Tag Archives: peer review

Mixing and matching

Because our work is progressing so swiftly and efficiently on our French pamphlet collections, we have begun to catalog two additional collections at the Newberry, which up to this point had only been cataloged at the collection level.  The special strengths and backgrounds that our project team members bring to the table have allowed us both to maximize the efficiency of the project while maintaining an exceptional level of quality in our catalog records and to begin to process additional collections of scholarly importance that match their skill sets.

As both Jennifer D. and Shawn mentioned in previous posts below, they have begun to catalog the Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection (BLC), a collection comprised mostly of Italian and French opera libretti from the 16th to the 20th centuries bequeathed to the Newberry in 1993 by noted musicologist Howard Mayer Brown.  As musicologists, they are the ideal candidates to catalog this collection, which complements the Newberry’s large music collections.  Just as with the French Revolution Collection (FRC) and the Saint-Sulpice Collection, Shawn and Jennifer submit their cataloging work for a peer review.  For BLC, however, they submit their work to each other rather than to other members of the project team.  Because of their music knowledge, they are very familiar with helpful bibliographies and other reference sources and are able to bounce ideas off each other.

Pamphlet from the Pamfletten-Verzameling (not yet cataloged)

Pamphlet from the Pamfletten-Verzameling (not yet cataloged)

The other collection that we recently added to our project is the Pamfletten-Verzameling, a collection of 1,600 primarily Dutch pamphlets published between 1574 and 1849 and bound into 45 volumes.  Most deal with the history of the Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain, and Scandinavia, and especially with the relations between the Netherlands and England in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The pamphlets published during the late 18th century in particular are an essential complement to the French Revolutionary pamphlets in FRC.  Many of these pamphlets–such as the example pictured here, whose title translates in English to Europe Before the Bar of Justice, or, The Triumph of France –were published in French or espoused many of the revolutionary political ideas of the French Revolution.  This collection highlights the interconnectedness of all of European politics through many turbulent centuries.

David is the primary cataloger for this collection.  His facility with languages and adeptness at cataloging “bound-with” volumes are valuable assets.  He honed his skills cataloging bound-withs–volumes in which two or more separately published items have been bound together–with his fine work on cataloging the Saint-Sulpice Collection and assisting with other cataloging projects.  David’s work on collections of cartographic and travel materials have exposed him to plenty of publications in Dutch and German.  In order to ease into the Dutch language, he is cataloging this collection starting with the most recent publications and working back to the earliest.  In this way, he can avoid dealing with difficult Gothic typefaces present on older pamphlets until he has grown more accustomed to the Dutch language.

Stay tuned for more project management insights, cataloging banter, and new discoveries from all of our pamphlet collections.

Into the Swing of Things.

The beginning of April marked my seventh month here at the Newberry working on the CLIR project, and I can proudly say that I am finally a fully functioning (well, in so many words) member of the CLIR team! I have gradated to being able to add my own subject headings to records, have my portfolios go straight to peer-review (as opposed to going only to Jessica), being able to produce my own records, and being able to take part in the peer-review process myself! Being able to work my way through the training process has definitely helped to make everything much easier to grasp, and I can honestly say that although at times things were quite challenging and even a bit frustrating, there has never been a time when I felt overwhelmed or defeated. I think that that fact should serve as a testament to those who have helped train me along the way, and to the training process used on this project in general. I would definitely rate it as a success.

Of all of the different methods that have been employed to help me understand exactly what a cataloger does and what is expected out of us as members of the CLIR team, I would have to say that the exercise that has helped me quite significantly during this entire process is the act of participating in the peer-review. When I was first told that I had finally reached the point where I could start doing this, I was pretty intimidated (I mean, who am I to review the work of catalogers who have been doing this for years?), but my concerns were soon put to rest with kind and encouraging words from all of my colleagues. As I got into the process I quickly saw that this was an exercise that would help me recall and apply all of the knowledge that I have been picking up along the way during my training. What better way to solidify what you know than by reviewing the work of your peers?

Additionally, being able to see the records that other members of the team have produced, what subject headings they used for which type of documents, etc. is really helping me to be exposed to more material that I can apply to my own cataloging. I appreciate coming across all of the very specific (and incredibly handy!) subject headings that I wish I had known about all along. There have definitely been some silent (or maybe not so silent) exclamations of joy and excitement upon discovering these new and helpful subject headings, and I look forward to what I will continue to learn! As it stands, I am very much enjoying all of the new responsibilities that I have (producing records, peer-editing, doing second day checks, etc.) and would now like to work on increasing my levels of production. Thanks again to everyone who has helped me and been so friendly and patient with me along the way!

