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book guilt…


I indulged in a guilty pleasure last night.  A new Kindle book.  And I did indeed feel very guilty indeed.  But then I thought – why?  The book which I so enjoyed reading was a whole £2.84*.  It kept me entertained and distracted from feeling hungry (It was a 5:2 day).  It contains no calories and will require no shelf space to store yet I still felt bad about spending the money.

I quite happily spend 59p and 99p on Kindle daily deals but I always feel worried about spending much more than that.  These poor authors trying to make a living if everyone thinks like me!

Yet I also (relatively) happily spend £2.80 on a drink in a pub.  Even at the very reasonable chain pub at the end of our street, a Kopparberg will cost me that.  And it lasts for considerably less time, has calories I don’t need and isn’t re-readable later!  Compared to a night at the pub, my cosy evening was very cheap indeed!

I think part of the reason I feel uncomfortable spending the money is because you can’t really see a Kindle book.  I mean, it’s there on the screen but you can’t touch it and shelve it.  Once they’re all neatly in Collections on your Kindle, they are a little out of sight and out of mind.  And even when you’ve bought it – do you really own it?  Technically, you have just licensed a copy of it and I do always have a nagging worry that one day it will all vanish into the cloud!


*It was “A Season of Change” by Diane Greenwood Muir in the highly recommended Bellingwood series if you’re interested.


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DCRM(B) course – In Newcastle thanks to CILIP and the Rare Books and Special Collections Group

A course I really want to do – actually in Newcastle! (1/4/14)

This all started quite a while ago when the CILIP RBSCG tweeted “Where should we run training outside of London?” and I immediately said “NEWCASTLE!” and offered them a barter – free room for free place?  It all took a while to organise, but eventually today it all came together beautifully.  The course was not just full, it was over subscribed so we stretched it to include another two places and it was everything I needed it to cover.

Instead of all of us going down to London, Hugh Cahill came up from Lambeth Palace Library and Iris O’Brien trekked up from the British Library to give us the high speed, idiot’s guide to DCRM(B).  It was designed for cataloguers who use AACR2/MARC already but want to know how to expand their rare books records to be more informative and useful for their users.  Helpfully, for those of us on a low budget (aren’t we all?) DCRM(B) is available free on this website which is a great start – actually being able to access to rules (unlike the RDA Toolkit – far, far out of my budgetary range but that’s a whole separate discussion).

We started with the Objectives and Principles which I hadn’t ever really properly read, I realised.  I had always leapt straight into DCRM(B) with a specific question of “how do I record this awkward element of X early book” rather than looking at the rules as a whole and understanding the ideas behind it.  So I highly recommend reading through those and actually thinking about the end user that you are cataloguing for rather than just cataloguing it for other cataloguers.

Next up was transcription issues (punctuation, 23 letter alphabet and nasty abbreviations).  I feel I need to check my ISBD punctuation crib sheet and ensure that I have all of those correct too.  Luckily, not many of my books are early enough to have the 23 letter alphabet but apparently there’s a helpful conversion table in the rules for those of us who don’t meet it very often.  Again and again came the need to provide multiple versions of the title in 246 to help users find it without knowing the exact title of the copy in your hand.

So into the 245 field: main lessons were

  • all from the title page
  • No abbreviations
  • Can’t omit any of the first 5 words (really, would you want to??)
  • ALL contributors/authors (no rule of three – also gone in RDA which I feel is a good thing)
  • Do not omit titles of nobility (oops…)
  • Don’t add accents which aren’t in the original (even if they would be there in modern French)
  • If the SoR is grammatically linked to the title (i.e. in genitive case) then you can’t move it.
  • If the author is given elsewhere in the book, don’t put in 245c but DO make a 100/700 access point and a note.

Area 2: Edition (250)

Transcribe EVERYTHING and avoid abbreviations.  Even if it takes several sentences.  And an impression may equate to an edition for handpress books so you might need to include that here too.

