A cataloger with a photographic memory could be a source of endless fragments of information. We have only a few minutes with each of the thousands of books that pass through our hands, and much of that time is taking up with verification of details of the title, the imprint, the author’s authorized heading, etc. Subject analysis is often a quick selection from an endless list of dry headings and academic buzzwords—Economic development, Queer theory, Postcolonialism, Lie groups, Wachiperi language—and their associated classification. Some subjects appear over and over. The catalog has 179 entries under “Egypt—History—Protests, 2011-” and more under that heading with subdivisions. In other cases, the cataloger is amazed that even one book has been written on the topic. The author of a slim volume on Hedjhotep, the Egyptian god of weaving, admitted that this deity is “little known, even among Egyptologists.”
As my memory is far from photographic, sometimes at the end of the day I am hard pressed to remember what parts of the river of human knowledge I have seen flow by. Determining what a book is about, though a fascinating process, gives just a snapshot of the content, and varied snapshots blur together in my mind. After more than thirty years of cataloging as a generalist, I have been exposed to bits and pieces of a wide range of subjects, but questions about any detail send me to Google.
Recently, the library acquired a Judaica collection of more than 6000 late 18th century to early 20th century books. Most are in German, with some Hebrew and Yiddish. As part of a team of catalogers working with this material, I have been able to spend days on end with interrelated books. Questions about the context of a work or an author’s identity send me to Wikipedia, and what I learn there brings more life to the books, which creep into corners of my consciousness not inhabited by my usual work. Opening one dusty anti-Semitic tract after another can be as bone-chilling as the movie Schindler’s List. After cataloging dozens of editions of the Siddur (Jewish daily prayers) I somehow feel that I could step into a German synagogue and pick up a worn black prayer book, and be part of the recitation of words that have comforted so many generations.
Post contributed by Amy Turner, Original Cataloger in the Cataloging and Metadata Services Dept.
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The Devil’s Tale Archive
- Letter, account, and dividend book, 1839-1867 and undated. July 18, 2014
- Eckard V. Toy Jr. papers, 1975-1995. July 16, 2014
- The marvellous history of Jack Giant-Killer. July 14, 2014
- Outpost Films Billion Dollar Babe production video, 1998 January 28. July 11, 2014
- Alan Alpert illustrated journal of business travel in Greece and India, with notes on Indian religious beliefs, 1978 July 6-1979 Jan 3. July 11, 2014
- Das veränderte Russland : in welchem die ietzige verfassung des geist- und weltlichen Regiments : der Krieges-Staat zu Lande und zu Wasser, wahre Zustand der russischen Finantzen, die geöffneten Berg-Wercke, die eingeführte Academien, Künste, Manufacturen, Verordnungen, Geschäffte mit denen asiatischen Nachbaren und Vafallen, nebst der allerneuesten Nachricht von diesen Völckern : die Begebenheiten des Czaergangene, und was sich sonst merckwürdiges in Russland zugetragen, nebst verschiedenen andern bissher unbekandten Rachrichten in einem biss 1720 gehenden Journal vorgestellet werden, mit einer accuraten Land-Carte und Kupfferstichen versehen. July 17, 2014
- L'anatomie pacifique nouvelle et curieuse : conforme à la doctrine d'Hippocrate & de Galien, qui donne les moyens d'accorder les recents avec les anciens, par des experiences nouvelles, principalement touchant les actions du coeur & des poulmons July 17, 2014
- Beytrag zur Geschichte Russlands vom Jahr 1727 bis 1744 : nebst einem Anhange über die damalige Beschaffenheit des Kriegs- des Seewesens, des Handels, der Academie &c. &c. : mit Charten und Planen : aus einer franzöisischen Handschrift. July 17, 2014
- Rhyme? and reason? July 14, 2014
- Now we are six July 14, 2014