Tag Archives: cataloging

Lottery puffs and uncontrolled vocabularies

It seems to me that I had heard dribs and drabs about the surprisingly long history of lotteries before starting work with the CLIR project.  I had not, however, come across the term “lottery puffs.”  The phrase came to my attention while reviewing the work of one of my peers (as per our workflow).  David had cataloged a broadside of a décret by the Convention nationale, the verso of which is a sheet of lottery ticket proofs for the Loterie de piété (Case oversize FRC 10427 no. 8).  Not long ago, I cataloged a similar broadside: Avis aux tuteurs, administrateurs et parens des pupilles et interdits (Case oversize FRC 27593) which has tickets for the Loterie royale printed on the verso.

Case oversize FRC 27593, recto and verso

The tickets themselves look like this:

Ticket proofs for the Loterie royale de France (Case oversize FRC 27593, verso)

All French Revolution Collection (FRC) materials are given a genre/form designation in the bibliographic record.  (In the online catalog, if you switch to “Staff (MARC) View,” these are found in the 655 field.)   Such designations must be drawn from controlled vocabularies; we most frequently use the Art & Architecture Thesaurus and Genre Terms: A Thesaurus for Use in Rare Book and Special Collections Cataloguing.  Most FRC materials are simply “pamphlets,” but there are also plenty of “satires,” “comedies,” “broadsides,” “librettos” (recently changed, midstream, from “libretti”), and — in the case of these two broadsides-plus-lottery-proofs — “lottery puffs.”

Strictly speaking, however, they are not puffs.  Puffs are bits of puffery — hyperbolic handbills, particularly suitable for lotteries and nostrums.  For a lovely introduction, see Gill Short’s blog post on lottery puffs in the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera at the Bodleian Library.  The Newberry, too, has a collection of such early 19th-century, English lottery puffs.

So why categorize our exemplars as “lottery puffs” and not “lottery tickets?”  Because a controlled vocabulary is a strict mistress.  “Lottery puffs” appears in AAT, and no other term comes close.  Better close than nothing at all — proving once again that cataloging is a fascinating, frustrating mix of science and art.

Sertor’s Conclave dell’anno 1774 revisited

The cataloging workflow works in mysterious ways.

Earlier this year, when Benedict XVI’s resignation triggered a papal conclave, I took the opportunity to write a post about Gaetano Sertor’s Conclave dell’anno 1774, two copies of which I had recently cataloged.  That very week, elsewhere in Collection Services, a manuscript of the libretto (Case MS V 461 .7743) landed on someone else’s desk.  The flurry of research by Alan and Jessica revealed nuances about the work’s history and publication that were necessary to distinguish its incarnations in our collection, which actually number five: the manuscript, an authentic edition, two counterfeit editions, and a French edition.

In the Bibliografia universale del teatro drammatico italiano, Salvioli and Salvioli attribute the work not to Sertor — who went to prison for its content — but to Prince Sigismondo Chigi.  They also go into detail about the distinguishing characteristics of the counterfeit editions.  The pictures below show our three Italian editions: Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775 (BLC 14); Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775c (BLC136); Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775b.  The French edition (F 46 .655 v. 23 no. 16), cataloged in January, is in our collection of Dutch pamphlets, also cataloged as part of the CLIR project.

Second counterfeit: Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775 (BLC 14); first counterfeit: Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775c (BLC136); authentic edition: Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775b


In contemporary wrappers. Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775 (BLC 14), Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775c (BLC136), Case oML 50.2.C66S47 1775b.

BLC beyond opera

The Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection (BLC) reflects Prof. Brown’s capacious interest in the ways that theater and music intersected.  The collection comprises not just opera libretti and playbills but a great many plays, collections of poetry, and other literary material of the early modern era that in some way inhabited the realm of musical performance.  Since this “other” material falls outside of the cataloging templates we’ve established for the CLIR project, it can be slightly less straightforward to catalog.  These moments of pause frequently become (at least for me) downright detours, as the workflow renders up some title ripped from the music-historical headlines.   Take for example these two volumes.

BLC 694 (Case PQ4617.C15 B59 1553) and BLC 649 (Case DG738.21 .R67 1589)

The item on the right is an account of the intermedi performed for the wedding of Ferdinando I, grand-duke of Tuscany, and Christine of Lorraine in 1589.  These intermedi were lavish spectacles in music and dance and are considered important precursors to opera.

