Behind the scenes at the library: a glance at cataloguing librarianship

By Arouce Wasty

October is Library Month, a time to celebrate libraries and the work that librarians, library technicians and library staff do to ensure that knowledge and information resources are available and accessible to everyone. In the spirit of this month, let us look at a side of the library not normally visible to library-goers and library staff. We’ll take a behind-the-scenes look at the work of the cataloguing librarian.

A black-and-white photograph of two women in a library. One is looking through a card catalogue and the other is holding a book and looking at the work of the other.

An archival image of librarians processing books. Photograph taken March 1941 (MIKAN 3571070)

You’ll rarely, if ever, see a cataloguing librarian behind the reference desk at your local library. Often, cataloguing librarians work in a different building—though one just as packed with books as the library itself, if not more so! The cataloguing librarian, along with cataloguing technicians, prepares the various resources, such as books, CDs, DVDs, video games, etc., to be placed within the main library. Furthermore, they enter the bibliographic information from these library items into the library’s computer system. The main goal of cataloguing is to enter accurate bibliographic information for an item, making that item easy to find through the library catalogue.

Seems fairly simple, right? Actually, cataloguing can be quite complex. Essentially, there are two major steps in cataloguing: descriptive cataloguing and subject analysis.

Descriptive cataloguing involves finding and entering information describing the library item according to cataloguing standards. Descriptive information includes pieces of information such as the name of the author, the title, the name of the publisher, the number of pages, the file type, and so on. These pieces of information are entered into the bibliographic record for that item.

Next is the subject analysis of the item. Here, the cataloguing librarian determines the main topic presented by the item. This is where things can get quite tricky. Even if the librarian figures out the subject of the item, s/he has to use tools such as Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), or Canadian Subject Headings (CSH), to find the appropriate term(s) or heading(s) associated with the subject. For example, for a book about cars, the appropriate subject heading, according to LCSH, would be “Automobiles”, and not “Cars”. Sometimes multiple terms are put together to create a subject heading. For example, a book about the social conditions of African countries in the 1990s would likely have the subject heading “Africa—Social conditions—20th century”. Some items may have multiple subject headings to cover either the range of major topics they touch on or all the aspects of a topic they discuss.

Another aspect of subject analysis is assigning a call number to the item. A call number groups the item with others on the same subject. You may be familiar with the Dewey Decimal System used in public libraries; academic libraries use the Library of Congress Classification system. A cataloguing librarian assigns either one or both of these types of call numbers to an item. Call numbers and subject headings are also entered into the bibliographic record.

A colour screen capture of a cataloguing entry showing the division of descriptive and subject information.

Figure 1: Example of a bibliographic record

Remember, cataloguing is not just about describing or determining the subject of an item. The main aim of cataloguing is to allow library users to find and access library items. Descriptive cataloguing allows users to find items via the library catalogue by using keyword searches as well as advanced search options, such as title or author searches. Subject analysis allows library users to find items on a particular subject by using the “subject search” option in their local library catalogue. And, of course, call numbers allow users to find the item on the library shelves.

This is just a glimpse of the work of cataloguing librarians and technicians. Although you may never see or meet with them, the work they do has a great impact on the workings of a library and the experience of the library user.


Arouce Wasty is a cataloguing librarian in the Descriptive Division of Published Heritage.

The Rare Book Collection: recent additions

A collection of 500 pre-1800 books were recently relocated to a permanent location in Library and Archives Canada’s rare books vault. The vault is equipped with optimal environmental conditions to ensure this special collection is properly preserved for generations to come. Prior to being transferred to Library and Archives Canada, the books were owned by the Library of Parliament. Most of this collection consists of books published in England or France, and many are multi-volume sets. The subject matter ranges from geography and history to theatre and essays.

 

Colour photograph showing rows of books on a shelf. All the books are flagged with a slip of paper with a call number on it.

The permanent location in the rare books vault.

