If one of the major features of the cataloguing environment of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is shared cataloguing, advocated by last week’s ‘Bearded Elder’, Charles Jewitt, the way in which we catalogue, and the reasons we do so have also foretold by another late nineteenth century American librarian, Charles Ammi Cutter. This blog post focuses on his Objects and Means, as set out in his Rules for a Printed Dictionary Catalog (1876), which, conveniently, has been digitised and made available online through the Internet Archive.
“The first principles of cataloguing”
William Denton (2007) has called Cutter’s rules “the first set of axioms in cataloguing,” and he defines axioms as “a core set of fundamental principles that form the basis for complete cataloging codes such as Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules.” In his Prefatory Note to his Rules, Cutter himself highlighted some of the rules that pre-dated his own and claimed that “For a dictionary catalogue as a whole, and for most of its parts, there is no manual whatever. Nor have the above-mentioned works attempted to set forth the rules in a systematic way or to investigate what might be called the first principles of cataloguing.” (1876, p. 5).
It’s important to note that, unlike Jewitt, whose work was predicated on the idea of uniformity of cataloguing across a range of institutions, Cutter placed more emphasis on the specific needs of the readers in a specific library, opening his Rules with the statement, “No code of cataloguing could be adopted in all points by everyone, because the libraries for study and the libraries for reading have different objects, and those which combine the two do so in different proportions.” (p. 9).
Objects and Means
Nevertheless, Cutter set out common objectives held by libraries in cataloguing, and the ways they might achieve them in a dictionary catalogue:
1. To enable a person to find a book of which either
(A) the author
(B) the title
(C) the subject
2. To show what the library has
(D) by a given author
(E) on a given subject
(F) in a given kind of literature.
3. To assist in the choice of a book
(G) as to its edition (bibliographically)
(H) as to its character (literary or topical).
- Author-entry with the necessary references (for A and D).
- Title-entry or title-reference (for B).
- Subject-entry, cross-references and classed subject table (for C and E).
- Form-entry (for F).
- Giving edition and imprint, with notes when necessary (for G).
- Notes (for H).” (p. 10).
If Cutter’s Objects have a familiar ring to them, it may be because of their similarity to the “generic user tasks” in the IFLA (1998) Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR):
“Four generic user tasks have been defined for the purposes of this study. The tasks are defined in relation to the elementary uses that are made of the data by the user:
- to find entities that correspond to the user’s stated search criteria (i.e., to locate either a single entity or a set of entities in a file or database as the result of a search using an attribute or relationship of the entity);
- to identify an entity (i.e., to confirm that the entity described corresponds to the entity sought, or to distinguish between two or more entities with similar characteristics);
- to select an entity that is appropriate to the user’s needs (i.e., to choose an entity that meets the user’s requirements with respect to content, physical format, etc., or to reject an entity as being inappropriate to the user’s needs);
- to acquire or obtain access to the entity described (i.e., to acquire an entity through purchase, loan, etc., or to access an entity electronically through an online connection to a remote computer).” (p.8).
FRBR (and, following it, RDA), aimed to put the user back at the centre of the catalogue, and so it is hardly surprising that Cutter’s ideas should be echoed within it.
“The convenience of the public”
In the Preface to the 4th ed. of the Rules, Cutter (1904) made explicit his attitude to the centrality of the user and their needs:
“The convenience of the public is always to be set before the ease of the cataloger. In most cases they coincide. A plain rule with our exceptions is not only easy for us to carry out, but easy for the public to understand and work by. But strict consistency in a rule and uniformity in its application sometimes lead to practices which clash with the public’s habitual way of looking at things. When these habits are general and deeply rooted, it is unwise for the cataloger to ignore them, even if they demand a sacrifice of system and simplicity.” (p. 6).
With regard to the issue of sharing catalogue records, discussed briefly last week, Cutter asserts:
“If one already has a catalog with a large number of cards, and merely inserts in it as many of the Library of Congress cards as possible, I see no reason for altering one’s own style, either on the past accumulations or on the new cards that one is to write. The two kinds of cards can stand together in the drawers and the public will never notice the difference. But if one is commencing a new catalog, to be composed mainly of Library of Congress cards, I advise following the Library of Congress cards closely. It will save much trouble.” (p. 5).
Plus ça changes. Those responsible for the implementation of RDA against a backdrop of pre-existing AACR2 records will recognise this idea. Indeed, my new book (2016) on cataloguing in the hybrid environment opens with this very quotation from Cutter, and the idea that the hybrid catalogue has been amongst us since long before RDA was a twinkle in the eye of the JSC. As I said in my video for the Bachelor of Arts and Sciences students in 2013 (embedded above), Cutter is a significant cataloguer not just because of his specific actions in his own time, but because it is remarkable that someone from his era should still be impacting so greatly on our practices today.
Charles Ammi Cutter (1876). Rules for a Printed Dictionary Catalogue. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office. Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/cu31924029518978
Charles Ammi Cutter (1904) Rules for a Dictionary Catalog. 4th ed. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office. Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/rulesforadictio06cuttgoog
William Denton (2007) ‘FRBR and the history of cataloging’. In Arlene G. Taylor (ed.) Understanding FRBR: What It Is and How It Will Affect our Retrieval Today. Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited.
IFLA (1998) Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records. Berlin: De Gruyter. http://www.ifla.org/publications/functional-requirements-for-bibliographic-records
Anne Welsh (2016) Cataloguing and Decision Making in a Hybrid Environment: The Transition from AACR to RDA. London: Facet (forthcoming).