Tag Archives: cataloging

Sometimes it takes a village, especially the first time.

I catalog manuscript and other archival materials, the majority of which are unpublished and not described. They also cover a wide variety in type of material. Among the more exotic finds I have cataloged: a salesmen’s kit with patterns for men’s suits, musical instruments used by a jazz percussionist, feminist t-shirts, John Brown commemorative medals, and envelopes of 19-century bath and other powders.

Last Spring we acquired the Lisa Unger Baskin collection, which features five centuries of women’s history. Among the items is a work of needlepoint, a flower study, completed by Charlotte Brontë around 1840. I had never cataloged a work of needlepoint.


When faced with an unfamiliar format, a cataloger begins by looking for similar materials cataloged by colleagues nationally, searching in WorldCat. I found only a few pieces of embroidery, usually samplers, and those did not include extensive description of the item. I was determined to provide more detail than a basic record.

Fortunately, our donor had included with the Brontë needlepoint a photocopy from a book on Brontë artwork. The page focused on a flower study Charlotte had completed in watercolors while she was still in school. It offered a description of the piece which provided the level of detail I was seeking, so I based my own approach on it. However, to move forward with this approach I needed to confirm what flowers were depicted in Charlotte’s needlepoint study.

There was no argument that the top flower is a white lily. I felt the bottom left flower was a peony, while others said it was a rose. I had no clue what the bottom right flower might be. Who to consult? I approached a colleague who hails from England, and she offered to forward my photograph of the needlepoint to her father, who is a master gardener. After consulting his references, he agreed that the bottom left flower is a peony, and determined that the unknown flower on the bottom right is probably a carnation.


I also had to consult with Beth Doyle, head of our Conservation Services Department, regarding whether Charlotte’s needlepoint should be removed from its frame. While answering this question (no) Beth let me know the thread Charlotte used was probably wool. Beth’s mother is a master needleworker who may be able to determine what type of stitch Charlotte used.

Using all of this information, I wrote a description that provided the level of detail I was seeking, to give someone a basic mental image of the piece they would then find in our collection. However, even after I finished my initial work, one more consultation was required. My colleague, Lauren Reno, checked my catalogue record in RDA, the new cataloging standard I am applying to manuscript materials. She made several helpful enhancements.

I am very grateful for the “village” of people I can call upon in support of my work.

You can find the catalog record for the needlework here.

Post contributed by Alice Poffinberger, Archivist/Original Cataloger in the Technical Services Dept.

Dispatches from the German Judaica Project

Solving Cataloging Puzzles, or, How Digitization and the Web Makes Our Work More Accurate and Efficient

Difficult cataloging puzzles occur when a volume’s title page is missing. Sometimes information written into the book by a previous owner is correct, sometimes it is not. When I first began cataloging, the only resources were printed bibliographies, printed catalogs, the famous National Union Catalog (NUC), British Library catalog and other specialized catalogs. Unless you could correctly “guess” the title, it was difficult to positively identify such works. Now that Google Books has put so many up for view, the cataloger now has more “tricks” available to solve problems.

An example of this is a volume that is missing the title page and begins with the Preface, table of contents, and has 246 pages (apparently complete). On the front flyleaf is a penciled note: Verhandlungen der ersten israelitischen Synode in Leipzig vom 29. Juni bis 4. Juli 1869 (Enthaltend: Protokolle, Stenograph. Niederschrift etc.) Berlin 1869. Such a book does exist in OCLC, but it is described as vi, 260 p. Searching for the title in Google Books brings up the following:

Clearly this is not the book in hand, because, not only is the pagination different, but the content is entirely different. Back to the puzzle.

Fortunately, search engines index more than just the title page information. I then search Google Books for significant words from one of the articles (2nd one): referat orgelspiel Sabbath wiener. The resulting “hit” reveals the correct title with matching contents. Once I know the correct title, I can search OCLC and find a good cataloging record.

Google Books solves the puzzle!

You can find the final catalog record for the book here.

Post contributed by Lois Schultz, Catalog Librarian for Monographic Resources in Perkins Technical Services.

Dispatches from the German Judaica Project

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.

A selection of Jewish prayer books, one for each holiday.

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.

This prayer book for Yom Kippur has a title page in both Hebrew and German.

Post contributed by Amy Turner, Original Cataloger in the Cataloging and Metadata Services Dept.