The following is a guest post by student assistant Blaise Denton.
Here in the Florida State University Special Collections we have a very special volume, Jorge Borges “The Library of Babel.” The standalone volume in our possession is illustrated by Erik Desmazieres. The Book details life in the great and infinite Library of Babel. It is never ending, universal, broken up into hexagonal rooms and filled with an uncountable number of books. Filling each book are letters, clumped randomly to spell out nonsense. Every so often people find a book with words, real words that spell out ideas and thoughts. Because the library is infinite, there must be one book somewhere in the collection that details the past and future. There must be a book that catalogues the rest of the books. There must also be an infinite number of false narratives, false leads, and even more books that are unreadable.
Special Collection isn’t infinite. Most of the books in the collection are carefully catalogued and lodged in a place where we can find them. We know what almost all of them say. But the task of the librarian is the same, whether it is in the Library of Babel or here in Special Collections. We live in a big world, rather full of books, and more full of things. In Special Collections we find those books that “matter”, a rather subjective verb, and we keep them here, safe. They deteriorate; they get lost. We bundle them up safe with boxes and paper wrapping; we hunt them down and bring them back to their preordained place. The librarian’s tasks, in fiction and in life, are to bring order to chaos and to decide what matters.
Many of the books in Special Collections are in languages we can’t read. Many of them are so small you need a magnifying glass to examine them, some are so big it takes two people to open them. Some are serious tomes on theology and philosophy and some are tiny children’s books. Some of them are pornographic. But they all have two things in common: they are kept in place by a complex cataloging system, and they are meaningful.
In “The Library of Babel” when someone finds a book with meaning, that book becomes incredibly valuable. People travel from all over the universe, that is to say the library, to look at it. Whether it is fiction, poetry, prophesy or biography the book becomes something invaluable. It has meaning, it proves that there is truth.
Special Collections is rather like that, if a bit less grand. People choose things as
meaningful enough to write about or otherwise document. Someone has combed through all the books to buy, all the books that have been donated, and selected these. These are the most valuable, the rarest, the oddest books that FSU libraries has. Come look at a book inscribed by a medieval monk. An Akkadian trader. A 60’s beat poet. Come look at “The Library of Babel” by Borges. There are books from every age and perspective here. There are so many books you could never read them all. Try reading a few, very different books and see if you, like the fictional librarian, find some meaning in order.
Catalogers work behind the scenes in the library. We’re usually found in our very quiet building, examining books, checking over bibliographic records, or typing lines of code. The catalog records that we work on are mostly used by people whom we will never meet. But the Cataloging & Description department occasionally receives questions from researchers, and those questions help explain why we put certain pieces of information into our records.
For example, we recently got a question about the historical theses and dissertations that we catalog. A researcher compiling a bibliography of theses and dissertations for The Hymn Society found the record for a thesis or dissertation written by an FSU student in 1973. The question was: was it a thesis, written for a Master’s degree, or a dissertation, written for a Ph.D.?
As technology has advanced, catalogers have been able to provide an increasing amount of metadata for each item they catalog. We no longer have to limit ourselves to the space of a 3×5-inch catalog card, and changes in our digital platform have allowed us to include more information for electronic resources as well. The record in question had been created in 1976, using older cataloging standards, and it didn’t contain the information that the researcher wanted.
As we’ve been updating the records of historical theses and dissertations to current standards, however, we’ve been including this information in each record. Once we got the question from the researcher, we updated this record as well, so that now anyone looking at the record should be able to see that it’s describing a dissertation, not a thesis.
‘Twas the week before Christmas, when all through our section
We were ready to work on a festive collection.
Many boxes of books (and this part makes it fun),
Each with the same poem. You all know which one.
The boxes were nestled all snug in their cart,
Holding old books and rare books and books filled with art,
Toy books with sleigh bells that jingled a tune,
Plus archival items, including a spoon.
And we catalogers, as a matter of course,
Had settled our brains to describe each resource.
Each one was related, but each was unique,
And our records must help people find what they seek.
But no cataloger would let that disturb her,
Remembering concepts that she learned from FRBR.
When faced with this “Night Before Christmas” incursion,
We would deal with each item, no matter which version.
Now, pop-ups! now, postcards! now, stamps for the mail!
On, parody versions! on, versions in Braille!
Whether titles be missing or typeface be small,
Now catalog! catalog! catalog all!
And, as our work on these books we’re completing,
We send you our very best seasonal greeting
For a year of discoveries wherever you look:
Happy holidays, all, and to all a good book.
