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


History of Cataloguing. 1. Ranganathan

September 27, 2015

Ranganathan has a posseThis post is the first 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.

I’ve spoken before about Ranganathan’s continuing relevance to information professionals in the 21st century, and he features in any trainings that I run on the principles of cataloguing. Indeed, I start the module with a lecture on Cataloguing 101, which gives students “a whistlestop tour of all the things that you will hear again over the next ten weeks in a more detailed way,” and Ranganathan is slide number 2, after Backstage Library Works’ excellent Indiana Jones image “Cataloging: the Lost Art”. (Fun fact: Harrison Ford donated his whip to the Institute of Archaeology, and so is listed with other donors on a shiny brass plaque).

The point is that Ranganathan’s Five Laws should permeate everything we do as librarians, and this is also true of cataloguing. I thought it would be helpful to look here at what Ranganathan himself said about Cataloguing in each of the five sections of this book. We’re using the 1931 edition, which, conveniently, has been digitised and is online free thanks to the Hathi Trust.


A modern librarian, who has faith in the law that ‘BOOKS ARE FOR USE’, is happy only when his readers make his shelves constantly empty.” – p.6.

“The Library requires on its Staff persons who have scholarship in Mark Pattison’s sense i.e. judgment, discipline and scientific habit. Their speciality must be bibliography and their attitude must be that of a student.” – p.47.

Library staff “should never forget that in libraries books are collected for USE, kept for USE, and served for USE. The endless technical processes and routine — getting suggestions from experts, acquiring by purchase or gift, accessioning, classifying, cataloguing, shelf-registering, shelving, charging and discharging — all these are carried on only FOR USE.” – p. 59.

“A library is a collection of books kept for use. Librarianship, then, is connecting a user and a book. Hence the very life of a library is the personal service given to the people.” – p. 67.

In this first law, then, Ranganathan is largely arguing for the attitude, personality and education required by library staff. He gives an example of a hypothetical conversation with someone who does not see the challenges of indexing and mis-labels it “cataloguing”, which is a pity, as this in itself hints that Ranganathan did not hold cataloguing in such high esteem in terms of the intellectual decisions it sometimes requires. Nonetheless, the major thrust of this chapter is that we have passed out of an era he described as “BOOKS ARE FOR PRESERVATION” and into the era of “BOOKS ARE FOR USE” and this has implications on how we conduct our business – in all departments of the library.

From this, not only can we see that in the modern day, in which more visits are made to the library’s online catalogue than to the library itself, the catalogue is a vital tool for enabling BOOKS TO BE USED, but also that our attitude as cataloguers should support the ethos of getting books and other items into the hands of those who seek them – that the “technical processes” Ranganathan highlights (including cataloguing), are not ends in themselves, but part of a greater aspiration to provide service – “personal service” as he puts it – to library users.


The second law is concerned with egalitarianism: that everyone, regardless of social class or gender, should have access to information via the library. Those with mental health conditions or disabilities (including blindness) should be entitled to expect equity of access. Prison libraries, school libraries, local studies libraries and naval libraries are all given as examples of environments in which the librarian should be able to tailor their services to meet their users’ needs.

“A third obligation that the Second Law would impose on the Library Staff refers to the catalogue …” – p.297.

“The Second Law would throw on the Library Staff the burden of readily helping the reader to find HIS MATERIALS from all possible books housed in the library. This obligation can be discharged only by making the catalogue fully analytic and giving profuse subject cross-references … If the cross-references are not made sufficiently full, the library may have to turn away many readers unserved, while the materials sought by them are standing silently on the shelves.” – p.298.


“The catalogue also can be of immense help in this matter.” – p.307.

“It even occasionally happens that a reader is more favourably impressed about the usefulness of a book when he sees its catalogue entry, although its size, get-up and other features might lead him to overlook it while examining the shelf.” – p.307.

“There are certain classes of entries which are specially conducive to the fulfilment of the Third Law. They are Series Entries and Subject Cross-Reference Entries …” – p.308.

“The Third Law would therefore urge the library authorities not to plead the bogey of economy and shortage of funds when the proposal for the necessary staff for cross-referencing work comes up before them …” – p.311.

Sadly, in the current era, we have seen too many library directors ignore Ranganathan’s warning: cataloguing staff are small in numbers, and in some libraries, there may not even be staff specifically charged with catalogue maintenance: books are bought shelf-ready and catalogue records ingested unchecked.


“Another factor that may lead the reader to waste his time in getting his materials is due to the inevitable composite nature of most of the books. All books are not monographs. Very often an excellent account of a specified topic may occur in a chapter or even in a few pages of a book whose main interest may be some other topic or topics … If a catalogue is made up only of a single entry for each book and makes no attempt whatever to give analytic cross-references, the only course open to the reader is to examine every book to see if it gives any information on the subject of his study…” – p.351.

