October 9, 2015

How to Host A Card Catalog Contest

The Fresno City College Library and its Friends group started its cARTalog contest in 2006. Inspired by the San Francisco Main Library’s three-story display of old card catalog cards turned into art and the University of Iowa’s Adopt-a-Card project that ended in 2006, adding the contest element is what sets Fresno apart.

To get the word out to prospective entrants, the library goes straight to the source, reaching art and poetry students through their classes and instructors through an emailed flyer, as well as making presentations at the Interclub Council and Anime club, and posting notices on campus kiosks and of course, in the library.

The library puts a section of its old card catalog in the lobby filled with cards (There were stacks of them still in the supply room, being used as scrap paper). Entries from previous years are displayed in an old metal periodicals “Visible File,” to provide inspiration. Students flip through the drawers and take as many cards as “tickle their imagination,” Laurel Doud, librarian at FCCL, said. Most students only submit a single card, but some have entered as many as five. “We don’t impose too many rules […] but we do tell them that the judges will give special consideration to those entries that incorporate the original card’s wording and/or concept,” Doud added.

Entrants put their contact info on the back of their submissions, but it’s not revealed until the winners are announced. In the meantime, entries are numbered and displayed on peg board in the lobby. Once submissions close, there’s a week of voting, with ballots available at the information desk to discourage ballot stuffing. Students can vote for their five favorites. Members of the Friends vote for Best in Show, and in the case of a tie, the president of the Friends casts the deciding vote. The Best in Show, first through fifth place winners, and sometimes honorable mentions receive cash prizes ranging from $15 to $75.

In its first year, the contest got about 25 entries; this past year it had nearly tripled to 65.

If artists request their card back, it is returned after scanning; otherwise the library keeps it. “In the beginning I didn’t scan them and I’m mad about that,” Doud told LJ. “We have a lovely Best in Show that first year that I don’t have a decent picture of.”

Fresno isn’t likely to run out of raw material for the contest any time soon. “A couple of local libraries learned about the contest and offered up their cards,” Doud said, and she anticipates that stock will last ten or more years. After that, “we might have to ‘manufacture’ cards,” she admits. “I’ve thought, if push comes to shove, I will type up cards myself.”

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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