History of Cataloguing 3: Cutters’ Objects and Means

October 11, 2015

This post is the third in a series sparked by my selection of books for the History of Cataloguing section of my reading list for the core cataloguing module on the MA LIS.

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

is known.

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).


  1. Author-entry with the necessary references (for A and D).
  2. Title-entry or title-reference (for B).
  3. Subject-entry, cross-references and classed subject table (for C and E).
  4. Form-entry (for F).
  5. Giving edition and imprint, with notes when necessary (for G).
  6. 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).


Autumn in Cambridge

October 10, 2015

Autumn in Cambridge


Academic on Sabbatical

October 7, 2015

The observant amongst you may have noticed a new link in the sidebar “Academic on Sabbatical“. Rather than keep boring / rubbing it in that I don’t need to teach or do administrative duties (just research) until April 2016, I set up an Instagram to use as a bit of a photodiary:

Academic on Sabbatical

I’m particularly interested to see if my suspicion that I do less socially because of workload is borne out by the once-a-day posts I make. Normally in the Autumn term, when most of my teaching is scheduled, I book nothing – not even trips to visit family – until the Christmas break.

I won’t promise not to blog or tweet my sabbatical at all – but those who feel under the kosh of their own workload can avoid the worst of it, while those who are interested can see the photo diary. I won’t be offended either way.

One final caveat: I won’t be instagramming the inevitable hell that I’m going through, like everyone else, in writing up the PhD. Partly because it’s a trope (so boring), partly because I want to track what I do socially (so it’s irrelevant) and partly because as far as I can gather, Instagram is about sharing (usually) pretty pictures (so it’s inappropriate). As a result, that Facebook effect we sometimes experience, in which the lives of others look only sunny and bright, will no doubt feature here. Remember: PhD write-up drives pretty much everyone temporarily insane … even if they still make it to the ballet or theatre occasionally!


History of Cataloguing. 2. Jewett

October 4, 2015

Jewett's Facebook Page

This post is the second in a series sparked by my selection of books for the History of Cataloguing section of my reading list for the core cataloguing module on the MA LIS.

Cataloguing in the News

This week saw the historic announcement by OCLC that they have printed their last catalogue card. Part of their shared cataloging initiative which represented a huge investment in the concept of universal bibliography, the catalog card side of the business used to be substantial. From their press release:

“OCLC began automated catalog card production in 1971, when the shared cataloging system first went online. Card production increased to its peak in 1985, when OCLC printed 131 million. At peak production, OCLC routinely shipped 8 tons of cards each week, or some 4,000 packages. Card production steadily decreased since then as more and more libraries began replacing their printed cards with electronic catalogs. OCLC has printed more than 1.9 billion catalog cards since 1971.”

The Genesis of Shared Cataloguing

Of course, the idea of shared cataloguing is much older. The image for this blog post is from a set of slides I created back in 2009, before I had time to pull together my timeline of cataloguing codes, and it is a slightly tongue-in-cheek representation of what Charles Coffin Jewett’s wall might have looked like. As Bakewell (1972) has pointed out, Jewett’s efforts at the Smithsonian were significant in formulating a systematic approach to subject headings within dictionary catalogues, and influential on later developments in this area. This blog post, however, highlights what I believe to be a far more significant impact: his work at the Smithsonian to promote the creation of a shared system of cataloguing.

On the reading list, I’ve suggested students might like to read the 2nd edition of On the Construction of Catalogues of Libraries, and their Publication by Means of Separate, Stereotyped Titles, with Rules and Examples (Smithsonian Institution, 1853), which, conveniently, has been digitised and made available via the Hathi Trust. In it, we can see how he problematised the creation and publication of dictionary catalogues, and, specifically the challenge that the library is not “stationary … [but] constantly and rapidly increasing” so that “while the catalogue … is passing through the press, new books are received, the titles of which it is impossible, in the ordinary manner of printing, to incorporate within the body of the work. Recourse must then be had to a supplement.” (p. 3). He cites examples of how this pressure has led to catalogues not being completed, referring specifically to the Royal Library at Paris, the British Museum and the Bodleian.


Jewett’s solution was to make use of the new technology of stereotyping to make individual records for every item, store the stereotyped plates and offer a service to the wider library community of constructing a printed catalogue for them from the plates. Significantly, “If the titles which have been stereotyped for one library may be used for another having the same books, the saving to the second would be equal to the whole cost of composition and stereotyping of the titles common to the two.” (p. 7).

Advocates today of the often-expressed point of view that cataloguers are not required in libraries because all records can simply be bought in from elsewhere might be interested in how Jewett, the originator of the idea of sharing cataloguing, quantified this time-saving:

“At least one quarter of the titles in any two general libraries, of ten thousand titles and upwards, may safely be supposed to be the same … A third institution, adopting the plan, would be likely to find a very large proportion of its titles identical with those already stereotyped … In fifteen thousand pages, mostly in octavo, of catalogues of public libraries in the United States, there were found to be more than four hundred and fifty thousand titles. But, according to the best estimate which could be made, these catalogues contained not more than one hundred and fifty thousand different titles.” (p. 7).

