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.
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.