“Hidden Collections, Scholarly Barriers: Creating Access to Unprocessed Special Collections Materials in America’s Research Libraries” by Barbara M. Jones

Hidden collections are common to all libraries, especially special collections libraries since adding to existing collections. This white paper discusses the finding of the ARL Special Collections Task Force’s survey and questions posed to special collections libraries. The paper beginnings with a list of concerns and problems faced when dealing with hidden collections. It presents issues that have a timely presence in discussion of library professionals.

The paper addresses access from different perspectives in order to determine some possible solutions to hidden collections such as backlogs. Various types of user services that promote a more diverse and wider user group are discussed and have examples. In addition, the paper presents ways of measuring the success of the services. One topic that permeates throughout the paper is collaboration.

Overall, this paper provides recommendations from the task force and the author. The last sections of the paper suggest the steps the task force to lessen the effects of hidden collections and to implement plans of processing and cataloging backlogs. The paper provides examples of handling hidden collections in different manner along with their effects. I think it is a useful source for understanding and working with hidden collections.

*Jones, Barbara M. “Hidden Collections, Scholarly Barriers: Creating Access to Unprocessed Special Collections Materials in America’s Research Libraries.” RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage (2002): 88-105.


“Some Comments on the Bibliographical Concept of ‘Issue'” by Joel Myerson

This essay tackles a very baffling subject of ‘issue’ which does not have a fixed definition. Joel Myerson invokes scholars and experts in bibliography like Fredson Bowers and G. Thomas Tanselle, to name a couple. As I read this essay, I took many marginal notes in order to make sense of this deceivingly simple concept that takes time to wrap one’s head around. I think this is one article that must be read over the course of one’s career in order to fully understand it. I also think having physical examples along with illustrative analogies.

He sets up his discussion of issue through an analysis and comparison of different definitions of this term. He does not explicitly state that one is the correction definition, but gives his options about which ones fit the contemporary usage. Additionally, he discusses the effects of publishers and printers on this topic. The notes and bibliography of this essay would be a great place to start if one is interested in learning more about issue and descriptive terminology related to rare books.

I think this article is useful for anyone in rare books because it introduces historically important works in the field and presents a mulch-perspective view of a definition. It demonstrates that even with a field like rare books, and many others, there are sometimes disagreements about common definitions for terms in the discipline.

*Myerson, Joel. “Some Comments on the Bibliographical Concept of ‘Issue’.” South Central Review 5.1 (1988): 8-16.

“Books will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Binding” By Julie Miller

Books will speak plain in this novel because of the historical and descriptive analysis of bindings. I read through the introduction of the book which offers the purpose for its creation. The extensive knowledge contained within these pages is only the beginning of the prodigious amount of information about books and their bindings.

The purpose of this book is to to be an instructional guide to “identifying and preserving the vast cultural heritage represented by two thousand years of booking binding history” (page 1). She contextualizes the discussion of the book in the trends of today. In this way, she establishes the importance of studying these books as physical objects containing invaluable knowledge about human creation and connections. The lasting history of books proves that it is an endurable form, but it might be usurped in some fields such as education and science. Even though it may be thought of inefficient means of acquiring and searching for knowledge, it will still be important to understanding humans, our culture and history.

Julia Miller recalls the issue of  keeping books in libraries or institutions because it destroys or hinders the awareness of the  historical significance of a book or/and collection. Books loose part of their multiplicity when they are only cataloged in one way. The relationship with other books of the collection in which they came is also severed in many cases because they are house in different parts of the library. It is important to understand the reasons behind collecting certain books over others. In addition, one should understand all types and subjects prominent in historical book bindings. She exhorts libraries and other cultural institutions with books to call upon former librarians, conservators, and experts in historical bindings to become volunteers and take on training other volunteers in order to help disseminate knowledge of describing and preserving these objects. Some ways they can do this is by adding to the original records, holding public lectures, and bench workshops.

An example of this was done at the Special Collections Library at the University of Michigan in 2004 by Eileen Heeron, a rare book cataloger, Julia Miller,  and two other people with backgrounds in special collections. They captured decorative and structural information for selected bindings for the library’s online catalog and for a subsequent exhibit: Suave Mechanicals. They wanted to utilize the extensive research on bindings and capture all the description in the online catalog.

She showcases other tools to help book historians describe bindings which validates her book in bibliographic scholarship. It is a tool for instruction and an aid for caretakers at all levels of their career. The aim of this handbook is to help custodians notice interesting elements of historical bindings. Damaged bindings can reveal more information than intact bindings–structural, compositional, and decorative technique information.

Throughout this book she has described many different types of bindings, structures, and decoration. Binding scholars have been forestalled by the lack of even cursory descriptive binding information in collection catalogs and their ability to physical see and touch the books. Each one of the chapters builds off of the other before it. She provides useful reference  tools for beginners to experts. Their are color plate illustrations as well as black and white reproductions. There are three appendices with different guides along with a glossary and a bibliography.

After reading just a minute portion of this book, I would want to own a copy in my library for referencing and pondering over. I think it is a great handbook to begin or continue your exploration of book bindings with. Not only is it full of information but it also contains inspiration for projects and engagement with your own historical bindings.

