I woke up at 3 am the other morning thinking about the vertical file, something that has not crossed my mind in years. The unpleasant jolt of memory and subsequent relief of knowing that I never again would have to worry about the vertical file reminded me of how radically my job has changed in the last twenty-five years.
Council Grove High School Library used to have a small but mighty (and frequently consulted, I might add) collection of file folders on current topics that just were not covered adequately by the material we had on hand. My library aides and I used to skim the newspapers, picking out feature articles on social issues and unique, local interest pieces, clip them, and file them neatly away in a file cabinet. Even then, there was some debate in the professional literature about whether a vertical file was necessary and worth all the effort and time it took to keep a current and relevant collection of articles. I cannot speak for larger libraries, but for CGHS library, the vertical file was absolutely essential.
Those were the days before we had access to Inter-library loan and before speedy and commonly available internet access. Both neatly filled in the blanks we were trying to fill with the vertical file, and though both create problems of their own, I do not question that the quantity and quality of material I am able to offer my students is better than it was.