The Case for the Vertical File

Are you getting requests for juvy or YA material on “Day of the Dead”? There aren’t many books on this Mexican holiday and teachers don’t want material from the internet. What to do?

Back in pre-automation days, every branch library had a vertical file (aka pamphlet file) – a filing cabinet(s) containing pamphlets, photos, flyers, newspaper clippings, etc. We had pamphlets on holidays which would satisfy these kinds of requests. I remember subbing at the Vernon Branch in the early 1990’s. There were three rows of filing cabinets containing, among other things, rare historical material on the Central Avenue jazz scene in the 1930’s and 1940’s, centered around the Dunbar Hotel (across the street). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar_Hotel. When I subbed there again in 2008 the entire collection was gone. I made some inquiries and was told that some of the vertical file material found its way to the history department downtown – but that most of it no longer existed.

Vertical files were eliminated on the grounds that our automation system can’t maintain control of ephemeral items. However, isn’t this a case of the tail wagging the dog? Automation systems are supposed to support the librarians in serving the public. The public should not have to lose a valuable resource as the price of automation.PamFile

Some related links:
http://libraryhistorybuff.blogspot.com/2010/12/origin-of-vertical-files.html
http://chryslermuseumlibrary.blogspot.com/2012/01/whats-in-vertical-file.html
http://bentley.umich.edu/research/guides/vertical_file/

This entry was posted in Memoirs of a Public Librarian, Suggestions. Bookmark the permalink.

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