Descrizione dell'apparato e degl'intermedi fatti per la commedia rappresentata in Firenze nelle nozze de' serenissimi Don Ferdinando Medici, e Madama Cristina de Loreno, gran duchi di Toscana. Case DG738.21 .R67 1589 (BLC 649)

For music historians, the 1589 wedding was a signal event, due in no small part to the detailed descriptions not just of the stage machinery and costumes but the performers, the instruments, and the composers.  From the description of the fifth intermedio, pictured below:

…cominciarono a sonare gli strumenti, ch’elle avevan condotti seco, che erano viole, e lire arciviolate, e Anfitrite, sonando sopra alla nicchia un liuto, cominciò soavamente a cantare …

(they began to play the instruments that they had brought with them, which were violas and arch-lyres, and Anfitrite, playing a lute from a niche above, began to suavely sing)

The text goes on to attribute the madrigals to Ottavio Rinuccini and the music to Cristofano (Malvezzi).

From the fifth intermedio, p. 56. Case DG738.21 .R67 1589 (BLC 649)

Perusing a book of such import–from the collection of a towering scholar, to boot–would be a treat for anyone with an interest in early music.

The other item pictured above, labeled “Ecloghe di Calmo,” has a more esoteric appeal.  The volume actually consists of three titles bound together, all by the16th-century Venetian actor, playwright, and poet Andrea Calmo. This was the volume I’ve been waiting to cross my desk (I knew it was in the BLC), for the work of Calmo figures prominently in the Venetian singing tradition which is the subject of my dissertation.

Le bizzarre, faconde, et ingeniose rime pescatorie. Case PQ4617.C15 B59 1553 no. 1 (BLC 694a)





Two "Epitaphii de molimenti antighi" (epitaphs from old monuments), p. 72. Case PQ4617.C15 B59 1553 no. 1 (BLC 694a)









Calmo calls his poems “rime pescatorie” — pescatorian (fisherman) rhymes — and notes that they are “in antiqua materna lingua,” which is to say, Venetian.  These comic verses, along with his letters, provided much of the material for the emerging commedia dell’arte character of Pantalone, the Venetian magnifico.  The two comic epitaphs in this image — “Zangarin Zazzareta Buranelo” and “Cuffeto Bon Haver, zentil brigae” — are alluded to in a comic, quasi-theatrical song called an “aria giustiniana” first published in 1566.

The text of this volume is sadly pristine (oh, for some revealing marginalia!), the only trace of a previous owner being this tidy monogram:

Title page verso. Case PQ4617.C15 B59 1553 no. 1 (BLC 694a)

Interesting finds in the Brown Libretto Collection

This past week while working on the Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection (BLC) I came across four items that stood out from the usual fare of 18th century librettos and oratorios.  The first item, BLC 320 (Case ML50.2.R84 H37 1771), is a bound-with volume containing the libretto of Metastasio‘s Il Ruggiero, based on Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, printed in Vienna in 1771, and a poem by Metastasio, La deliziosa imperial residenza di Schönbrunn, printed in Vienna, 1776. For a bound-with the volume is fairly straight-forward, both pieces were published separately and bound together at some point by an owner.  Both works were printed by the same printer, and include some lovely engraved head-pieces and initials, as well as an added, engraved title page for Il Ruggiero.  What stood out to me about this item, however, was the inclusion of manuscript pages, bound at the end of La deliziosa and numerous provenance notations throughout.  Both works include a former owner’s signature on their title pages indicating that the volume was given to the owner, count Giuseppe Goretti dei Flammini by Metastasio himself (‘Donato a me conte Giuse. Goretto Flammini dal celebre de amico autore’ BLC 320 no. 1; ‘Dono dell’immortale autore a me co. Goretti Flammini’ BLC 320 no. 2).

BLC 320 no. 1 - Il Ruggiero title page inscription

BLC 320 no. 2 - La deliziosa imperial residenza di Schönbrunn title page inscription

There is also an armorial bookplate in the front of the volume with the name Teodro F. Tausch and motto: Robur, et fides. On the rear flyleaf of the volume other owners have inscribed Firenze (on the recto) in one hand,  Padre Clemente all’illmo. (on the verso) in another hand, and in a third hand, on the verso, Luigi Cipriani di Stia mano propria a di 1816.  If all of this fun provenance material wasn’t enough the manuscript pages bound in at the end are even more interesting!