As indicated in my imagining of Jewett’s Facebook page, his interest in shared catalogue practices meant that he placed a high value on uniformity:

“Another highly beneficial result would be, the attainment of a much higher degree of uniformity than could otherwise be hoped for. The rules of cataloguing must be stringent, and should meet, as far as possible, all difficulties of detail. Nothing, so far as can be avoided, should be left to the individual taste or judgment of the cataloguer. He should be a man of sufficient learning, accuracy and fidelity, to apply the rules. In cases of doubt, reference should be made to the central establishment … Thus, we should have all our catalogues formed substantially on one plan.” (p. 8-9).

National Bibliography

Jewett was writing from a position of privilege, in that the Smithsonian was entitled to receive a copy of every book published in the United States, and part of Jewett’s interest in this issue stemmed from a desire to create a national bibliography of publications. Since 1846, federal law had given both the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress status as copyright libraries, but receipts of books under the legislation was very low. Jewett’s cataloguing system was proposed against a background in which he was locked in a battle with his manager, Joseph Henry, who did not support Jewett’s plans for the Smithsonian to become the national library.

As John Cole (1971) pointed out, Jewett “was the first American librarian to recognize and acclaim the potential value of copyright deposits to the development of an American national library,” quoting his 1849 annual report as evidence of this:

“In coming years, the collection would form a documentary history of American letters, science and art. It is greatly to be desired, however, that the collection should be complete, without a single omission … Who can tell what may be important in future centuries?”

Ultimately, it was this fervent belief in the need to establish a national library supported by copyright deposit at the Smithsonian and his media campaign to that end that led to Jewett’s leaving the organisation – dismissed by Henry, who felt public undermined. Three years later, the Smithsonian lost its copyright library status. The Library of Congress went on to become the national library. Jewett’s system was never fully realised – at least, not at the Smithsonian, and not utilising stereotyping – but his ideas had a far-reaching influence on cataloguing practice, inspiring the ethos of shared cataloguing which we accept as a sine qua non today.


Image: Anne Welsh (2009). Cataloguing: an overview in five slides.


K.G.B. Bakewell (1972). A Manual of Cataloguing Practice. Oxford: Pergamon.

John Y. Cole (1971). ‘Of copyright, men & a national library. The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress 28(2): 114-136.

Charles Coffin Jewett (1853). On the Construction of Catalogues of Libraries, and their Publication by Means of Separate, Stereotyped Titles, with Rules and Examples. 2nd ed. Hathi Trust Digital Library


Dissertations in Historical Bibliography and LISDIS 2015

October 3, 2015

A new feature I’ve added to the Historical Bibliography Moodle page and the Reading List accompanying it provides examples of dissertation topics. There have been some fantastic dissertations over the last seven years that have either used bibliographic methods or have discussed practice in special collections librarianship, so it’s always been very difficult for me to decide which to choose to include in a section like this, but the increase in students seeing their work through to publication and conference presentation has meant I was able to apply the selection criteria that published or presented works be used as examples.

It was particularly nice to be able to add in Lucy Saint-Smith’s dissertation topic, “La femme bibliophile”, which has been accepted for the LISDIS conference which will take place in November 2015. In this, Lucy will speak alongside fellow UCL alumni Sarah Hume and Lizzie Sparrow in the morning session on “collections and discovery”. Students and alumni of other library schools have been selected to speak in panels on “public libraries and the community” and “valuing the library”. The conference is a great initiative by Michelle Bond, Rosie Higman, Jessica Haigh and Emily Wheeler, “developed … out of a frustration that so much good research is completed by students at iSchools but is never shared with the public.” (About page).

As always, I’m really looking forward to hearing what the next generation has to tell us. And it goes without saying that I’m an immensely proud supervisor of Lucy and Lizzie, as I am of all my former students on the new Hist Bib reading list.


Video: Historical Research in MA Dissertations. Live recording from the UCLDIS Research Methods Day in 2014.


Why Do We Write?

October 2, 2015

Practical Cataloguing in Practice at RUSI Library

“It’s not the people who write the book who make the future. It’s the people who read the book and implement it.”

Today The Academic Book of the Future Blog has published a guest post in which I argue that books for vocational disciplines like Library and Information Studies are academic and just as important for the future of academic publishing as monographs with a much smaller audience of academics.

Read the post and join the discussion here.


Image: RUSI Library, with thanks to Ela Szubarczyk, who appears in the photo. If you are interested in a cataloguing internship at RUSI, please email library@rusi.org in the first instance.


New Academic Year

September 28, 2015

It was pretty crazy to be walking through the usual Induction Week madness knowing that I was just passing through.

Good luck to all the LIS students: I’ll be seeing you in April 2016!

UCL Induction Week


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