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Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Book review : "Practical Cataloguing" by Welsh and Batley

The following review appears in the CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group newsletter, issue 94, along with many other book reviews collected together in a 'reviews special'. It can be found at .

Anne Welsh and Sue Batley, Practical Cataloguing: AACR, RDA and MARC 21. London: Facet Publishing, 2012. 217 p., illus. ISBN 9781856046954. £44.95. pbk.

Libraries have been cataloguing with AACR for over thirty years and with MARC since the 1950s. Although this is still very much the norm, RDA is on the horizon and things look set to change.  Anne Welsh and Sue Batley did not set themselves an easy task when they chose to write a practical guide to cataloguing in this time of flux, although it was sorely needed with Bowman’s Essential Cataloguing last published in 2005 and with no mention of the new standard. The immediate reaction to this project was to question the point of writing a book which looks as though it may be out of date before long. But as we all know, things move slowly in library world and we may find ourselves cataloguing in an RDA / MARC hybrid for a few years to come.

Happily they have succeeded in putting the practicality into Practical Cataloguing. It clearly sets out its aims and its place in the cataloguing canon from the word go. They necessarily touch on the theoretical to provide the back story of cataloguing at the beginning, which is helpful to students of librarianship (and also for me, library school seems fairly distant now).  This is revisited in chapter 4 to place the theory into practical context. It is also useful as a snapshot of the state of things for those cataloguing now, and is perfect starting point for libraries that are beginning to explore what RDA will mean for them.  For those who are new to cataloguing or for those who have been cataloguing for a little while but only have experience of one library and their own house rules, the ‘Practice Notes’ scattered throughout the book provide a handy and reassuring insight into the wider state of things.

I should have liked to see a couple of extra things which may have been useful in a reference book.  A glossary may have been welcome, especially for students of librarianship.  From the perspective of cataloguers within libraries that are thinking about their move to RDA, some examples of RDA standard data formatted into MARC 21 records could have been useful. However, this is clearly a well thought-out book and doubtlessly there are reasons for the exclusion. It is also possibly a little pricy for students, but understandably, as with all specialist books, this is unavoidable.  From a rare books point of view a note where DCRM(B) supplants AACR2 may have been useful too, but probably only possible in the most perfect of worlds; in a ubiquitous guide to cataloguing this would have been irrelevant to most readers.

However, rare books cataloguing is not forgotten, there is some mention where the practice deviates from other cataloguing and perhaps more importantly states the advice regarding the implementation of RDA, i.e. to continue prioritising DCRM(B) guidelines for now. Anne Welsh explains on her blog that the authors have decided not to create a companion website to track the changes in the cataloguing landscape, however Anne will be charting and discussing them on her blog, which also covers rare book territory more thoroughly.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Robert Browning in Oxford

By virtue of our own forthcoming Robert Browning exhibition at Eton College Library I was kindly invited to join the Browning Society on their trip to Balliol College, Oxford, to see the Balliol College Browning exhibition and something of Browning’s Oxford.  The collections at Balliol have a wonderful Browning collection and some of the highlights recently on display in their store in the beautifully restored and converted St Cross Church. 

The most exciting item for me was the ‘Old Yellow Book’ – yes, it doesn't actually sound very exciting, does it? Nor is it to look at. However this book was the inspiration for Browning’s magnum opus, the four volume The Ring and the Book, based on the true story of a late 17th century Roman murder story.  Browning found this book of contemporary pamphlets recounting the trial of Count Guido in the market in San Lorenzo, Florence. Discouraged from using it as a basis for a poem by his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning because it was too sordid (Victorians, tut), he kept it both physically, and in the back of his mind, until nearly a decade later.  At Balliol it was open at a page which is newly discovered to be the only one annotated by Robert Browning.

Balliol has come to have this treasure, among many others (one of which that clearly should be mentioned is a ring, thought for a long time to be the ring of the poem. Instead it is a ring given to him by his closest friend Isa Blagden, and partnered with one given to Elizabeth.), through Robert’s vow to do right by his son Pen, after Elizabeth’s death in 1861 and his move back to London. He tried to get Pen into Balliol (he failed, Pen did get into Christ Church but this was also short-lived, Pen was more interested in rowing and hunting than academic pursuits), and ended by himself becoming an Honorary Fellow. He also became a great friend of Benjamin Jowett. Browning loved Oxford and respected the honours bestowed on him at Balliol, perhaps they gave him a purpose after Elizabeth had died. More likely he was pleased with the recognition after he had been derided by the British public for most of his writing career. Whether this be true or no, Balliol seems a fitting resting place for all that wonderful Browning material.  Research at the Balliol College Collections can be conducted by prior appointment.