As FSU students were finishing up their final papers for the semester, at Complex Cataloging we were working on a group of theses and dissertations written by FSU students long ago. Our project involved almost 600 digitized works from graduate and undergraduate students, most of them written between 1920 and 1979. Electronic theses and dissertations are popular items for researchers: as of December 10, 2015, 1,974,053 titles in this category have been downloaded from the institutional repository. We wanted to create records that would make our digitized theses and dissertations available to anyone who needed them.
These student works are windows into the past, giving us a look at a world that no longer exists – a world where the cutting edge of school technology involved typewriting classes and film reels, where many teachers were not allowed to attend the theater, play cards, or dance.
Some of the works that we cataloged were written by teachers and librarians who were already working in the field while finishing their degrees. They wrote about the tensions and problems they had seen in their own schools and communities.
Other works included personal details from contemporary authors that are available nowhere else.
To help make these theses and dissertations part of the Digital Library, we had to come up with a way of creating records for the electronic works based on their print versions. First, an automated process was used to gather the catalog records as a batch. Then, the Complex Cataloging team, along with Amy Weiss, Head of Cataloging and Description, updated and enhanced the catalog records in WorldCat and FSU’s catalog. The records now contain information that will allow researchers to find them in a number of ways, and to know from reading each record whether that work is the one they want. Next, Annie Glerum, Head of Complex Cataloging, developed an XSLT program that was custom tailored for this project, using more updated XPath functions than other similar programs, to transform them into the format used by the Digital Library. Once these records are added to the Digital Library, researchers will have access to these fascinating student works that not only tell us about our history, but also make a contribution to scholarship in many fields.
Have you ever wondered how a book is cataloged or who constructs the records that allow you to find a resource within the library? If so, then today is your lucky day. Special Collections’ Complex Cataloging Unit created a Film Noir short on the cataloging process. Directed, filmed, and edited by Dominique Bortmas, Complex Cataloging Specialist, and written by Cataloger Elizabeth Richey, the film provides a comical yet insightful view into the world of cataloging.
Today in Special Collections, we are exploring a new addition to the Napoleon Collection which led catalogers on an interesting research journey. Recently, a book titled The Historical and Unrevealed Memoirs of the Political and Private Life of Napoleon Buonaparte, printed in 1821, found its way into Special Collections’ Napoleon Collection. While the text itself contained riddles about the author’s identity and the source’s authenticity, it also contained a letter addressed to the book’s previous owner, Proctor P. Jones, who donated the book to FSU. The text and letter led Cataloger Elizabeth Richey to consider the possibility of fabricated memoirs and how to catalog such things.
At a quick look, The Historical and Unrevealed Memoirs of the Political and Private Life of Napoleon Buonaparte looks like a normal memoir. However, a closer look at the memoir from a cataloger’s perspective raises questions about its accuracy, which leads to the question of how do we catalog a possibly fabricated book?
Elizabeth recognized some possible hints that made her question the memoir’s authority and accuracy. For example, the book’s publisher is listed as “Is only to be had of the author, No. 27, Cirencester Place, Portland, Place, April 1821”, while further research shows that the book was printed by Fargues of Berwick Street, Soho.
Even more interesting is the attributed author of the text: Mademoiselle R. d’Ancemont. After much research and exploration, Elizabeth and other catalogers could not locate any information about this mysterious author; instead, she found evidence that this author may have used a pseudonym. This was supported by a letter found in the book. The writer of the letter argues that due to two references within the text, the memoir was written by “Dangeais”, not R. d’Ancemont. He continues to argue that this name may also have been a pseudonym, and that we may never know who the true author is. Without the author’s real name and background, we are left to wonder if the author is a reliable writer.
As a result of questionable information in the book as well as doubts about the author and publisher, the writer of the letter believes the entire book may be “a fake.” In the letter, the writer states that he thinks the memoir is “completely fabricated”, as was the case for many memoirs written during this period. He and other researchers go as far as to believe that the entire text is not only a fake, but also a fake originally created in English, not a French to English translation as the title page suggests. Other catalogers and researchers seem to share this opinion about this mysterious text. Whether or not the book is a “fake”, it still belongs in Special Collections since it provides insight to this historic era and is a perfect example of a potentially fake memoir.
This interesting find illustrates the amount of time and research a cataloger must devote to cataloging all resources. Without proper information and detailed records, it is difficult for library users to locate sources. Sometimes, the item itself does not present enough information for a proper record. In some cases, particularly with older and donated books, catalogers are lucky enough to find outside sources of information within a book, such as the letter found within this book. In either case, Special Collections catalogers strive to make accurate records so that the collections rare and interesting items can be found and explored by FSU students and faculty.
