On switching between projects

At this point, one of the biggest difficulties for me when it comes to the actual process of cataloging is keeping different practices and interpretations for different projects distinct.  Some of the different practices between projects have no impact whatsoever (such as the different call number system – not having to assign a Library of Congress Classification to each pamphlet has no impact on working on other projects that do use LCC) while others result in lots of revisions.

The main difficulty I’ve come across when switching between the pamphlets and whatever other project I have been given relates to how much is being directly transcribed from the item at hand. It’s no secret amongst librarians (and now, whoever ends up reading this blog) that the current cataloging standards are characterized by extensive abbreviations. This is an artifact of the card-catalog days, when everything in the record had to fit on the itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny catalog cards. The “official” standards advocate for omission or abbreviation of lots of information (such as most post-nominals in statements of responsibility, et cetera). For most of the projects I work on, that’s pretty much the standard procedure.

Because of some of the peculiarities around cataloging the pamphlets, it is frequently not so difficult to omit or abbreviate information.  For the most part, very little in-depth cataloging has been done on pamphlets from this period (excepting the current project, of course), which means that forms of names are not well-established, and thus, there is little to no authority control, except for the most famous revolutionary figures. This problem is compounded by the large number of pamphlets, especially those with provincial imprints, who assume the reader’s familiarity with the author and simply give an undifferentiated (or very vaguely differentiated) family name for the author – in this case, we end up reaching a little bit to prevent conflicts with established headings or with other pamphlets in the collection. It also becomes necessary to include or expand information that would be otherwise omitted or abbreviated to distinguish between multiple variants of a single pamphlet.  A common example is  two versions of the same pamphlet (or occasionally more) pamphlets where the only distinction is the post-nominal description of the author: Duparc, représentant du peuple  or Duparc, député du département de Paris. Under current cataloging standards, this statement would generally be abbreviated to just Duparc.  Another example is with dates: current practice is to convert dates in roman numerals to Arabic, but frequently it is necessary for catalogers to transcribe the roman numerals to help differentiate between pamphlets.

In extreme cases, the only easily discernible difference between pamphlets may be the presence or absence of certain diacritical marks or a printer’s address. In these cases, depending on other factors, it may not be necessary to distinguish between the pamphlets and copy-specific notes placed in the holdings records. Thankfully, AACR2 allows for these exceptions to normal practice, but because of the paucity of data already available on these pamphlets and the high likelihood of conflicts, the pamphlet project guidelines assume that exact transcription is necessary. When switching to projects with more well defined, less ephemeral materials, getting out of the habit of transcribing as much as possible (and vice versa) frequently ends up complicating matters.

The other common issue when switching between projects is related to how the record is treated after the initial cataloging is finished.  Of the four projects I have worked on (three currently in progress, one finished and ended up being the focus of a colloquium on August 17), each one has come with different guidelines on which fields are or are not moved once the record is actually in the catalog. Because different projects get different project-specific notes (which, it must be said, is largely an automated process), these notes end up getting treated differently once the record is actually produced and in the catalog.