Sunday, 29 January 2012

Library day in the life of ... day 3

9.15 Re-shelving
We're currently tracking a sample of books from the point where each book is returned by a reader, to the point when the book is back on the shelf and available for the next reader. My results don't look very encouraging.

10 Coffee

10.30 Review productivity for the project and write report. It's the first day of February, so it's time to investigate whether we catalogued enough books last month to meet our targets. In fact I keep an eye on this every week - I don't like a nasty shock at the end of the month. Some people shudder at the idea of quotas for cataloguers, but I would find it difficult to manage a project without some sort of targets. Funding bodies want to know how much a project will cost, quite reasonably. There's a certain amount of theorising involved - if one person takes a week to catalogue 100 books, how many people will it take to catalogue 200,000 books? But we've been cataloguing this sort of material for 4 years, so I can make a reasonable estimate of how many books people are likely to be able to catalogue in a week or a month. Year on year comparisons are also useful - we almost never reach our target in December, for example, because the library closes from 24th December to 2nd January, so a certain amount of catching-up has to be done.

11.30 Review yesterday's cataloguing with new staff.

12.45 Rare books reading roomIt's a bit quieter in the room today. Which gives me time to review the various card catalogues housed in the rare books reading room and wonder what might be done about them. There are provenance catalogues, catalogues of ephemera, catalogues of ballads - all the specialist categories that don't fit into the usual book catalogue record. How much work would it take to convert these catalogues to something searchable online? What level of staff? How long? The essential thing to do is to work on a representative sample of the cards, and the Head of Rare Books has recently begun on this.

3pm Storage and access
I'm on floor 15 of the tower again, and pondering the old wooden cabinets in which 19th century non-academic material is stored. I don't know how old they are, but I find myself wishing for the days when I worked in further education colleges and everything was new. Or at least circa 1970. These cabinets may have been fine to stoe things when nobody looked at them very often, but now the tower material is being photographed and written about, the cabinets are old, it's difficult to open the drawers, and they're far too full of material. Time to write another plea for money for new cabinets ...

4.15 Training session: cataloguing Bibles, and books about the Bible.
This is mostly about looking at uniform titles and how different versions of the Bible are organised in the catalogue so that people can find them. We need to include in the catalogue heading all the essentials that identify a Bible - eg. language and version. Staff have to cope wth the massive cultural change between 1913, when the Bible was central to childhood and adult culture, and the present day, when it's just one of many texts. The cataloguing rules also assume familiarity with Christian texts, referring to Gospels, Epistles, Apocrypha in a way that many people find quite baffling. The Library of Congress subject headings refer to Hermeneutics, Versions, Harmonies, using very specialist language. But again, one of the skills of being a great cataloguer is about being able to read specialist texts and understand something of the structure of the subject. I'm quite at home with Catholic and Church of England texts but years ago I catalogued a large donation of books from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I had to get to grips with the literature quite quickly. It's about analysing the content and understanding the context. Which is what makes it a great job. Don't ever think that cataloguing is just about following rules!

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