Brodart Library Supplies for the Analog Zettelkasten Enthusiast

So you’ve taken the plunge and purchased an old school library card catalog, or maybe you want to but haven’t hit critical mass of cards to justify the purchase yet? Certainly you’ve found the traditional index card supplies still available at every office supply store on the planet, but did you know there’s still at least one company that supports libraries with custom card catalog supplies that you could use with your zettelkasten?

Brodart is a library services company based in Pennsylvania that supplies materials to institutional libraries that still has a variety of supplies not only for libraries and book lovers alike, but for amateur and professional zettelmacher(in) as well.

Most of their focus is on 3-by-5 inch index card sized material, but maybe with the re-popularization, they might add more support for the 4-by-6 inch card enthusiasts?

Perhaps if the demand for these older systems goes up, they’ll not only have more offerings, but the price will come down through economies of scale?

Let’s look at what they’ve got available.

Cards and Card Guides

On the card side, they’ve got a variety of options that aren’t as readily available at most office supply stores. If you’ve got an old school library card catalog with rods, you’re probably going to want cards with holes pre-punched. Of course they’ve got them in colors as well as without holes too.

With a sizeable card collection you’re likely to want some card guides, so they offer the traditional A-Z 1/5 Cut Card Guides as well as Blank Catalog Card Guides, with those holes pre-punched for convenience.

3x5" 1/3 cut manilla card guides with pre cut holes for separating your card sections

Dewey Decimal Catalog Card Guides

Most may already have an indexing system built into their system, but if you don’t and want to go with a classic Dewey Decimal set up, they’ve got you covered.

Dewey Decimal system manilla card with a tab that reads "000 General Works". The card has the BroDart logo and the number 24-111-101.

Perhaps you’ve got a sizeable digital card collection already, and have been jonesing to make the jump to analog? They’ve got printable card sheets so you can print out your digital cards relatively easily and continue without losing all that work. Or maybe you’re the mid century/ Umberto Eco purist who wants typewritten cards, but don’t want to retype them all? They’ve got both 4-up and 3-up versions as well.

A perforated sheet of paper with outlines for 4 3x5" cards with pre-drilled holes in each.
4-Up Catalog Card Sheets for Laser Printers

Let’s say you’ve got a long standing practice of making bibliographic cards. You need some cards to hold not only your meta data about the materials you’re reading, but you want to add your fleeting notes to them the way Luhmann and others have. Brodart has a wide variety of pre-printed cards that could serve this purpose. Some have printed sections which say “Date Loaned” and “Borrowers’s Name”, with sections for data below, but these could just as easily stand for page number and lined space for your important notes.

Brodart White Book Cards with Author, Title, Date Loaned, and Borrower’s Name

A 5x3" card that would appear in a library book with an empty section at the top followed by fields labeled "Author" and "Title". Below these are a two colum set of lined spaces under headings for "Date Loaned" and "Borrower's Name".

There are also a number of other versions of this sort of card depending on what you want. Try these or search for the many others which may suit your fancy:

Slip Boxes

Maybe you haven’t made that slip box purchase yet, but want something shiny and new? Brodart has you covered here as well. They’ve got a few different options for a small desktop slip box or a fully modular system that you can add to over time.

Stand alone boxes

Brodart has at least two desktop boxes, with 12 and 9 drawers respectively.

A wooden table top library card catalog with drawers in a 4x3 configuration. Each drawer has a metal pull with a label slot and at the bottom a removable card file rod.

Modular Boxes

Want to design your own system that’s expandable with your card collection? They’ve got a five drawer wide system with options for 1, 2, or 3 row tall sections that you can build up to suit your needs. Start with their table and legs, add a one or more sections of card files, and then top it off with a cover. If you’d like, they’ve also got an interstitial piece with drawer pulls so that you’ve got a writing surface built into your zettelkasten. Build that system up to your ceiling!

A modular 3x5 drawer card catalog box. The top is open so as to accomodate other similar modular boxes or a woodenn cap top.

4-by-6 inch Card Boxes

Brodart is a bit thin on the 4-by-6 inch category, but for the beginning zettelmacher(in), they do have some nice sized, portable, archive quality boxes you might like to start your collection. See their Postcard Boxes.

Other Options

Of course there are lots of other options in the space. Some of these box systems can become pretty expensive, and for the price you might be as well off purchasing a used card catalog which you can restore  or you can find restored ones online. Some of them even go to the level of fine furniture and can quickly go for over $5,000.00.

If you prefer the vintage 20 gauge steel esthetic (you know I do!), you can find lots of used, but still great condition slip boxes online in places like eBay or on Craigslist.

I and others have written some advice about other card storage options on a Reddit community targeted at analog zettelkasten in the past.

What do you use? What do you want to use? Are you going to custom build your own? Have you seen other companies like Brodart that still support the manufacturing of these sorts of tools for thought? Please share your ideas and supplies below.

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Zettelkasten Method State of the Art in 1898

Zettelkasten Method State of the Art in 1898
Many people mistakenly credit Niklas Luhmann with the invention of the zettelkasten method, so I’ve been delving into historical note taking practices. I’ve recently come across a well known and influential book on historical method from the late 1800s that has well described version of the slip (box) method.

Originally published in French in 1897 as Introduction aux études historiques and then translated into English by George Godfrey Berry, Henry Holt and Company published Introduction to the Study of History in 1898 by authors Charles Victor Langlois and Charles Seignobos. Along with Ernst Bernheim’s popular Lehrbuch der historischen Methode mit Nachweis der wichtigsten Quellen und Hülfsmittelzum Studium der Geschichte (Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1889), Langlois and Seignobos’ text is one of the first comprehensive manuals discussing the use of scientific techniques in historical research.

