Hersh (Class of 1963) Using Microfilm Reader in Olin Library, 1961. University Archives; Alumni News, 1989.
The space now occupied by Olin’s computer workstations, from the striped “Tiger Alley” hallway to the south wall, once held more than 6,500 drawers filled with cards for items held by each of Cornell’s campus libraries. Before online catalogs allowed for keyword searching, researchers had to make do with author, title and subject heading searches in the physical card catalog. Card catalogs lined the sides of the Dean Room, the main reading room space of what was known (in 1960, when the photo above was taken) as the undergraduate library. Microfilm searching, frame by frame, was a fact of life for most students in 1960, when the student pictured above was photographed researching in Olin Library. And in 1989, the online catalog arrived, as the Alumni News reported: “A student in Uris Library searches for a book on the Online Catalog, a database including records of holdings, locations, and in some cases circulation for one half of the 5 million volumes owned by he sixteen Cornell libraries.”