Historical Aspects of Cataloguing and Classification

Keith V. Trickey (Sherrington Sanders and Liverpool John Moores University, UK)

New Library World

ISSN: 0307-4803

Article publication date: 1 September 2004




Trickey, K.V. (2004), "Historical Aspects of Cataloguing and Classification", New Library World, Vol. 105 No. 9/10, pp. 387-388. https://doi.org/10.1108/03074800410557367



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

They keep getting bigger don't they! This one is a full serial volume as monograph – after two part and three part compilations, the volume to hand is all you get for “Cataloguing and classification” for a whole volume! So if you were not interested in “historical aspects” you were in for a lean year!

In reviewing this item I will first comment on the contents presented in this volume, and then have a brief ruminate on the difference between a periodical and an annual themed volume. I have used the form of the word “cataloguing” or “catalgoing” as used in the text.

The volume consists of 27 papers which are grouped into three sections – General works on cataloguing rules (three papers), Individual countries or regions (11 papers) and Special formats or topics (13 papers). The volume is completed with a brief introduction from the editor and a useful 35 page index.

In reviewing the papers I will comment on what I enjoyed – as this volume contains a veritable feast of topics there should be something for all of a cat and class persuasion! Many of the papers were very worthy – important contributions to their specific areas, but a tad dull for a reviewer who was duty bound to read the lot!

The first paper that really enthralled me was Carpenter's “The original 73 rules of the British Museum: a preliminary analysis” – lets face facts this title does not set the pulses racing – however, the content meticulously researched from British Museum Committee paperwork and other archive sources provides an enthralling account of what happened between Panizzi and the Trustees as the rule set evolved. I look forward to further accounts of this process.

The papers relating to “countries and regions” provide useful background on activity in Africa, Argentine, Chile, Central America, China – not being a “comparative” not of great interest, although I did enjoy the alternative agenda in the Mutula and Tsvakai paper Historical perspective of cataloguing and classification in Africa, which bemoaned the heritage of exploitation/colonial perspective in the Anglo American approach. This would have made an interesting topic for an article, rather than being a minor theme as the paper that attempts to review progress in the whole of Africa. Popst's article on “The development of descriptive cataloging in Germany” delves deep into the progress of the Prussian Instructions and the Berlin Instructions and RAK is an interesting read as the play off of theory and practice in rule formation (and of course where the poor user fits in) and factionalism and power bases – the real stuff of information services!

Some of the articles included in this compilation, which I am too polite too mention, I guess may have been kicking round the editorial office for a while and could be painlessly included in such a broad based topic! An article that I comment on critically for a related reason is Goldberg's contribution “Development of a universal law classification”. The author is Senior Law Classification Specialist at the Library of Congress, so obviously the gripe is not the ability of the writer. My concern is the length of the article – it takes up 91 pages and is sufficiently important to merit being published as “a slim volume” in its own right! The article is further compromised by poor printing which renders many of the appendicies unreadable. A similar problem is found in Soltani's article “Historical aspects of cataloguing and classification in Iran”, where the samples in Arabic script are likewise unreadable.

The final section, “Special formats or topics” contains some gems. I will use Lincoln's article (“Cultural reassertion of Alaska native languages and cultures: libraries” responses) as representative of a tendency in some articles. The opening section which describes the historical background to Alaskan languages is a fascinating study in the cultural complexity of this area and is far more interesting than the rather dull (and worthy) section on modification to the Library of Congress classification. Shuler's account “Foundation of government information and bibliographic control in the United States: 1789‐1900” contains a fascinating account of the development of government and gets dull as we approach the late nineteenth century. Lubas’ article “The evolution of bibliographic control of maps” eventually pays lip service to the “cat and class” bit after a fascinating account of the development of maps in library collections. Sadly it is too often the country we travel through to reach the “cat and class” bit that is far more interesting than the actual reason for the journey! Zhou's account of the organisation of the Kinsey Institute Library was an unexpected delight. If you work on the premises that someone has to collect this material – and when they do, it has to be arranged, then it has to be approached using some appropriate sense of ordering! The task is made more difficult as much of the material is what is termed “popular” rather than academic.

It is rare that I get an opportunity to mention that great writer and librarian Jorge Luis Borges, the creator of such excellent fictions, where his erudition and creativity melded to produce fictions which appeared completely credible to the reader. The delightful contribution by Waithe and Vintro – “Posthumously plagiarizing Olivia Sabuco: and appeal to cataloguing librarians” is fascinating. Olivia's father Miguel was a doctor as was his daughter. The work in question, first published in 1587, although naming Olivia as the author has been attributed to her father Miguel. Waithe and Vintro mount a scholarly tour de force to completely vindicate the case for the attribution to Olivia, the range of records and cultural understandings they draw on is both impressive and a compelling read. However this charming and earnest account had me scuttling to my screen to check the names in case the authors had been following the Borgesain tradition in their scholarship. My brief investigation indicates they are scholars of probity to whom I am very grateful for the insight they give to a huge range of issues impacting on book publishing in Spain in the late sixteenth century. The other topics in the final section include monastic cataloguing, music, rare book cataloguing, serials cataloguing in Germany.

Having read through the 27 contributions, and rounded my shoulders by carrying this chunky tome in my rucksack for several weeks, I was left with a certain discomfort. Haworth have been in the business of grouping papers by theme to allow for the publication of monographs for a long time now! I appreciate the temptation to go for “bigger and better” – the two part grows to the three part, and now we have the full output of a volume as a themed monograph. I feel this fascinating volume, which I endorse as offering delights, is a publication too far. Although this may be fine for the monograph market, it is less than fair on the serial subscriber, who looks for variety in the content of the journals, yet progressively finds that this expected variety is being reduced and their themes come through in chunks every couple of years or so at most.

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