My next-to-last visit to Widener Library was just like all the ones before it. I wanted a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, dutifully filled out the little blue card, and waited with the frame of mind of a life-long Washington Senators fan for the girl behind the call desk to tell me:
"I'm sorry, Mr. Beyer, that particular book will be out until September, 1967 . . ." This was a disappointment, of course, but at least the experience had two good sides: first, I could at least have the fun, of ogling the buxom girl at the call desk during my wait for the book; second, she called me by my name.
Yesterday, for the first time in two months, I entered Widener, only to find that what some people jocosely term "progress" had swept over this bastion of learning. Gone were the little blue cards I had known and loved! In their place were IBM cards with the pompous instructions, PLEASE WRITE FIRMLY TO MAKE CARBON DO NOT BEND CARD."
It's always been frightening to write on any card that you happen to want book ALA 1952.293.2, but the new cards added insult to injury. As if the whole thing were a big in-group joke, a little box in the lower right-hand corner of the card instructed DO NOT WRITE BELOW, and followed this command with an enigmatic BK . . . RDR . . . BY RSN.
I walked to the call desk and, to my chagrin, found that there was no buxom female to fumble through 10,000 cards before telling me my book wasn't in. "What's happened here?" I asked the male at the desk almost incoherently. He turned a little pale, and nodded toward a darkened, glass-walled room where "it" made its home.
"You see," he explained, "we put this card into the machine and . . ."
I had heard enough.