About the Collection

The majority of the books are 18th-century hand bindings bound in full or partial leather. The collection also comprises some books made of paper, cloth or parchment. The books are decorated with intricate gold titling and tooling and are often accented with unique and stunning marbled papers, commonly used as the endpapers.

Colour photograph of an open book showing a sumptuous marble paper used for the end paper.

Marble paper detail.

Colour photograph collage of four beaver-stamp images showing the different stamp styles on the books.

The Library of Parliament “beaver” stamp on the spine of many of the books. The style and intricate details of the beaver changes over the years, but the familiar trademark remains easily identifiable.

The condition of the books

Before being added to the Rare Book Collection, factors such as moisture, temperature, light and dust contributed to the deterioration of many of the books. Although some books are in excellent condition, with the binding structures and text blocks intact, many are damaged and show signs of damage. Some items have suffered from water and fire damage, or contain traces of a pest infestation, while others are weakened and damaged due to centuries of physical use.

Red rot and leather deterioration

A large percentage of the collection (approximately 90%) suffers from various levels of leather deterioration. In some extreme cases, the type of damage is referred to by conservators as red rot. The deterioration of leather is a common issue in leather from this period as the tannins used in the manufacturing process contain chemicals that, over time, and in the presence of oxygen, undergo a chemical change that breaks down the leather molecules. This causes the leather to weaken, flake and powder.

Colour photograph of a gloved hand holding a book with the telltale signs of red rot. The glove and sleeve are covered in a fine reddish-brown coloured dust.

An example of red rot—the term describes the red-coloured powder that appears on the surface of badly deteriorated leather.

Next steps for this collection

So much can be learned from this collection of historical and beautiful books. Check back with us for the next blog posts on the physical inventory of this collection , which includes a detailed inventory of the state of the collection, the levels of conservation treatment required, the material composition of the books, type of decorations, etc. Also have a look at the following post, detailing what steps will be taken to preserve this fine collection.

The TD Summer Reading Club is back!

Banner for the TD Summer Reading Club

The TD Summer Reading Club 2014 was officially launched on June 3rd in Ottawa, Ontario, with the participation of the project partners: TD Bank Group, Toronto Public Library and Library and Archives Canada. The purpose of this program is to encourage children to read using fun and accessible activities that build their confidence and fire their enthusiasm for reading — all summer long.

Image of a stack of booksChildren and parents can take inspiration from the theme, Eureka!, to invent, build and reimagine the world while reading captivating books at their local library. Across the country, over 2000 public libraries are participating in the Club, and over 600,000 children register enthusiastically for the program every summer.

The TD Summer Reading Club provides free program materials, including a magazine for children aged 6 to 12; a young children’s booklet for preschool-aged children; and a notebook, a poster and awesome stickers that children can collect over the summer. Of course, the Club also provides lots of suggestions for reading!

A picture of a mouse building a robotRegistering for the Club is free. Simply inquire at your local library to find out whether it offers the program. The Club’s website also offers a range of online games and activities.

This year, the TD Summer Reading Club will focus on sharing and creativity. It will be a great opportunity for the young participants to use all their ingenuity and take on the challenge with their family and friends!

The 40th Anniversary of ISSN Canada

2014 marks the 40th anniversary of ISSN Canada, the Canadian national centre for ISSN, (International Standard Serial Numbers). ISSN Canada, a unit within the Bibliographic Description section at Library and Archives Canada (LAC), has been assigning ISSNs and registering Canadian serial publications since January 1974.

What is an ISSN?

An ISSN, is a standardized international code that identifies a serial publication, including electronic serials, independent of its country of publication, language, alphabet, frequency, etc. Over a period of 40 years, ISSN Canada has helped Canadian publishers and libraries to quickly and efficiently identify, order, distribute and retrieve serial publications.

ISSN Canada is a member of the world-wide ISSN Network, which was established by a UNESCO treaty to which Canada is a signatory. ISSN Canada has exclusive responsibility for assigning ISSNs to serials published in Canada.

