Monday, May 31, 2010

The Fine Art of Cataloging

Cataloging - the job that most librarians dislike, but the one that must be done for the library to function. Sarah Swinney and I are cataloging the books in the Kiplin Hall library as our England Field School project. We are continuing the inventory that was started in 1992 when Kiplin began a full catalog of their objects.

Admittedly, I do not have a lot of hands-on experience with cataloging, but I have done some work with MARC - the most widely used cataloging database. However, my experience comes with archive collections, not books, though they are similar to catalog. This project has me doing something different; cataloging books as objects.

There are of course several similarities between the cataloging databases. Title, author, and date of publication are included in both. Also, a brief summary of the book is required in both databases. With Kiplin specifically, the differences begin with the location of the book. The books in this library are not organized in any manner, so the location of the book is dependent upon what shelf it's on in what bay. This means that a French literature book could be next to a book on architecture by John Ruskin.

The major difference in cataloging books in a museum rather than a library is adding the condition of the book to the catalog record. Libraries do not include a description of the condition of the book to the database. For museums, this is an important part of the record. When describing a book, we take note of the cover - is it leather or bookcloth, are there any embossings or gilt designs that make it unique. We also note any markings such as inscriptions or signatures of the owners of the book, as well as bookplates that may be on the inside of the cover. Once this is all in the database, we take measurements and photographs of the books. Pictures are taken of the title page, cover, and any bookplates or markings in the books.

While this is different from the process that I know from the library, it has been great to see how books are cataloged from the museum side.

~Virginia W. Blake

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