Armorial bookplate: Teodoro F. Tausch.

Rear flyleaf verso inscriptions

The 14 extant manuscript pages (at some point a large chunk of them were cut out) contain dedications to Goretti and Metastaiso, a memorial poem on Gaetano Sertor, author of the satirical opera Conclave dell’anno MDCCLXXIV, and a letter from Metastasio to Goretti.

Metastasio letter to Goretti - recto

Metastasio letter to Goretti - verso


BLC 322 (Case ML50.2.F387  S23 1690) is a libretto for Bernardo Sabadini‘s opera Il faovre de gli dei printed in Parma in 1690.  Despite its unassuming size (22 cm.) I was pleasantly surprised to discover 12 large, folded plates with both woodblock and copper plate engravings of various scenes throughout the opera, illustrated by the scene designer, Domenico Mauro.


The last two items that I selected are not libretti, but rather descriptions of two Italian festivals that took place in the early 17th century. BLC 329 (Case GT4252.A53 V35 1609), Relatione delle feste carnevalesche fatte nella citta d’Ancona, il presente anno 1609, provides a detailed description of the theatrical, musical, poetic and other festive elements of the carnevale celebration in Ancona in 1609.

BLC 329 - Relatione delle feste carnevalesche fatte nella citta d'Ancona, il presente anno 1609.

The author describes the various pastoral, comic, historical dramas, and mock battles that were enacted during the celebration.  Also included are the texts of several poems and various songs.  As I was reviewing the contents of this work for this post I noticed what appeared to be some sort of a list of rules for the ‘cavallieri’.  After consulting with Shawn, who is much better versed in Italian carnevale customs than I am, I found out these rules were for knights taking part in the jousting tournament and included rules for scoring points during the jousts.

BLC 239 - Rules for jousting

BLC 329 tail-piece

BLC 330 (Case PQ4632.S62  B28 1619), Battaglia tra tessitori, e tintori, describes a mock-battle, between the weavers and dyers, enacted on the river Arno in Florence 1619.

BLC 330 - Battaglia tra tessitori, e tintori.

The first part of this text describes the story behind the mythico-heroic battle: both kings Tinta, of the tintori, and Tessi, of the tessitori, are in love with queen Barulla and must compete for the honor of marrying her. The author sets the scene of the battle as it was laid out on the Arno:

“Imagine then, to see your beautiful Arno changed into the Tyrrhenian sea and the island … see the famous Sicily, and the burning Mount Etna that rises above … the armatas of king Tessi and that of king Tinta landing on the island as the Myrmidons and Mamluks …”

The remainder of the volume is a poem in 22 cantos on the battle to win the hand of queen Barulla.

Each of the four items I selected for this post are valuable to scholars in a variety of fields, for a variety of reasons, and only represent a small glimpse of the treasures in the Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection.

Learning “purely by chance” from the Brown Libretto Collection

One of the delightful aspects of working behind the scenes in a library is the opportunity to lay your hands and eyes on large swaths of material.  If a scholar in open stacks is like a kid in a candy store, a cataloger is a kid whose job is to assay every piece of candy in a given box (and one box after another).  For the Brown Libretto Collection (BLC), Jennifer and I are cataloging libretti in batches of fifteen. We’re also peer reviewing each others’ work, so both of us are seeing every single libretto being cataloged.  In addition to being a real treat and a great learning experience, this process has the potential to unearth interesting information, and I have my eyes open for things that might be useful to my musicologist friends.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed something peculiar in the libretto of Vologeso re de’ Parti (Case ML50.2.V65 S35 1759), performed at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence in 1759.   In the cast list, the dancers’ names are arrayed in a circular diagram.  I’ve never seen such a thing in a primary source, though it does bring to mind the sort of illustrations used by scholars of opera seria to express the hierarchy of relationships between and among characters.

Cast list for Vologeso re de' Parti. Case ML50.2.V65 S35 1759 (BLC 74)

I consulted with two of my colleagues, specialists in 18th-century music for the stage, and they’d never seen such a thing, either.  An anomaly, perhaps?  Well, yesterday I found another example.

