Cataloging and the library

Do you ever wonder what it is that librarians do all day long? Here’s a historical example of one of the most important jobs a librarian can do: catalog.  When the library gets new materials, we need to add them to the ROC.  This isn’t done haphazardly; there are all sorts of rules to adding a new score or CD to the catalog.  From the earliest days of the Curtis Library, catalogers have followed the rules set forth by the Library of Congress (with a few notable exceptions) to describe and organize our collections.  Even today, with keyword computer searching and the ubiquitous Google, a lack of cataloging control would make finding scores difficult.  Where would you shelve the latest score of the Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues if the title page were in Cyrillic?  And how would you make sure that the German edition (using the Roman alphabet) of the same piece ended up on the shelf next to it? The librarians have the musical background and the specialized library knowledge to sort through these conundrums and make sure that when you head up to the M25s and navigate your way through the “S” composers, you’ll find the op. 87 Preludes and Fugues no matter what the title page says.

Memo regarding cataloging procedures at the Curtis Library ca. 1928

Memo regarding cataloging procedures at the Curtis Library ca. 1928

Speaking of which, imagine what it was like to find things before the advent of the online era. I recently found this little memo from 1928 tucked inside a book published in 1908 called Catalog Rules: Author and Title Entries. The note refers to “changes in [the] catalog” authorized by Mr. Strasser (William Strasser was, among other things, a consultant to the library in the late 1920s).  In the memo, written by the librarian at the time, Marjorie Winn, rules for creating catalog cards (remember those?), especially when they went against Library of Congress policy are specified.  Titles were to be normalized with English spellings, opus numbers, and keys, and foreign names were normalized using spelling and transliterations found in the original Grove dictionary.  Without these rules, you might have had to open up multiple drawers and flip through extra cardsu in the card catalog to find your score, depending on where it had been published!

So the next time you check the ROC for that score, head up to the shelves and find other editions of the same piece right next to it, thank your friendly neighborhood cataloger.


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