Guest Post: The Cataloguing Apprentice

Today’s guest post comes from Emily Jones, a student in the ENCAP Project Management module. For her project, Emily catalogued the several editions of Milton’s works in the Cardiff Rare Book Collection.

Cataloguing. A word, that I have to admit, I did not know the definition of. What started as a requirement for a university module, concluded with a new found appreciation of books and librarians alike. Back in November, I nervously entered the Special Collections Library anxiously awaiting my first ‘cataloguing for beginners’ session. In my naivety, I believed that cataloguing involved a paper and pen and a very extensive list of old books. Oh, how wrong was I. As soon as I was taken into the ‘stacks’ and inhaled the scent of deliciously old and rare books, I knew I was home.

After browsing the collection, we soon came to the conclusion that the John Milton section was ready to be catalogued, and I, for one, was more than excited to start cataloguing them.

Having now completed 50 hours of cataloguing, I can firmly say that cataloguing a book is so much more than taking note of its name and author. I know now that to be a cataloguer requires expertise and so much patience. But, luckily, for me, I had a cataloguing teacher that was an expert and Christine just so happened to be very patient – the cataloging journey had officially begun.

Book_cushion

This 1779 edition of Paradise Lost rests on a shaped pillow to protect the fragile binding and to hold the book at a comfortable viewing angle.

I arrived once again to the special collections library and awaited instruction. I was shown to a desk and a laptop. Christine then brought in a book that looked more fragile than broken glass. I was terrified to breathe near this book let alone touch it! I felt weirdly sorry for this little book with its worn pages and cracked spine. But, I digress. I was there to catalogue and not make emotional connections with the books. But best of all, I was given a book pillow to use. Yes reader(s), I was given a pillow for my book. A book pillow. Wild! However, before placing any book on it, there had to be a mandatory karate chop to the middle of the cushion to create a properly angled resting place for the spine of these veteran pages. My first task of the day, however, was to make note of the title, which was not as easy as one might think. You have to categorise the main part of the title (which in most cases is ‘Paradise Lost’) and then you take down the rest. Luckily for me, I love a strict system. There is a definite logic to cataloguing, and I am slowly getting it. On the rare occasion when I do get the format right it’s strangely satisfying. There is no denying that cataloguing is a skill – I just hope that one day it’s a skill that I can fully master.

When you get into the rhythm of cataloguing it is quite easy to become mechanic. Though I endeavoured to stay present, the continuous process of the cataloguing form made it easy to forget that these books have seen so much and in a way, lived a life. Until that is, I came across a lovely edition of Paradise Lost.

 

 Transcribed these pages read as:

John Fletcher second son of Joseph & Elizabeth born Friday 28th September 1759 at three O’clock in the afternoon or seven minutes after

Elizabeth Fletcher first daughter of the above Joseph & Elizabeth born on Tuesday morning the 4th August. 1761 at 6 Oclock

1802 February the 8th on Monday morning Mrs Vernon departed this life about 5 Oclock

John Fletcher died Friday the 13th July 1764 three quarters past four Oclock in the afternoon

This book then, had not only lived a life but, in it recorded the lives (and deaths) of its owners. I, for one, am glad that through the preservation and cataloguing work of Cardiff University this wonderful book, and the history that it holds, has been saved and is now searchable for generations to come. What a great thought.

What an experience this has been. From day one though, I have enjoyed every minute. I didn’t even know what ‘cataloguing’ meant when I started, but now I know, I have learned that it is oh so much more than making a boring old list. Each book had its own history, its own story, if you will. Each book also had an owner, that either subtly made it known or scribbled it on every page. Some books even had their own special stamp printed for the occasion.  Other owners even felt that the book was so important it became a location for their family history to reside – where births and deaths were recorded and passed down through the generations.

Nevertheless, my fifty hours are up, and my portfolio is full. This may be the end of this particular university module, but somehow, I don’t think that this is my last foray into the world of cataloguing as I am just not ready to leave it behind, just yet.

Cataloguer out.

Em.

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