“Description and Access in Rare Books Cataloging: A Historical Survey” by Beth M. Russellals

Beth Russell’s article is a comprehensive survey of rare book cataloging. The historical approach Russell employs to explicate rare book cataloging and its relation to other types of cataloging helps to connect all the different components that compose this type of description. Rare book cataloging practices and codes have been influences by “normal” cataloging and descriptive bibliography. In addition, she discusses the hallmarks of rare book cataloging such as title page transcription, format and collation, notes, and added access points. These are not characteristics that are difficult to include in a bibliographic record, but they just take practice and handling a lot of books.

Russell was thorough in her analysis of what feeds into rare book cataloging. This type of cataloging is a mixture of history, provenance, representation, and access. This is documented in her description of how rare book cataloging developed and transitions between different cataloging rules. She address the subject through different perspectives and attempts to describe the differences between cataloging practices.

Russell’s in depth look at rare book cataloging is important to the field of rare books and manuscripts and to the field of cataloging. The execution and skillful research exhibited in this paper made a so called tedious subject very interesting. Rare book cataloging is engaging and akin to a historical investigation. This article should be read all those MLS students interested in or entering the rare books field, in particular rare book cataloging. It is an excellent source for the history and characteristics of rare book cataloging.

*Russell, Beth M. “Description and Access in Rare Books Cataloging: A Historical Survey.” Cataloging & Classification Quarterly 35.3-4 (2013): 491-523.


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