As the last day of my job at the Newberry, today marks the end of my involvement with the French pamphlet project. Cleaning out my desk over the past week has produced a sort of time capsule from the year and a half that I spent in this position. I found the MARC worksheet I was given my first week (it’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t know what went into the 245 or 300 field of a record!). There were notes from our earliest team meetings, in which we discussed the peculiarities of emphyteusis and eminent domain, annuities and émigrés, and made extremely important decisions about whether to append “Pamphlets” or “Sources” or “History” or “Early works to 1800” to various subject headings (I’m pretty sure the New York Times reported on our decisions). Missing from my notes are the more entertaining parts of our meetings, in which we shared the funniest, weirdest, and most ridiculous pamphlets we had come across lately.
From my desk, I also unearthed scraps of paper on which I had scribbled my questions about cataloging: how much guesswork can we do about where a pamphlet has been printed? What is the difference between the subject headings “Aristocracy (Political science)” and “Aristocracy (Social class)”? What do we do when the information we find in the definitive bibliography of French Revolutionary pamphlets is clearly wrong? How can we tell the difference between variant editions and states? Although there are still no cut-and-dried answers to all of these questions, over time I have learned how to handle a variety of confusing and murky situations, often by using the sacred principle of “cataloger’s judgment” (i.e. “just make a decision and stick with it”).
I’m definitely holding on to the running list of favorite subject headings that I kept during the project. Those that actually ended up in my records include “Rogues and vagabonds,” “Brigands and robbers,” “Swindlers and swindling,” “Sexually transmitted diseases,” and “Illuminati,” as well as fantastic subject strings like “Clergy—Alcohol use” and “Seafaring life—Study and teaching.” Then there are the random ones that I somehow came across in my many searches, subject headings like “Boy with leaking boot (Statue)” and authorities like “Almighty God, 1950-” (he’s alive!). Not on the list, and infinitely more frustrating, are the headings that don’t exist, even though the subjects come up in our pamphlets again and again: payment in kind, the Thermidorian Reaction, political denunciation.
Although I won’t miss the vagaries of Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), I will certainly miss the pleasure of working with such an important and comprehensive collection of documents, as well as such an intelligent and engaging group of catalogers.
Oh, and the pie. I will really miss the pie.