40 years of successful cooperation

As one of the first members, Canada has a long history of active participation in the ISSN community. ISSN Canada is the third most productive national centre within the ISSN Network, after France and the United States.

Forty years of successful cooperation among ISSN centres, and the sustained growth of the ISSN Network is an accomplishment worthy of pride and celebration for LAC. This significant milestone is an opportunity to highlight the longevity of the ISSN, identifier and to celebrate Canada’s participation in the ISSN Network.

ISSN Canada thanks Canadian publishers for their participation in the success of this program.

How to find photographs that are not yet available online – part two

Our previous article “How to find photographs that are not yet available online—part one” explained the best-case scenario for finding photographs that are not yet available online. But what happens when things don’t go that smoothly?

What if I find items that are close but not what I want?

If there are items in your search results that aren’t quite what you’re looking for, don’t despair. It’s quite possible that we have what you want, but that it hasn’t been described yet. The items that have already been described offer you a useful clue as to where those non-described items might be.

First, note the fonds, collection, or accession where each item is from and look at the field labelled “extent.” How many other photographs make up that collection? Perhaps there are more images relating to your topic.

Does the item have:

– an item number?
– a particular photographer?
– certain keywords?

Use variations of those keywords, item number and photographer’s name to do other online searches in Archives Search. If those don’t yield any results, try the finding aid related to each item, either online or on paper. See “How to find photographs that are not yet available online—part one” for tips on using the finding aid.

What if the finding aid is not online or the finding aid is only available in paper?

If you find a fonds, collection, or accession that seems relevant to your research but that doesn’t have an electronic finding aid, look to see if it has a paper one. If it does, you can visit us at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa, to have a closer look at it. If there is no reference to a paper finding aid, then you have to search through the boxes from that collection. If you cannot come to Ottawa, you can contact our reference staff for guidance, or you may wish to hire a freelance researcher.

With more than 25 million images, chances are we have your “perfect shot.” You just have to find it!

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

How to find photographs that are not yet available online – part one

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has more than 25 million photographs, one of the largest archival photographic collections in the world. To make these collections more accessible, LAC has undertaken an ongoing project to digitize them, including photographic material. Currently, some images are already digitized and described at the item-level in our Archives Search database.

Given the cost and complexity of describing and digitizing fragile archival images, photographs are described and digitized only when they are requested by users. So, if you are looking for that unique, one-of-a-kind archival photo that no one else has requested (e.g., UFO, Big Foot or Ogopogo), you better start digging!

Begin by checking what has already been described. Follow the steps outlined in our past article: “How to find photographs online” to get a sense of the type of photographs that already exist on your topic, individual, or location.

If those searches do not yield what you’re looking for, it’s time to dig deeper. This is where archival research meets detective work! Remember, from now on we’re talking about photographs that have not been digitized, so you will not be able to view the image before ordering it or visiting LAC.

Keyword Search

In Archives Search, after selecting “Photographic Material” under “TYPE OF MATERIAL” you can enter key words in the search box. Get creative with the key words; archival documents are often titled using the creator’s own language. Narrow your search by using the “ADVANCED SEARCH” features.

You may end up with image search results that aren’t exactly what you’re looking for. Don’t panic. This list is just the beginning of your journey into deeper archival research. It’s fun, trust us!

Fonds/Collections/Accessions

Have you found archival records, including photographs and textual records, all jumbled together? These groupings are called fonds or accessions or sometimes collections. This is a high-level description of an entire grouping of material, usually based on the source of the original donation.

Check out the extent field and see how many photographs are listed there. Read the descriptions carefully and see if the material described relates to the photographs you’re looking for.

They do? Great!

Now, read the description again and see if there is a finding aid.

There is? Good!

Now see if it’s electronic and attached to the description in Archives Search.

It is? Fantastic!

Open it up and see if it provides a listing of the contents of the fonds, collection, or accession.

It does? Wonderful!

Locate the box that you think contains the image you’re looking for, based on the contents of the finding aid, and order the box by following the steps outlined in our article “How to consult material that is not yet available online.”