We continue our introductions of the FSU Special Collections & Archives division with the Cataloging and Description department. This post was written by Amy Weiss, Annie Glerum and Ruth Ziegler.
The Cataloging and Description Department supports the academic programs of Florida State University by organizing and describing print books, e-books, video recordings, streaming video, microforms, maps, and other monographic materials purchased or received by the library. Four librarians, two library specialists and four library support staff catalog 36,000 titles per year following national standards of bibliographic control and in keeping with established cataloging practices and priorities. The department works with Acquisitions to load e-resource packages, which add thousands of records to the library catalog each year. Original records are contributed to OCLC, an international bibliographic database. FSU contributes nearly 1,000 original records per year. The department participates in international cooperative cataloging programs including NACO (Name Authority Cooperative) and SACO (Subject Authority Cooperative) through the Library of Congress. We contribute 500 to 600 records every year to the national authority file. Two units – Complex Cataloging and Authorities/Catalog Management collaborate to create workflows and apply the latest technologies in its routine work and projects.
A sample of new technical work for Cataloging and Description are the ETDs (Electronic Theses and Dissertations). Instead of receiving MARC (Machine-readable Cataloging) records for the ETDs, we receive non-MARC metadata and convert it into MARC so it can be loaded into the online catalog for users to find. Data conversion is also key to another recent job, the London project, where we are processing a file of records that were converted from the Access database the FSU London branch library uses for their local catalog to MARC records for FSU’s main campus catalog. After the records have been processed, they will be loaded in the FSU catalog so that professors and students visiting London will know whether or not they need to bring a given book with them. Librarians Annie Glerum and Yue Li and Library Specialist Dominique Bortmas have been working on these projects.
Remodeling the Dirac Science Library has been a major concern for the University Libraries. When the Libraries received funding for compact shelving, weeding the collection quickly became a priority. Librarian Ruth Ziegler and Library Specialist Nakia Davis collaborated with the University of Florida and worked out a withdrawal plan to remove 62,000 unwanted volumes from the catalog using global change. Reports were given to Collections Access so that they could remove books from the shelves for resale or to discard. Using this method, books did not have to be moved to the Catalog Management unit and there was considerable savings of time and effort.
Rare Books and Special Collections materials are cataloged in Cataloging and Description. When the University Libraries acquired a complete run of books published by the Grove Press Department Head Amy Weiss assembled a team of catalogers (Melissa Burel, Tim Kanke, Valeria Kosmynin and Annie Glerum) and instructed them in Special Collections cataloging. The team was able to get the books cataloged in time for a special event planned around the collection this past spring.
Ordinary cataloging is not what it once was. Cataloging of most English language materials is done in conjunction with vendors who supply both the books and the bibliographic records, as well as physically processing the book with property stamps, security strips, and barcodes. After two years of working with the Coutts/Ingram, we have changed vendors to Yankee Book Peddler (YBP). YBP will supply electronic and print books with accompanying MARC records. We will continue to do quality control checking to make sure all books have full records.
Cataloging and Description loads catalog records for large e-resource packages, e-books and streaming media. This can be a complicated process. FSU is part of the shared State University System (SUS) Libraries catalog. Loading electronic records requires coordination between the schools. Librarian Ruth Ziegler works with FSU’s Apryl Price, E-Resources Librarian and with FALSC (formerly FLVC). Collaboration with the other schools who have purchased the same materials is sometimes necessary when errors occur in batch loading.
There are still some traditional cataloging functions performed in Cataloging and Description. We receive books which are not yet cataloged and which require original or close to original cataloging. Most of these books are in foreign languages, but not all. Many of the books are held by very few United States libraries, with FSU being one of a very few copies held. In cases like these, FSU performs a public service by providing high quality cataloging for these materials so that they can be located by scholars throughout the country.
A traditional cataloging task which is taking on new significance is authority control. Authority control provides the underlying structure of the catalog. It’s something that most users and librarians don’t think about. It’s a very important component in cataloging and the post cataloging process. Authorities are established forms of personal, corporate, conference, geographic names, subjects, uniform titles and series records that link to records in the bibliographic file. This involves using the Library of Congress authority file from which we follow established access points. New access points are set up when there is a conflict in the Library of Congress Name Authority File (NAF). In this way, works by a single author or on a given subject can be found together in the catalog. In current thought about the future of cataloging, authorities will become linked data, which will associate each name or concept with a number or code so that items can be linked out to the web and not just collocated in a catalog. From the traditions of library cataloging, come the innovations of tomorrow.