Cast list for Enea e Lavinia. Case ML50.2.E53 G84 1789 (BLC 279)

In Enea, e Lavinia (Case ML50.2.E53 G84 1789), a 1789 performance at the Teatro Rangone in Modena, a certain group of the ballerini are listed in a circle with the description “a perfetta vicenda” (“purely by chance,” i.e. not by order of importance), and this explanation confirms the implicit meaning of such an arrangement.  For a genre as shot through with hierarchy as opera seria—both in its plots and character structure and in its performers jockeying for social and professional status—the circle is a strikingly egalitarian symbol.  German dramatist August von Kotzebue sheds light on this very issue.  In describing a particular opera seria performance in Florence, he is unable to identify an outstanding dancer by name.  This situation was unusual enough to demand an explanation.

The reason of my not being able to give the name of this lady with certainty proceeds, from a singular species of vanity or jealousy among the Italian singers and dancers.  When several lay claim to equal distinction, the director, to avoid giving offence, is obliged to have their names printed in a circle or a cross, so that a person cannot know where to begin reading; and a notice is subjoined of perfetta vicenda (“perfectly equal”), though this is scarcely ever true.

I find it interesting that both of my examples pertain to dancers and that Kotzebue’s specific reference is to a performer in a pantomime.  Could dancers possibly have been more vocal than singers in their complaints about top billing?  In any event, these circular cast lists index, in their own small way, the complex social negotiations that were the real fabric of opera as produced and as experienced in the 18th century.

Anyhow, no earth-shattering discoveries yet, but at least one interesting tidbit that was news to some scholars.  I’ll keep on the lookout as we continue cataloging and will share more highlights in later posts.

Cataloging the Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection

A few short weeks ago Shawn and I set to work cataloging the Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection.  This collection was acquired by the Newberry in 1993 when the institution received Brown’s library, including microfilm and papers, as a bequest.  The approximately 1250-1300 items in the Brown Libretto Collection (from here out BLC) include libretti in Italian, French, English, and German dating between the 17th and 19th centuries.  Most of the libretti were published in Italy or France, but other imprints including Austria, Prussia, Germany, England, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain and the United States are found in the collection.

Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection

Many of the libretti are in pamphlet form, some with paper wrappers, and some in case bindings.  There are several volumes that contain several libretti, originally published separately, that were at some point bound together. The research guide to the collection, created in 1992 by John Winemiller (pdf. 1 & 2), organizes the collection alphabetically by title and includes its BLC#.  In cases where a volume contains more than one title items are numbered with the BLC# and letters corresponding to the number of items in the volume (ex. BLC#184a-k – contains 11 titles).

As a librarian/musicologist I am absolutely loving this collection.  It is a treat to be able to work with items that were printed for the performance of a Lully, Handel, or Mozart opera dated during their respective lifetimes.  One of my favorite items that I cataloged this week is an edition of Lully‘s Armide (BLC 169 Case ML50.2.A735  L85 1686)  with an imprint of 1686, the year of the opera’s premiere.

Lully's Armide (BLC 169)

Frontispiece from Lully's Armide (BLC 169)

Another fun aspect of working with this collection is learning about, and becoming more well versed in the variety of opera topics.  While many serious or tragic operas feature mythological or legendary stories as the basis for their plot others focus on historical or semi-historical figures.  So far I have encountered operas featuring such historical figures and settings including: Cleopatra VII, Ptolemy, Julius Caesar, Mithridates VI of Pontus, First Crusade, Scipio Africanus, Hannibal, Ghengis Khan, Laodice of Cappadocia, Semiramis queen of Assyria, Roman servile wars, etc.   Quite often the librettist has built a story surrounding one or more of these historical figures that is very loosely based upon actual history. This can be problematic when assigning subject headings because in such cases it is not always clear if the opera is intended to really be about a historical character or just an idealized depiction of several historical figures with the same name — for example sometimes a libretto will feature a character Ptolemy, king of Egypt, but it may be impossible to pin down which of the fifteen different Ptolemian kings is being referenced because of a lack of any other historical references in the text.