Area 4: Publication (260)

Full transcription again.  Prefixes, phrases, addresses, sold by.  The lot.  “Printed at the x for the y near z”.  Multiple 260a’s for all those extra place names but try and maintain the order on the page.  That’s MUCH more than I was previously putting so this was probably the steepest learning curve.  Particularly when they added that we should have the whole date in 260c including the days and months if they give it on the original and any “in the year of” or “anno” text as well.

Added Entries (700)

This was probably my biggest shock/change/sinking feeling moment – you need a 700 (ideally!) for everyone involved in the creation of the book.  The publisher.  The bookbinder.  The bookseller.  Eep!  That’s a lot of extra authority records for our system and a lot of extra added entries.  I can see why; it’s a neat idea for someone tracking everything published/sold/bound by a particular person but it’s just a whole new thing for me to do which I have somehow completely missed.

Formats, Signatures and Cancels

Then after the big shock, came the maths and the practical exercise.  Now maths is not my strong point.  Not even basic arithmetic to be honest so this was tricky.  It was all to do with understanding how the book was put together from folded sheets of big paper.  From hearing the explanation I now know that I would have made a lousy printer as I would have definitely got confused and got my text upside down at least once in every form.  Utterly impossible and I now have a lot more sympathy with printer’s errors. 

We folded a sheet to understand how you get folio, quarto and octavo then we looked at signatures.  No, not the sort you do with a pen to write your name (I thought we had skipped quickly on to provenance at first…) but the little letters at the bottom of a page.  A1, A2, B2 – that kind of thing.  They’re to help the bookbinder get the pages in the right order when they put all the gathers (folded bits of paper) together and we can describe it on a catalogue record.  I would explain further but I haven’t found superscript on here yet which would make it difficult and I’m not sure I’m the best person to describe it.  Try Gaskell instead if you need to know.  Needless to say this is where the maths came in (turns out I can’t multiple 8 by 7…) but I did understand the underlying principles.  And in the handouts there was a handy chart to check whether the number you think you should have according to the signature matched the number given by the page numbers.  Hurrah, someone else did the maths!

Cancels are new corrected leaves inserted because there was an error.  Look for the stub where the original page was cut out, added hints could be if the page didn’t line up or was different paper with the chain lines going the other way.


The physical description should include all leaves including unnumbered sequences.  Also keep that end user in mind; people are often more interested in the provenance, annotations, bindings, stamps and shelf marks than they are in the actual main body of text.  After all, they probably got that online already…

300a: Transcribe the page numbering.  Even lower case or capital roman numerals should match the original.  Add “28 plates (1 folded)” type phrases for illustrative plates.
300b:  What’s an illustration?  A major picture.  Not a printers device.  Can also say what the production process of the illustration was (e.g. woodcut) if you know.
300c: height in cm plus (fol.) (4to) (8vo) in brackets afterwards to record the format.

We covered format earlier in the session although I will admit to still not feeling entirely confident with describing that one.  Perhaps with a little more practise and the helpfully provided cribsheet.  Also, it’s not something which has featured in any of our existing catalogue records so I’m not sure I should start including it.  How useful can it really be to a user?  After all, they know the height of the item so it doesn’t tell them anything extra there.  I think I need to be more convinced of it’s usefulness, particularly as it would take me a great deal of time.

Adverts: include the pages of adverts in your 300a if they are integral to the publication, so if they’re the same pagination (fairly obvious and I would have automatically included them in that case anyway personally) or in the same gathering as text or the same signature sequence.  I also add a 650 in house subject heading of “advertisements” thanks to the number of enquiries I have had relating to adverts for things.  It’s quicker in the long run, believe me!

Volumes: Bibliographic vs Physical.  You’re recording how the publisher issued it, not how some Victorian binder thought it should be later on.  So hence you get “3 vols in 5” where they have been split or “8 vols in 4” where they have been merged.