But what happens if things don’t go this smoothly? Our next article on this topic will provide more tips from our experts on what to do. Stay tuned!

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

How to Find Digitized Publications – Part II

In our post on “How to Find Digitized Publications”, we promised to  share more recommendations from our reference specialists about where to find digitized publications. The following sources point to a wealth of  publications from across Canada and from specific regions.

CANADA-WIDE SOURCES

Internet Archive – Text Archive [http://archive.org/details/texts]
The Internet Archive Text Archive contains a wide range of historical texts, academic books, government publications, fiction, popular books and children’s
books. The Internet Archive includes many digitized federal government and parliamentary publications from Library and Archives Canada’s collection.

  • Tip:
    Once you have found a work of interest, you can then use full-text searching options provided by the website.

Canadiana Discovery Portal [http://search.canadiana.ca/]
The Canadiana Discovery Portal allows you to search the digitized collections of libraries, archives and museums from across Canada. The Portal includes a
wide range of historical materials such as books, journals, newspapers, government documents, photographs, and maps.

Our Roots: Canada’s Local Histories Online [http://www.ourroots.ca/]
Our Roots is a wonderful resource for family history research. This extensive collection of digitized local histories, including historical publications,
from across the country permits full-text searches for family names, place names and events.

REGIONAL SOURCES

Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec – Digital Collection
[http://www.banq.qc.ca/collections/collection_numerique/index.html?language_id=1]
Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec offers extensive collections of digitized materials including newspapers, magazines, municipal directories,
books and musical scores, reference works, maps and plans, and images.

  • Tip:
    The Municipal Directories collection
    [http://www.banq.qc.ca/collections/collection_numerique/index.html?categorie=1]includes the Lovell’s Montréal directories starting in 1842.

Peel’s Prairie Provinces [http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/index.html]
Peel’s Prairie Provinces is an indispensable research resource on Western Canada and its history. It includes a bibliography with over 7000 fully searchable digitized books [http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/bibliography/], many dating back to the earliest days of exploration in the region.

Island Archives.ca at the University of Prince Edward Island [http://islandarchives.ca/]
A growing repository of records and images held in Prince Edward Island’s libraries and museums. Of particular interest are the digitized newspapers [http://islandarchives.ca/inewspapers] and maps [http://islandarchives.ca/imaps].

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

How to Find Digitized Publications

Now, more than ever, you can access print publications online. The trick is finding them. So, our reference specialists at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) offer the following tips to help you discover published works that are just a click away!

Library Search

Get started with our Library Search tool. Just follow these easy steps to find Canadian published materials digitized by LAC and other libraries across the country.

  1. Go the Library Advanced Search screen.
  2. Select the Title Keyword search option and enter keywords from the title of a book that interests you.
  3. Search in: Canadian Libraries.
  4. From the Format dropdown menu, select Online.
  5. Click the Submit button. This will open a new page with your search results.
  6. Select any relevant search result to access the full record with the description of the book.
  7. Click on the link in the description to access the digitized version of the book.

Early Canadiana Online

Our reference specialists recommend the Early Canadiana Online (ECO) [www.eco.canadiana.ca/?usrlang=en] digital library as the go-to source for 19th century published material. Offering a vast online collection, ECO not only lets you search for specific works, but it also allows full-text searching. Some of the digitized content in ECO is only available to subscribing institutions, so ask your local library.

Here are a few tips for searching the ECO collection:

  1. Use the Advanced Search screen to narrow your search.
  2. To find specific titles, select the title option from the Search in drop-down menu.
  3. From the Find documents matching drop-down menu, select the option all terms in close proximity when searching the full-text of the digital library. This ensures that your search terms occur close together, not on separate pages of the full document.

Our next post on How to Find Digitized Publications will cover the following sources:

Also, stay tuned to find out about some regional digitization initiatives that provide access to provincial and local materials.

Do you have any sources you like to use? If so, share them with us!

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!