Surprises from Saint-Sulpice

Series two of the Saint-Sulpice collection consists primarily of funeral orations and sermons for great personages: monarchs, nobles, bishops, abbesses, intellectuals.  It’s all very grand, very elevated.  The engraved vignettes and head-pieces can be truly lovely, as the armorial title vignette from Paul de Godet des Marais’ funeral oration shows.

Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 34 no. 30, title vignette.

The endless oraisons funèbres can, however, also be something of a bore.  My intellectual interests tend towards the ephemeral and the popular (or at least the personal), so officialdom isn’t really my bailiwick.  That’s not to say that Saint-Sulpice isn’t interesting!  Only that coming across something that doesn’t fit the mold is especially gratifying and can produce some interesting surprises.

Not long ago, for example, in doing peer review I came across a memoire of a legal case (novel!) involving a certain aristocratic nun (typical!), Marie-Thérese Brunet  (Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 6 no. 14).  For this bound volume of funeral sermons, though, the case itself was anything but run-of-the-mill: a cruel servant had tormented and poisoned Brunet’s pet monkey (whoa… oh dear).  The court pondered the ramifications of this breach of decorum: “Problême: une religieuse fortement attachée à son singe, qu’une fille a eu la cruauté d’assommer, combien perd-t-elle d’honneur? combien perd-t-elle de plaisir?“  That was certainly the first time “Animal welfare” and “Monkeys as pets” have come up as subject headings for this project, at least on my watch.  I did a double-take upon first seeing the word “singe!”


"Voicy Mandrin, le chef d'une troupe brigande ..."

More recently, in working through another Saint-Sulpice volume (Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 34) I struck a little vein of historical lore.  Tucked between an éloge for scientist Paul-Jacques Malouin and the sermon for bishop Paul de Godet des Marais (seen above), there were three brief works on Louis Mandrin, chef des contrebandiers.  As has so often happened to me in working on the CLIR project, I had stumbled upon something famous but utterly new to me.  A Google search of Louis Mandrin reveals a rich popular legacy in song and image and film.

It turns out that Mandrin (1725-1755) the brigand and smuggler is the Robin Hood of France, having led a revolt against the fermiers généraux*the immensely rich and roundly hated tax collectors.  Eventually, he was captured and sentenced to death, as the first of our pamphlets documents (Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 34 no. 27, see below). His struggle against the ancien régime earned him followers not only in the populace but also among the likes of Voltaire.  The website www.mandrin.org (in French) is a thorough and beautiful resource on Mandrin’s life and legacy.

Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 34 no. 27, detail.

The second Mandrin pamphlet is an oraison funèbre, styled like the funeral sermons that were common at the timeprecisely the oraisons funèbres that populate most of this collection.  In place of a Bible verse, there is a line from the Roman poet Claudian, and the “sermon” unfolds in two parts, the first devoted to his family background, the second to his works.  The anonymous author praises Mandrin’s accomplishments and mocks those from whom he stole.  He rescued the rich the lethal, corrupting gold that brings all the vices that accompany luxury.

Ingrats, vous ne compreniez pas les avantages inestimables de  cet échange. Pour de l’or il vous donnoit des vertus. [p. 3]

Ingrates, you don’t understand the inestimable advantages of this exchange.  For gold he gives you virtue.

Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 34 no. 28.

This work may be satirical.  The pamphlet concludes with a song (see below)an element, of course, lacking in orations for kings and bishops. The ballad must have already been in circulation since the caption title promises that it has been updated with an account of his death. The description of Mandrin’s brutality attest, at the very least, to a legacy that was not entirely positive.

Case folio BX4060.A1 S25 ser. 2 v. 34 no. 28, p. 7.

*The notion of “tax farming” and, from there, the very meaning of “farming” itself have proven to be one of my favorite mind-bending discoveries during this project.  I highly recommend checking the Oxford English Dictionary’s entry for farm and farmer.