Primarily written by Seignobos, Book II, Chapter IV “Critical Classification of Sources” has several sections on the zettelkasten method under the section headings:

  • Importance of classification—The first impulse wrong—Thenote-book system not the best—Nor the ledger-system—Nor the “system” of trusting the memory
  • The system of slips the best—Its drawbacks—Means ofobviating them—The advantage of good “private librarian-ship”

This section describes a slip method for taking notes which is ostensibly a commonplace book method done using slips of paper (fiches in the original French) instead  of notebooks. Their method undergirds portions of the historical method they lay out in the remainder of the book. Seignobos calls the notebook method “utterly wrong” and indicates that similar methods have been “universally condemned” by librarians as a means of storing and maintaining knowledge. Entertainingly he calls the idea of attempting to remember one’s knowledge using pure memory a “barbarous method”. 

The slip method is so ubiquitous by the time of his writing in 1897 that he says “Every one admits nowadays that it is advisable to collect materials on separate cards or slips of paper.”

The Slip Method

The book broadly outlines the note taking process: 

The notes from each document are entered upon a loose leaf furnished with the precisest possible indications of origin. The advantages of this artifice are obvious : the detachability of the slips enables us to group them at will in a host of different combinations ; if necessary, to change their places : it is easy to bring texts of the same kind together, and to incorporate additions, as they are acquired, in the interior of the groups to which they belong. As for documents which are interesting from several points of view, and which ought to appear in several groups, it is sufficient to enter them several times over on different slips ; or they may be represented, as often as may be required, on reference-slips.

Seignobos further advises, as was generally common, “to use slips of uniform size and tough material” though he subtly added the management and productivity advice “to arrange them at the earliest opportunity in covers or drawers or otherwise.”

In terms of the form of notes, he says

But it will always be well to cultivate the mechanical habits of which professional compilers have learnt the value by experience: to write at the head of every slip its date, if there is occasion for it, and a heading in any case; to multiply cross-references and indices; to keep a record, on a separate set of slips, of all the sources utilised, in order to avoid the danger of having to work a second time through materials already dealt with.

Where the Luhmann fans will see a major diversion for the system compared to his internal branching system is in its organization. They describe a handful of potential organizations based on the types of notes and their potential uses, though many of these use cases specific to historical research are now better effected by databases and spreadsheets. As for the broader classes of more traditional literature-based textual notes, they recommend grouping the slips in alphabetical order of the words chosen as subject headings. Here, even in a French text translated to English, the German word Schlagwörter is used. It can be translated as “headwords”, “catchwords” or “topical headings” though modern note takers, particularly in digital contexts, may be more comfortable with the translation “tags”.

While there are descriptions of cross-linking or cross-referencing cards from one to another, there is no use of alpha-numeric identifiers or direct juxtaposition of ideas on cards as was practiced by Luhmann.

The authors specifically credit Ernst Bernheim’s Lehrbuch der historischen Methode several times in the book. While a lot of the credit is geared toward their broader topic of historical method, Bernheim provides a description of note taking very similar to their method. I’ve found several copies of Bernheim’s text in German, but have yet to find any English translations. 

Both Bernheim and Langlois/Seignobos’ work were influential enough in the areas of history specifically and the humanities in general that Beatrice Webb (an influential English sociologist, economist, socialist, labour historian, and social reformer who was a co-founder of the London School of Economics, the Fabian Society, and The New Statesman) cites their work in Appendix C “The Art of Note-Taking” in her 1926 autobiographical work My Apprenticeship, which was incredibly popular and went through multiple reprintings in the nearly full century since its issue. Her personal use of this note taking method would appear to pre-date both books (certainly the Langlois/Seignobos text), however, attesting to its ubiquity in the late 1800s.

What is the “true” zettelkasten method?

Scott Scheper has recently written that personal communication with Luhmann’s youngest son Clemmens Luhmann indicated that Luhmann learned his method in 1951 from the Johannes Erich Heyde text Technik des wissenschaftlichen Arbeitens (with several German editions from 1931 onward). This book’s note taking method is broadly similar to that of the long held commonplace book maintained on index cards as seen in both Langlois/Seignobos (1897) and Webb (1926). One of the few major differences in Heyde was the suggestion to actively make and file multiple copies of the same card under different topical headings potentially using carbon copy paper to speed up the process. While it’s possible that Luhmann may have either learned the modifications of his particular system from someone or modified it himself, it is reasonably obvious that there is a much longer standing tradition as early as Konrad Gessner in 1548 to the middle of the 20th century of a zettelkasten tradition that is more similar to the commonplace book tradition effectuated with index cards (or slips “of a similar size”). Luhmann’s system, while seemingly more popular and talked about since roughly 2013, is by far the exception rather than the rule within the broader history of the “zettelkasten method”. With these facts in mind, we should be talking about a simpler, historical zettelkasten method and a separate, more complex/emergent Luhmann method.

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

A Small 10,000+ Annotations Party

A Small 10,000+ Annotations Party
I recently hit the 10,000+ annotations mark on the fantastic Hypothes.is platform, and in celebration, the kind team at Hypothesis sent me a care package with a lovely card, some sticky flags, some stickers, and some chocolate to see me through the next 10,000.

If I’m honest, I get so much value and joy out of annotating online, I should have been the one to send them the care package.

Thanks Hypothes.is! I’ll see you in the margins.

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich