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How It Worked

Guiding Tenets

In each issue of the CATALOG, readers found the publication's Purpose and Function stated clearly.

Purpose

"We are as gods and might as well get good at it. So far remotely done power and glory - as via government, big business, formal education, church - has succeeded to the point where the gross defects obscure actual gain. In response to this dilemma and to these gains a realm of intimate, person power is developing - power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the WHOLE EARTH CATALOG."

Function

"The WHOLE EARTH CATALOG functions as an evaluation and access device. With it, the user should know what is worth getting and where and how to do the getting. An item is listed in the catalog if it is deemed:

  1. Useful as a tool
  2. Relevant to independent education
  3. High quality or low cost
  4. Easily available by mail

CATALOG listings are continually revised according to the experience and suggestions of CATALOG users and staff."

How it was structured

The CATALOG, in the early days, was divided into several broadly construed sections. This list became a prime organizing principle of this site:

  • Understanding Whole Systems
  • Shelter and Land Use
  • Industry and Craft
  • Communications
  • Community
  • Nomadics
  • Learning

Within each of the sections, readers and members of the publication's staff chose what they considered to be the best tools they could locate and listed them, along with reviews, simple line images, photographs, prices, and where readers could find the items.

"Tools" were endless and whatever users and staff deemed them to be. They could be actual tools for everything from jewelry work and enameling to woodworking and blacksmithing. Other tools were books of every type - from views of the future to death and dying to gravity and time to population control; maps; and how-to guides for everything from living in a tipi to building a pipe organ to using a compass.

The first issue of the CATALOG and those that followed were created with basic typesetting and layout tools. The paper stock gave the CATALOG a pulpy, earthy identity, fully consistent with its environmental and ecological stance.

The staff invited reviews of the products by experts and readers who had found them to fit the criteria listed in the CATALOG's Function statement. The reviews were generally short and chatty, yet packed with information readers could use to create a more sustainable environment.

With a seemingly haphazard arrangement of information within its categories, the CATALOG was the desktop-published equivalent an early search engine that invited readers to learn something new on every page - and to connect unrelated ideas and concepts. It was read by nearly every segment of American society; even disparate groups could find common ground within the pages of the WHOLE EARTH CATALOG.