As we have begun cataloging the libretti Shawn and I have both discovered that there are not only opera libretti in the collection but also oratorios, cantatas (both secular and sacred), lectures about operas, plays, Italian poetry which may, or may not have ever been put to music, ballet scenarios, Italian song texts, and intermezzi.  This mainly affects the Library of Congress classification number that is assigned to the item in question and genre terms included in the record.  Sometimes, too, items that are not operas or oratorios may take a bit more detective work to discover the composer or librettist if it is not included in the title or preliminary material.

This week I came across a non-opera item – Rime cantate nel giardino del signor Riccardo Riccardi, con l’occasione d’una festa fatta quivi per la reina (BLC 167  – Case ML54.7 .R53 1600) – that contained texts for several different Italian song types (ballata, serenata, canzone, etc.) that were performed at a feast in honor of Marie de Medicis, likely celebrating her marriage to Henry IV of France, in 1600.  The woodblock engravings in this edition are particularly nice and after searching through some music reference materials I was able to discover that the text was written by Italian poet Gabriello Chiabrera, and the music was likely composed by Riccardo Riccardi, in whose garden the songs were performed.

Rime cantate nel giardino ... (BLC 167)

Ballata text from BLC 167.

I am glad that we are able to provide detailed catalog records for this collection and make the items more readily discoverable for researchers, (in several cases there are no extant records for certain items in WorldCat).  I am also looking forward to see what other interesting items are in the BLC collection.

Organization (and the lack thereof) of revolutionary pamphlets

After cataloging over 8000 pamphlets in the French Revolution Collection, it starts to get pretty easy to find broad categories of pamphlets. One interesting aspect of this project has been the ability to track changes in government publications. As mentioned in some of my previous posts, by far the most common printer/publisher in the collection is the Imprimerie nationale and various permutations thereof (Imprimerie de la République, Imprimerie royale, Imprimerie nationale executive du Louvre, etc., as well as François-Jean Baudouin, who was the official printer of most of the legislative bodies from the latter part of the reign of Louis XVI through the First Empire). This allows the researcher (or the cataloger who sees these pamphlets daily over the course of several months) to easily track the changes in government publishing, and enables one to divine the relative time period (and under which government) the pamphlets were published.

Pamphlets published during the reign of Louis XVI are, in some ways, the most difficult to track. For the most part, they were published without any indication of publisher, printer, bookseller, etc. The majority of the pamphlets that do have some indication generally list an individual’s name, usually with the qualification “premier imprimeur ordinaire du roi” or similar. This method of assigning responsibility is consistent throughout the entire collection for pamphlets originally distributed by the central government and then re-published by provincial printers. A relatively small number of pamphlets do have a corporate name – the Imprimerie royale. This attribution is more common in quarto- or folio-sized pamphlets than it is in smaller formats.

The later into the revolutionary period these pamphlets get, the more organized the publication information seems to be. Those pamphlets published earlier in the Revolution are not significantly different than those published during the reign of Louis XVI – dates are frequently absent, although publisher names become more common for government publications.  The government publications in this collection appear to really start to become organized and consistent with the ratification of the Constitution of 1791. While pamphlets published by the Assemblée nationale législative still frequently lack publication dates, most pamphlets at least list a person or corporate body responsible for the printing, and there is generally a session date or some other relatively obvious indication of the date.

This trend towards standardization continues  throughout the period, with each subsequent body becoming more consistent in how government publications are presented.  Nearly every pamphlet published by the Convention nationale includes, at a minimum, either a corporate printer’s name or that of François-Jean Baudouin as well as a session date, publication date, or both. By the time of the Constitution of 1795 and the introduction of the Directoire, the

Colophon from Case FRC 11727

format was pretty much standard across all pamphlets published by the central government in Paris, and even provincial editions of works issued by the legislature all follow the same formula that includes all of the “important” publication information – place of publication, a printer’s name, the date of publication, and in most cases the session date when the content was originally presented. This format remained  after Napoleon’s coup d’état and even through the reign of Louis XVIII.

This trend – instituted explicitly by the government in various publications from the period (see Case FRC 18065, Case FRC 22860, and Case folio FRC 9831 no. 59 for examples) fits in with the larger narrative associated with Early Modern France – the increasing centralization of power and culture and the subservience of the local aristocracy to the government in Paris.

The French Revolution in posters

I have to admit. When I was first told I would be cataloging broadsides I was excited. I imagined elaborate, engraved, movie-poster style publications. Perhaps that was a bit grandiose, given the nature of most of the French Revolution Collection, and my hopes were in fact dashed.