*Miller, Julia. Books Will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The Legacy Press, 2010.

Two articles from Education for Cataloging and the Organization of Information

After a meeting with my supervisor, she suggested I read some articles discussing educational and hiring trends in technical services. As someone who is just entering into the profession, I would like to learn what is happening in technical services and cataloging. Cataloging will be increasingly important as we will encounter representing born digital materials as well creating developing more accessible bibliographic records for print materials.

The first article I read was “Demographic Trends Affecting Professional Technical Services Staffing in ARL Libraries” which presented an analysis of demographic data from the Association of Research Libraries. This brief article discusses “two separate-but-related phenomena:” the reduction of hiring and high levels of retirements (Wilder 54). The data is from 1985 and 2000, which is used to identify the changes in this field as well as to draw conclusions as to how these factors might affect the future of technical services.

The second article was “Cataloging or Knowledge Management: Perspectives of Library Educators on Cataloging Education for Entry-Level Academic Librarians.” This article is about a subject which affects Library Science students and new librarian who are interested in cataloging. The authors surveyed library educators based on the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services Education Policy Statement. From the survey and previous discussions of this topic the authors explicate a number of competencies.

Both of these articles are important for librarians, especially librarian students. I became more familiar the vocabulary used in the cataloging profession. In addition, I can use these competencies to shape my own education in order to learn more about cataloging. After reading this article, I am interested in the state of current cataloging education. A study exploring whether cataloging course are requirements for the M.L.S. degree and how the course is offered (i.e. in a physical or online environment). It would be helpful for the profession and those studying to be cataloger to see the impact of the changes identified in Turvey and Letarte’s article.

*Wilder, Stanley J. “Demographic Trends Affecting Professional Technical Services Staffing in ARL Libraries.” In Education for Cataloging and the Organization of Information, edited by Janet Swan Hill, 53-57.New York: The Haworth Information Press, 2002.

*Turvey, Michelle R. “Cataloging or Knowledge Management: Perspectives of Library Educators on Cataloging Education for Entry-Level Academic Libraries.” In Education for Cataloging and the Organization of Information, edited by Janet Swan Hill, 165-187.New York: The Haworth Information Press, 2002.

The curious life of paper

In a chapter I read from A Guide to Early Printed Books and Manuscripts, Mark Bland, the author, describes the important advantages of using paper as a medium for printing and use in a codex over other writing formats. Paper has characteristics which yield information for bibliographic description and provenance investigation. With this in mind, the author presents paper through several different lenses. These different perspectives offer various types of information about paper that catalogers can use to identify the maker, the origin of the paper, and the purpose for making it. Paper has intrinsic value for certain fields of study such as book history, descriptive bibliography, and art history, to name a few. The author introduces paper with terms that the field uses, but in a way that is understandable for novices.

A considerable part of the chapter is devoted to evidence found in and on paper as well as methods of analysis and description. These sections are very useful because it describes steps that catalogers can employ to analyze paper. Throughout this chapter, the author presents opportunities to contemplate about what this evidence can mean to the study of paper and related topics. As I was reading this document, I wrote many questions that I was prompted to think about.

As a MLS student who is interested in rare books, I found this article informative and a great bibliographical resource for other materials about paper. I am eager to find out more about paper and all it characteristics. One particular attribute that is most fascinating is the watermark. Watermarks can reference and indicate important information about for whom the paper was made, when and where. Since this chapter was readable and didactic, I would like to read the rest of the book to see what it says on other topics.

*Bland, Mark. “Paper and Related Materials.” In A Guide to Early Printed Books and Manuscripts, 22-48. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

“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.

“Ten Commandments for Special Collections Librarians in the Digital Age” by Jackie Dooley

Dooley’s article was inspired by the 2008 Rare Books and Manuscripts Section Preconference, “Rare and Special Bytes: Special Collections in the Digital Age.”  She espoused ten principles or commandments that will help special collections librarians in a digital environment. She encourages the adoptions of digital ways of creating remote access to collections and digital copies for preservation reasons. This article is 13 years old, but it still holds substantial importance for the field.

In the main body of the paper, Dooley address the ten steps a special collections librarians can enter into the digital world. The commandments are: “Embrace the technological continuum of the book,” “Rediscover yourself,” “Digitize with abandon,” “Educate yourself,” “Make your work economically sustainable,” “Follow the archivists’ lead,” “Be promiscuous with your metadata,” “Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate,” “Revere the innovative ideas of the young,” and “Proactively define our collective future.”

All of these topics are still discussed in current literature. Special collections libraries are still trying to develop their strategies for implementing these commandments. I think they are very essential for keeping special collections relevant and for outreach efforts. I found this article to be useful because it was introduces these topics and how to gain experience in these areas.

*Dooley, Jackie. “Ten commandments for special collections librarians in the digital age.” RBM 10.1 (Spring 2009): 51-59.

