Special Libraries: A Cataloging Guide

Rodney Brunt (Leeds Metropolitan University)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 1 April 2000




Brunt, R. (2000), "Special Libraries: A Cataloging Guide", Library Review, Vol. 49 No. 3, pp. 139-156. https://doi.org/10.1108/lr.2000.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This substantial publication bears the hallmarks and authority of two of the most eminent in both the theory and practice of cataloguing. As might then be expected, it covers the field comprehensively and in so doing addresses not only the activities dedicated to both descriptive and subject cataloguing but also managerial aspects and those concerned with policy as they affect individual organisations.

The book is in 23 chapters falling into five principal groupings; the first four treating the subject generally, the fifth concentrating on practice in specific categories of special libraries. The introduction briefly sets the scene; and the book is completed with a number of appendices containing a bibliography (useful though tending to favour American practice) a glossary and indexes. In addition to a conventional topical index to the text there are indexes to names (principally corporate); to figures and to examples which have been classified by problem area. This is a highly commendable and welcome feature. Each chapter has a substantial list of recommended further reading; and chapters 4, 7, 9, 11, and 12 include exercises on description, known item access, alphabetical subject indexing, Dewey decimal classification, Library of Congress classification respectively. The answers are provided in another appendix.

The introduction includes the useful observation that special libraries no longer operate in isolation, being now more fully integrated with the general library network because of the breakdown of subject boundaries and their increasing inability to obtain all titles now encompassed by their individual specialisms. The sharing of resources in academic and public libraries is now vital in discharging the responsibilities of special libraries.

Chapter 2 (Decisions) provides a very useful preliminary to the business of constructing the catalogue‐covering practical points which are often omitted in contemporary texts in the enthusiasm to get on with the business of cataloguing itself. Here also is a useful and timely section reminding us about the link between surrogate retrieval and physical storage for retrieval. Chapters 3‐7 cover the known item approach to information; and nestling in here is coverage of serials and unpublished material in chapters which cover particularly important categories of stock in the special library.

The unknown item approach to information is addressed in chapters 8‐12 and includes Library of Congress subject headings and the principal (in North American terms at least) classifications DDC and LCC. While special schemes are discussed in the later chapters on specific types of special libraries there is nothing in the more general part of the book. This might be regarded as slightly odd on this side of the Atlantic given the availability of special classification schemes; but not so odd when the essentially North American bias is taken into account with its mark and park philosophy of classification. There are limited references to the classified catalogue and those made describe more the alphabetico‐classed rather than that familiar to older members of the cataloguing community. In many respects, though, given the hegemony of the alphabetical approach to retrieval via subject now found in the majority of online catalogues, it is not inappropriate to readers in this country.

Chapter 13 covers MARC briefly but satisfactorily; and this provides a link to the consideration of the bibliographic utilities and local computerised systems in chapters 14 and 15. Two important chapters then revisit points made in the introduction concerning policy matters and management, covering, among others, items such as maintenance of a policy manual and managing the cataloguing department. There then follow chapters on a selection of types of special libraries: health science; law; art; music; science and technology and the corporate setting (commercial organisations). While the first five are certainly justifiable and ably covered it might be questioned whether the commercial could be addressed adequately given the wide variety of the parent organisations of such libraries.

There are few reservations. The general North American bias weakens some of the material as far as relevance for the UK, especially in regard to the rather different cultural backgrounds as they influence the operations of at least some of the special library environments discussed. It comes with a bit of a jolt to find cataloguing in publication (CIP) brought up so fully in the introductory chapter. The writers doubtless thought long and hard about the location of the topic and it is difficult to identify a truly satisfactory alternative – but perhaps a helpful signal of its importance could have been placed here with the fuller exposition in chapter 2 (on the bibliographic record) or chapter 14 (on bibliographic utilities and sources of MARC records).

This book will be useful for students and practitioners alike; and for those intending to work in general libraries as well as those seeking employment in the special sector. The preface indicates that the book “… is meant to be readable and useful. It is intended to promote effective public services by making it easier for information specialists and librarians to implement standardised bibliographic services”. The reviewer has every confidence that it will succeed in these objectives.

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