Well, perhaps “dashed” is too strong of a word. The broadsides in this collection are a far cry from movie posters, it’s true. They are still interesting (or at least, that’s what I tell myself). What the broadsides lack in pretty pictures they make up for in the insights that they provide.

The vast majority of these broadsides, in contrast to the regular pamphlets, were published outside of Paris by local governments. What this means for me is that I end up spending lots of time looking at genealogy websites trying to differentiate between all the different members of the Durand/Durast/Dupont/etc. family trying to figure out which one was mayor of Nîmes, or Angers, or Arles, or Bordeaux, or wherever, between February and June 1791, and which one was procureur-général-syndic, which one was mayor between October 1792 and January 1793, and that black sheep who fled the country. One thing that’s clear after spending much time looking at these provincial publications is that despite the abolition of the nobility, oligarchy was alive and well during the Revolutionary era. It also means I get to do a lot of copying and pasting of subject headings, since the broadsides are organized in the collection first along geographic lines and second by general subject, so all the broadsides dealing with the confiscation of refugee property in Gard are all next to each other. In practice, this means that the actual cataloging part (aside from the aforementioned name-issues) goes pretty quickly.

For researchers, these broadsides are actually pretty cool. Provincial imprints are increasingly being regarded as valuable resources for studying the impact of the Revolution on the French populace as a whole. The broadsides in this collection more specifically, outside of their obvious genealogical interest, present a picture of the occasionally tense and strained relationship between the central Parisian government and local governments. (There’s a handy subject heading for this: Central-local government relations—France—Early works to 1800.) There are a number of broadsides making local exceptions to policies surrounding the confiscation of church property. There are broadsides concerning tax collection and exhorting citizens to do their part and pay their taxes happily, and there are broadsides dictating the maximum prices for different goods to be sold at the local market.

Case overize FRC 10445, a typical example of the broadsides in the collection

Another aspect of these broadsides that may or may not be of interest to researchers is their value as part of the history of communication and the press. Many of these broadsides are simply the texts of new laws, or announcements of court proceedings. Just as Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door as a public announcement, so to did local governments use broadsides as the standard means of communicating important information to the populace in the era between that of the town crier and the newsreel. I admit, initially I was surprised at the level of personal information included in some of the broadsides (especially those dealing with allegations of treason), until I paused to think about the situation and realized that even the most egregious breaches of personal privacy in these broadsides were exactly the type of breaches that occur on virtually every television news program. Plus ça change …

Ancient catalogue records

It should (hopefully) come as no surprise that the majority of the catalog records that already exist for these pamphlets are old. Very old. Most of them predate anything like modern cataloging standards. This means that, while ostensibly we may be taking older records from other institutions, proofreading them, and then adding any local notes as necessary, the actual day-to-day work is more like completely tearing down old records and rebuilding them from scratch.

In addition to the obsolete standards being used, there is another, technology-driven problem with the extant records. Most of these pre-AACR2 records were created as part of retrospective conversion projects or converted from the UNIMARC or UKMARC formats, meaning that, frequently, information is garbled, incomplete, or missing. This problem is similar to the metadata issues associated with other large-scale projects, and helps to demonstrate the value of human-driven cataloging and metadata creation over automated metadata harvesting.  Retrospective conversion projects face technical limitations that can result in confusing records, but cataloging librarians rarely have the time (or funding) to go back and fix these records. Awards like those provided by CLIR represent one of the primary ways in which libraries can go back and improve on these records.

Generally, because of the technical limitations of retrospective conversion projects, records are generated without any subject headings. For those rare few pamphlets that do have subject headings, the batch-addition of these records frequently results in garbled, combined, or just plain bizarre subject headings. This results in records for pamphlets about, say, trial by jury with subject headings for the animal rights movement, or records where all of the subject headings end up being combined into one field.

All of these issues end up greatly increasing the amount of time required to catalog these pamphlets. Of course, the extra work we do in cleaning up and modernizing these records ends up creating added value for everybody. Hopefully, the work we do here will end up saving everybody’s time – from researchers, who will now be able to find the correct pamphlets, to future catalogers, who will not have to spend (as much) time completely reconstructing poor quality records.

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.