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US Copyright Office considers stopgap scanning solution for card catalog due to 'rudimentary budget'

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The US Copyright Office is considering a "virtual card catalog" as an interim step on the way to a full searchable database of the 45 million pre-1978 items in its card catalog.

card catalog shutterstock
card catalog shutterstock

Struggling to convert the tens of millions of pre-1978 copyrights in its massive card catalog into a searchable, digital format, the US Copyright Office is considering uploading scanned images of the cards to what it's calling a "virtual copyright card catalog" as a stopgap measure. Maria A. Pallante, Director of the US Copyright Office, announced the organization's intent to digitize the 45 million items comprising the card catalog (the largest in the world) back in December, but is facing difficulty pulling things off with a "rudimentary budget."

Unlike the modern search tool for post-1978 copyrights, the virtual card catalog (mockup pictured below) wouldn't include the metadata necessary for meaningful search, but it would at least allow users to track down copyrights based on a name and date in the same way that someone would dig through the physical catalog — minus flying to the Library of Congress. The Copyright Office has one of the most comprehensive catalogs of published works in the world, and making its archives more accessible is an important project. For that reason, while the proposed virtual catalog is no doubt welcome as an interim measure, we hope a more permanent and comprehensive solution gets worked out soon.