The Eton College Library exhibition  Robert Browning: Places and poems will run from 17 November 2012 - March 2013 and will include highlights such as Robert Browning manuscripts and letters, including one recounting Elizabeth's death, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sofa, with newly restored upholstery, from which she received Robert during their courtship. It is open by appointment, see link for contact details.

Friday, 22 June 2012

What should we be collecting now?

As a librarian looking after a modern rare books collection this question has been bubbling away in the back of my mind for some time. The 19th and 20th century collections at Eton College Library are quite general in their scope, wonderful, but general, in that the strongest areas are travel literature, Etonian authors, WWI, private press books, and literature.  Basically the stuff every book collector would dream of.  But how should this be developed? Not just in terms of what we acquire in future, but also in terms of aggressively purchasing verses organic growth via donation. Should we take the strengths of other institutions into account and reject competing with them? And should we concentrate on filling the gaps in our established collections or should we be filling our shelves with first editions of current authors?

Some answers, in my view, are very easy.  Of course we should develop the collections in which we are strongest. If you cannot find the work of an Etonian author at Eton then where would you be able to find it otherwise? It is perhaps our special duty to collect things that have been printed privately and would not necessarily be found in the legal deposit libraries, such as juvenilia from an author’s school days or more ephemeral items, such as school magazines.  Private press books are not too onerous an undertaking. Although they are expensive they are not produced in vast numbers. They also perpetuate the the skill of printing, the art of design, and the tradition of binding and papermaking, the entrenched elements of book history. WWI collecting also has parameters, memorabilia in this field will always be studied and used for teaching. But then should we be also purchasing all the histories and analysing works that have been published about the war since? Here it would seem prudent to limit ourselves to primary source items, or works by people that experienced the war first hand.

Anyway – should the legal deposit libraries not have copies of all the reference works that we and our readers could need? Taking this fact and moving away from the field of WWI is where my thinking becomes confused. We have a good collection of 19th and 20th century ‘general’ literature. The type of stuff any bibliophile collecting modern literature would be proud to own. I have catalogued most of it and enjoyed (almost!) every minute. But I can’t help thinking that we are not book collectors per se.  Yes, it is a thrill to touch a pristine first edition of T. S. Eliot but what exactly is its study value? And yes, we do have the first periodical printing with a correction in the author’s hand – and I get that, but what about the 6 copies of Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam with slight variations in dust-jacket, one detail changing upon it as the book was awarded various prizes? Interesting from a bibliographical point of view, perhaps, but if these copies are not supported by a vast Ian McEwan collection, with important provenances, etc., will anyone come here to look at them? We have collections with which one could write a bibliography, including every revision and binding variant, and someone may wish to do that one day, but our Ian McEwan collection probably is not one of them. Unless we have an established collection of a certain author or subject maybe we should not be trying to collect the modern first editions of every prolific current author, leaving that job to the legal deposit libraries or those libraries that have established collection in which these new works would sit well.

This means we maybe should lean more towards acquiring archives, original and unique manuscripts that will have a higher study value for outside scholars. Does this mean we then only go so far as to take in the printed works that support these unique items, such as the originator’s library or their own published first editions? Perhaps we should also only take in the printed collections of book collectors who will have acquired the important provenance items and printing or binding variants for us. Do we then use our budgets to add to these collections and try to complete the picture, or only then purchase items to supplement this base if the new additions will have study or teaching value? This then takes us away from an aggressive purchasing policy, allowing our collections to grow organically, through donations and user demand. We should probably start collecting statistics of the collections (perhaps even items) that get used most often. It does seem that donations seem to come in when a donor can see that the library already has strong related collections. Hopefully this will be enough to prevent the collections from stagnating (there is a lack of 1990s and 21st century popular literature thus far in our Modern Collection), without trying to buy the first editions of every fiction work published, trying to second guess who will become prolific. Maybe we can leave that to the collectors and hope that they will entrust a library to maintain the integrity of their collection at a later date.

The answer is probably a mixture of all of the above, judging each case on its own merit. I, for one, will be reading the ACRL RBMS Collection Development Discussion Group minutes as a way of trying to arrange my thoughts on the matter.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

2012 at Eton College Library

I'm afraid this is a bit of a lazy post, but then I could sell it as efficient! I have written a guest post for High Visibility Cataloguing, a blog promoting the importance of cataloguing in library work, it being a primary step in increasing access. As a cataloguer myself, it is a sentiment in which I believe wholeheartedly. Included in my post are all of the rare books and archives cataloguing projects we are hoping to crack on with this year, like the launch of our OPAC and some questions for which I would particularly like some input, about when collections of manuscripts become an archive. Please do check it out and support High Visibility Cataloguing, who can also be found on Twitter @HVCats.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Who’s ashamed of the big bad Kindle?

