Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Handwritten catalog cards, a fit of nostalgia

Another in my continuing series of re-posts from my work blog, this one shows a couple of pages from a short guide to library handwriting. It was prepared by the New York State Library School for its students and published in 1911.

Instructions on handwriting from an 11-page pamphlet for library school students:

Source: New York State Library. School. Library handwriting; a guide for the use of students in the New York state library school.
[Rev. ed.] ([Albany] State of New York, Education dept., 1911.)

As a bonus, here's an image from a guide to library handwriting published in Moscow in 1927:

What's so interesting about these items? For me, they show the "craft" side of librarianship, showing the aesthetic aspect of a profession that is predominantly intellectual. The whole idea of handwritten cards is also poignant viewed from in an era of wild information overload. Today we'd be lost without computers to capture, process, share, and make searchable our cataloging.

It's also interesting that the instructions are given in a direct and unambiguous style. Compare the following extract from our current rules for the (very librarianly) practice of "dotting." [Dotting, once universal but now done only for part of our workload, is one of the few cataloging tasks that requires use of a writing instrument.]
Use the following guidelines to provide the dotting and other information.

  • a. Main entry. Using a pencil, place two dots under the first letter of the entry word of the main entry heading on the title page. (For publications classified in a collected set, the main entry to be dotted is that for the collected set, not that for that individual piece.) If the main entry heading does not appear on the title page or if it appears in a nonroman script, print it (using pencil) in catalog entry form near the top of the page (the title page of the monograph or of the collected set, as appropriate) and then dot it. For personal name headings, do not fill in initials if the name is on the title page, and omit dates and added designations when writing in the name. For corporate name headings, if the corporate body is present on the title page in any form, simply dot under the entry element. It is not necessary to give the established catalog form. If the title page cannot be written on (e.g., it is glossy and pencil marks do not show), print the main entry heading on a page as close to the title page as possible, e.g., the page facing the title page or the title page verso.

  • b. Volume number. If the book is unnumbered but volume numbering has been assigned by the cataloger, write (in pencil) the assigned volume number on the title page enclosed within square brackets.

  • c. Nonroman script. For publications in nonroman scripts (excepting Cyrillic) and certain other languages, also write (in pencil) on the title page the following information needed by shelflisters:

    • 1) the main entry, as noted in section a. above;

    • 2) the volume number, if a multipart item is involved (including the last volume of an open entry now being closed);

    • 3) date of publication, etc.

  • d. LCCN. Insure that the LCCN used in the bibliographic record appears on the verso of the title page, either printed in the book or on an LCCN barcode label pasted in the book. In the absence of an LCCN in one of these forms, write in (in pencil) the LCCN. Do this for all single part items and for the earliest volume of any group of multipart volumes being processed together.

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