Promoting hidden collections cataloging efforts at IACRL

Today I attended the 2012 conference of the Illinois Association of College and Research Libraries (IACRL), where I presented on our work to catalog the Newberry‘s French pamphlet collections, particularly the French Revolution Collection (FRC).  The theme of the conference, “Adopt, Adapt, Accelerate,” attracted speakers from many disciplines within academic and research libraries, who spoke about innovative technologies, assessment tools, and workflows that librarians can implement today and encouraged a long-view, dynamic way of thinking about the future relevance of libraries.

As the sole cataloging librarian on my panel, I was eager to speak about the continuing relevance of cataloging to the future of librarianship and ways in which we can create new workflow efficiencies in cataloging.  In the spirit of the conference theme, I spoke about our project model, adapted from a model employed by many large university libraries to catalog large hidden collections.  The university model relies on graduate student workers to process large cataloging backlogs, “hidden” because they are uncataloged or inadequately cataloged.  Our project is a pilot project to determine whether we can adapt the large university model to a smaller, independent research library like the Newberry that is not affiliated with a formal academic program or located on a campus.

One of the most successful aspects of our adapted model is the peer review workflow, through which the Project Cataloging Assistants proofread each other’s cataloging work before I do a final review.  The pamphlets in FRC are also relatively uniform in format and size (as you may note from the image below), which makes them conducive to template-based, expedited cataloging.  The added layer of quality control and peer learning opportunities resulting from the peer review workflow, the relative homogeneity of FRC, and the Cataloging Assistants’ extraordinary ability to navigate between the often disparate realms of production and quality have greatly contributed to the success of our project and its underlying model.  More than two-thirds of the way into our project, I feel confident declaring it a success!

French Revolution Collection (FRC)

Reflections over coffee and ginger snaps

Last week CLIR Program Officer Christa Williford stopped by the Newberry while she was in the Chicago area for a coffee break with our project staff.  Our staff shared some of their thoughts with Christa about their work on the French pamphlet cataloging project and how it has affected their career plans.  Several staff working on the project are currently finishing or have completed graduate programs in library and information science, while others are PhD candidates or hold a master’s degree and had limited or no experience working in libraries before their current positions at the Newberry.  Most of the library school students and graduates felt that they would want to continue with a career in cataloging.  Other project staff mulled over beginning a graduate program in library science or continuing toward a PhD in the fields in which they already hold a master’s degree, including musicology and French literature.

While our staff have somewhat disparate backgrounds and different career paths, the knowledge, enthusiasm, and work ethic that each individual brings to our project have been invaluable.  Our system of peer review of catalog records helps to match complementary skills, strengths, and knowledge bases so that our project team can efficiently create high quality records.

While some cataloging projects are not always appropriate for students and subject specialists without experience in library work, the homogeneity of our French pamphlet collections has made our cataloging project an ideal pilot project for testing the viability of employing students and specialists for certain types of cataloging projects.  For this project, we have been able to rely on the advanced French language skills of our Project Cataloging Assistants and the use of templates, which make our cataloging work consistent and efficient.  As we are more than halfway through our project, it is important to reflect on the successes of our project model so far and to look ahead to how this model can be adapted to future cataloging projects.

The peer review

Although our project is a “rapid cataloging” project, we are still able to create large quantities of catalog records with rich subject analysis.  One method we have integrated into our workflow to help cope with the large number of pamphlets we must catalog in a limited period of time is a system of peer review.  In the French Revolution Collection (FRC), the pamphlets have been divided into portfolios, averaging about 25 pamphlets to a portfolio.  After a Project Cataloging Assistant creates records for each pamphlet in a portfolio, he or she passes the portfolio to a peer assistant to proofread for typographical errors, well-formed notes, and valid subject headings.

The advantages of this process are many, as it draws on the complementary strengths of our diverse team.  For example, some team members may excel at subject analysis, while others may proofread meticulously or have a deep knowledge of the historical events represented in the pamphlets.  Moreover, exposure to the cataloging work of others who are cataloging similar materials helps the Project Cataloging Assistants to enhance their knowledge of cataloging and subject analysis, particularly in subject areas like law and economics with which they have less experience.

After the Project Cataloging Assistants make their revisions after peer review, I, in my role as Cataloging Project Librarian, do a final review of their portfolios.  Because the Project Cataloging Assistants have by this point corrected any typographical or other minor errors, I can move through the portfolios rather quickly and focus my energy on questions regarding complicated subject headings or publication history.  Overall, this workflow has helped as to create catalog records at a rapid pace without sacrificing thorough quality cataloging.