Over the recent holidays I had the good fortune to be able to catch up with an awful lot of old friends, or rather I had the good fortune that they agreed to have me as a house guest. A couple of my bookworm friends had been brought a Kindle as a gift by a well meaning friend or relative who had obviously assumed that this would be a desirable gift for a bookish loved one. The same happened to me. The ensuing conversation I had with these friends invariably went like this:
“Ah, so you, ahem, got a Kindle too then?”
“Urr, yes, but, um, I didn’t ask for it...”
“No, me neither. I’m not sure how much I’ll use it, I mean, you wouldn’t use it in the bath and a book never runs out of batteries...”

So it seems that amongst readers, there is a staunch contingent of traditionalist Kindle dissenters. I like to think of it as loyalty because I can absolutely see where they are coming from, but the reality is I am rather enamoured of my Kindle. I thought I would use it to replace those paperback classics which you would only buy for a pound or less, light reading, frivolous stuff. In reality I think I am going to find it more useful for professional reading (I’m lucky that my professional reading includes classics and the like). Loads of classic are absolutely free, in fact (as I understand it) anything that is out of copyright or the text is freely available on the internet, all free. What is better is that you can instantly look up the meaning of words by tabbing down to them, in your pre-downloaded, reputable dictionary. And you can annotate (admittedly the keyboard function is a bit clunky) without ruining a physical object. Quite brilliant.  I wouldn’t say I’m a convert; I find it a little unfriendly and clinical and it is my job to treasure books, look after them and promote their use, but there is a future filled with e-readers and libraries need to address that.

After a slow start things seem to be moving in the right direction. Perhaps inevitably – the USA are ahead of the game, making Kindle ebooks available through public libraries by working with Amazon and Overdrive, but if they are doing it I’m sure it won’t be too long before we are here. At least Amazon seems to be playing ball. The same cannot be said for publishers.  I had not fully realised the extent of the problem until I read Librarian By Day's post following the news that Penguin had retracted e-book lending through public libraries following ‘security concerns’. When I read this news I trustingly presumed that it was a temporary glitch and they truly were working on a way around it. However if this is a knee-jerk reaction to piracy concerns this seems somewhat laughable. Would it honestly be worth someone’s while to pirate their publications when anyone can get them for free from their public library? 

Let’s hope Amazon is as keen to work with British libraries as they are with those in the US. If not that reads bad news for public libraries (especially with Google now in on the act), however, if so, we may not have to rely on the publishers after all.  Maybe the new national e-books group can work out a universal lending model that is more palatable to the publishers. My fear is that they will still not think it worth their while, now that enough people are buying e-books at rock bottom prices.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Speak up!

CPD 23 Thing 16 is about advocacy for the profession.  I must admit that as an individual I have not been much involved in the Save Libraries campaign. Of course in a passive and theoretical way I support it wholeheartedly but it has not really moved me to any action.  The details of all the cuts that are going on in the public sector have not filtered through into my sphere and I have not been out searching for them. If that is the case for a librarian I can imagine how little Joe Public gets to hear. I am aware that to really become invested I need to seek out more information about individual cases to really tug at the old heartstrings but on a practical note, I would still only support a cause if I was convinced (be it rightly or wrongly) that a certain library has been providing a relevant, forward looking, and adaptable service. However, I understand that I should be making it my business and I shall endeavour to do so, beginning with following the Voices for the Library campaign.
 Advocacy for rare books collections is something that affects me more particularly in my current role and my main reason for my membership of the HLF is the work they do in supporting at-risk historic libraries and collections. Of course these issues cross the broad professional spectrum, including the public sector; in these hard financial times it is more important than ever that we justify our rare books because some people see these star items as potential money makers, as was the case at Cardiff.
Convincing people of the value of libraries is why advocacy goes hand-in-hand with service delivery and outreach.  At the moment these are things we are particularly working on, with the opening of a new gallery space, a model by which we hope to make our exhibition spaces more accessible to the public, further reaching advertising, and a teaching programme with our own students, that is just about reaching the maximum our staff numbers can deal with.  To turn this in to useful proof for our case I think we now need to start monitoring the effect all of these new developments are having on the use and usefulness of our service.