“If it is not done, what is the wastage that would be involved in our talented high paid research worker spending some hours of his time in the search?” – p.354.

Ranganathan estimates based on his experience (4 years at that time) that five members of staff are required to cope with the subject analysis and cross-referencing of a library acquiring 6,000 volumes. He goes on to argue for the need for periodical indexing services.

Looking back from the 21st century, we know that indexing of articles is a huge industry, powering our discovery layers to include journals alongside our catalogue entries, and the citation and bibliometrics systems such as SCOPUS and Web of Science. We also know that the equivalent work has not been possible in our libraries because of staff cuts. I’ll just leave that here for anyone with budgetary responsibility to ponder …


“Another part of the library building which should be generously provided for in consequence of the growth in stock is the catalogue room or the room in which the catalogue cabinets are kept…” – p.392.

Of course, nowadays our catalogues are online, so the space for them is not only physical (server rooms, bays of OPACs) but also virtual (server space) and educational (staff need to know how to programme, manage and train users in the use of the catalogue).

My two favourite research libraries still have some space dominated by their old catalogues: the London Library, which has their pre-computer records near the photocopy space, and Cambridge University Library, which has recently redesigned its wonderful catalogue hall to include comfortable seating. They acknowledge that some records still have to make the transition from the offline world to the online one, and so these spaces are far, far more than a sentimental reminder of our library past.


Just so, I would argue, with Ranganathan. He certainly was more interested in Classification than Descriptive Cataloguing, and his Five Laws range far and wide through our professional activities, with even wider ranging examples. However, his thoughts on Cataloguing do still resonate into the current era. Moreover, the axiomatic nature of his Laws‘ expression leaves plenty of space for us all to reflect on how they impact on our cataloguing practice, and how our cataloguing practice, in turn, impacts on our library users.


Image: Aaron Schmidt, copyright commons, some rights reserved.
ResearchBlogging.orgS.R. Ranganathan (1931). The Five Laws of Library Science Hathi Trust Digital Library


Digital Reading List for INSTG004 Cataloguing

September 24, 2015

INSTG004 Reading List

At last, just in time for Kate to start teaching “my” Cataloguing class a week on Monday (while I am on sabbatical), I have finished the seemingly never-ending task of getting my reading list online.

It’s split into sections covering:

Good things about putting the reading list together included being able to locate these resources in a reading list (where before they were on our Moodle page, often buried in pdfs) and to publish this list so that those outside UCL can at least see some of the resources I use in teaching. This list is time-limited; next year I’ll have to update it, and it will then be published with a different URL, so it’s better than having to maintain a page elsewhere, such as on this blog, with the burden of updating every time a web address changed. (That always seemed an impossible – or at least a thanklessly time-consuming – task to me).

Things I enjoyed less about the process included having to edit the title fields to standardise capitalization (because, of course, the reading list pulls metadata through from UCL Explore, incorporating our catalogue (capitalization according to AACR2 / RDA) and various journal sources (which often, though not always, capitalize the first letter of most words in the title). Metadata for authors pulled from UCL Explore displayed authors in forename – surname order. Metadata for authors pulled from other sources varied – notably, Senate House Library records displayed authors in surname – forename – other Name Authority field entries, and so had to be edited for consistency. I found it very irritating that I couldn’t choose to display the list with the author surname first, even where I chose to order the list by surname. It was more irritating for this reading list than the one for Historical Bibliography, since, rightly or wrongly, I assume that students will have their “cataloguing brain” switched on when they read a list on Cataloguing, and so may be more conscious of such oddities. However, that said, I found the reading list system vastly improved on the eh-oh days when a lovely member of the Reading List team showed me the software a few years ago. So much improved, that, at last, I have gotten to the end of this task, and I hope that Kate, the students and anyone else who stumbles upon it will find INSTG004 Cataloguing’s reading list useful.

The hardest section to compile was the History of Cataloguing. All reading list choices are, to a greater or lesser extent, subjective (RDA Toolkit has to be there, of course – articles on library management systems might not appear on equivalent lists elsewhere, and may represent my own interests within the discipline). In the History section, I was aware of so much that I want to share with students – and I’m sure Kate (who is in the write-up phase of a thesis that considers the History of Cataloguing) may feel the things I have chosen to miss out even more. (Sorry, Kate)!

In any case, this awareness of my own selectivity has tied in neatly with my own desire to get into Research Blogging again as a means to start my week writing. (I too am writing up my thesis, and a large chunk of my sabbatical will be devoted to this task). Research Blogging is tough for Early Career Researchers, as we must be wary of releasing our best ideas into the blogosphere instead of our dissertation (cf Lucy Williams’s horror story on the Guardian Higher Education Network). So blogging on Cataloguing History research seems a good way to avoid that particular bear-trap while getting my fingers typing. First post, on Ranganathan’s Five Laws, this Sunday. (I bet you cannot wait)!


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