“Progressing Toward Bibliography; or: Organic Growth in the Bibliographic Record” by James P. Ascher

Ascher introduces cataloging by discussing the touch-it-once mentality as well as its affects on the completeness and accuracy of the bibliographic record. He argues against the touch-it-once mentality for special collections because these materials typically “differ between manifestations and are primary source for research that informs their descriptions” (Ascher 95). As an option to minimal-level cataloging, Ascher proposes progressive bibliography which, in essence, means starting with a basic record and then proceeding to a fuller description by enhancing the knowledge represented with the help of scholars and the natural changes in knowledge. He points out that catalogers do not know everything about a book or special collection item at the time of cataloging, which is a common dilemma.  Many of these materials are in need of “more substantive bibliographical research” (Ascher 95). To advance his idea, he looks to digital tools and modern information theories that can help make this process more streamlined.

Anatomy of an AAS Catalog Record

This is an example of a catalog record of a 18th century book.

This article is overrun with ideas about cataloging and the methods that should be considered. In the literature review section, his research is deep and rich in this subject area. For a novice cataloger, the bibliography for this article is an excellent resource to learn the history and development of cataloging. It helps to frame the discussion of what level should special collections materials be cataloged, should catalogers create records with the bare essentials just so the item is visible, and do catalogers have time to do progressive bibliography?

After reading this article, a few statements and sections stood out to me as being important or interesting. Ascher quotes Falconer Madan, a librarian at the Bodleian Librarian, who said, “The idea is that different periods of printing and different classes of books should meet with correspondingly varying treatment” (Ascher 98). Madan splits time into different periods which each require a different level of description dependent upon the discretion of the cataloger. I think this is a guiding principle in special collection libraries. As catalogers, we also should be aware of the hidden collections, so that we can try to temper the obstacles affecting our ability to catalog or digitally represent these materials. Another sentence that I found interesting was:”The cataloger is no longer the judge, jury, and executioner of the records of the material of the rare book room, but a gatekeeper and ally to the whole Gutenberg galaxy of information, ideas, and connections” (Ascher 100). I feel myself on a fence when confronted with questions of how to write, describe or label a characteristic of a book. Cataloging is subjective, like so many other things, but they are not set in stone so we can change and improve the record. A catalog record can reflect one institutions policies on cataloging or a general type of description. The notion of knowledge always developing and growing is a key theme for Ascher. I agree that the present and future research will help cataloger create descriptive records. One way this can be applied to cataloging is linked data.

Before writing this blog, I spoke with my internship supervisor who told me about the realistic nature of special collections cataloging. I thought the article impressed that this idea of progressive bibliography cataloging was the best solution, but it is the ideal that unfortunately cannot be achieved in libraries. With shrunken library staffs and an ever growing collection, the work of librarian is to identify the most useful information for bibliographic records and to represent the material accurately. This does not mean that they will be providing minimum level description, but that they will not spend time research a modern book printed by Simon & Schuster.  I think there is always going to be discord between how much time full description catalog records take and the number of book and materials in the backlog and the newly acquired materials. But it is the role of the rare book cataloger to create, maintain, and update records that furthers research and knowledge.

*Ascher, James P. “Progressing Toward Bibliography; or: Organic Growth in the Bibliographic Record.” RBM 59.4 (2009): 95-110.

“Cataloging in Academic Libraries: their Evolving and Expanding Roles” by Lois Buttlar and Rajinder Garcha

A part of my internship requires that I read and write a descriptive abstract or annotation about articles and professional discourse on the subjects relating to my internship. Over the course of my internship, I will have read ten articles and written descriptive abstracts about them.

In the first article, the authors discuss the current state of cataloging by conducting a survey of 271 respondent who have cataloging responsibilities. The respondents were selected from American Libraries Association’s Technical Services Division. By studying the answer to this survey, the authors are able to identify and draw conclusions about the current functions and the changes in cataloging positions in the last ten years. Automation and expansion of nonconventional areas that were increasingly introduced in over the course of the catalogers tenure in the respective jobs. Also, catalogers are expected to have computing knowledge and subject expertise.

The literature review is an excellent resource for students to glean information about the history of cataloging and to trace citations that lead to other discussions regarding cataloging. The authors establish how over the past, the need for catalogers has not dwindled nor has the need for bibliographic and cataloging access.

The author’s findings and methodology allowed for the emergence and identification of the trends they found by analyzing the survey responses. One trend that was interesting was that 75 percent of the catalogers found a trend toward involving nonprofessionals in higher levels of cataloging. I think this is interesting because it has repercussions on the accuracy of the cataloging records and what that means for the education of library science students and young professionals. There is also evidence of outsourced cataloging which can be seen as a positive or a negative depending on the institution and department.  Furthermore, the catalogers’ roles have moved to be more of an implementation and maintenance manager. They have also been serving a consulting role because the changing library environment.

I thought the open ended comments were illuminating. They prompted me to think about what this means for special collections. and rare book cataloging. This article provided me with an understanding of the roles of cataloging professionals and their responsibilities.

*Buttlar, Lois, and Rajinder Garcha. “Cataloging in Academic Libraries: their Evolving and Expanding Roles.” College & Research Libraries 59.4 (July 1998): 311-321.