All the way through the day, both Hugh and Iris said, “and you would add a note about that” and this is where we came to the 500s and all those notes.  So in a whistlestop tour of the 500s we had:

  • Signatures.  Note if considered important – and always for incunables – particularly if your sequence doesn’t match those in the published bibliographies.
  • References (510) – put them in if you have used other sources to provide your info.
  • Subject headings.  Important if the keyword search is limited by archaic terminology and non-standardized spellings.
  • Provenance (561) – give names, what evidence, location in the volume, date (if ascertainable) and relation to the book.  Add 700 headings for any of the people mentioned giving their relationship in 700e and remembering to put in your local library code to show it’s copy specific.  Things like “armorial bookplate of William Marsden on pastedown”.  or “bequest of Mr Smith (booklabel)”. All very helpful if (God-forbid) one of your books gets stolen and you have to prove that it’s that specific copy now on sale down the road….  Good message for senior management: “Good cataloguing is good security”
  • Binding (563) – materials, decoration, fittings, end papers and pastedowns, headbands, date, place, binder’s name, references, repairs.  Quite a long list and don’t forget your local library code again.
  • Other copy specific info (562).  Imperfections/misbindings.  Variants.  Interleaving.  Hand colouring and Bound with (Such as “bound with 17 others, first item is X and spine reads Y”.


The first (very positive) thing Iris had to say about RDA is, you don’t have to do it!  DCRM(B) is a valid standard in it’s own right.  Equally she recognised that many people will be working within institutions which are moving towards RDA and they are working towards DCRM2 which would be a consolidated set of rules (for maps, serials etc as well as books) that would fit in with RDA.  A big job obviously and also hampered by licensing complications as they would like to provide it free online however that’s tricky with copyrighted RDA text.

DCRM(B) only covers the descriptive elements of a catalogue record so you can still happily use RDA access points without calling it a hybrid record.  You can also make hybrid records and there’s some helpful guidance about that here called the BIBCO standard record. It gives the RDA rule number and the MARC code too.  In hybrid records you will follow the transcription rules in DCRM(B) but within an RDA framework so the record must have two 040e’s – dcrmb and rda to show that you’re following two sets of rules.  It means you will have the RDA fields 336, 337 and 338 and you would be using 264 instead of 260 and giving “pages” and “illustrations” in 300.

We finished off with some practical exercises (be warned, if you host one of these you have to find some early example books for everyone to try out their new skills!) and in the process I found out a few new things about items in my collection.  I had no idea, for instance, that one of the plates in my copy of The Natural History of Staffordshire included one plate which was actually a pencil sketch copy of the original – done in 1778.  I had never noticed before!  Clearly shows the importance of checking every plate in a rare book carefully.  I had simply checked that there was something pictorial opposite every page that the index said there was a plate.  Didn’t really look at it any more closely than that.  Seems I now need a 700 entry for the artist (who helpfully signed his work).

So where do I go from here?  I’m planning to revisit my early printed books (which I had to find for course materials anyway so I know where they are) and check that the records are full enough adding more edition, publication information and lots of 700s all round.  Then I will have to look at the Tracts collection and deal with the complications of “bound with” in a major way.  I assume I create one record per item and add a note to say where it physically is.  That seems to be the overriding message – add a note!


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Miscellaneous CPD/children’s literature events

You know how you go to an event and you promise yourself you will do an interesting blog post about it tomorrow?  But tomorrow various busy things happen and you get to 5pm and you’ve done many things but not a blog post.  So I’m going to try and do a catch up post of several of those events…

Peter Hunt (12 Feb 2013)
Ransome’s Rivals: Arthur Ransome and Children’s Literature of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.

It was slightly stunning to meet the author of so many of the children’s literature textbooks who was talking about lesser known books from between the two golden ages of children’s literature.  This time had previously been described as “dull” and “retreatist” but it was now been reassessed.  After all, it includes many memorable books and writers – William, The Hobbit, Mary Poppins and Arthur Ransome to name a few.  The prevailing idea before was that children’s fiction of this era was ignoring important social movements.  Hunt has struggled to find children’s books of the era which refer to things such as the Spanish Civil War.  But does that prove they are “retreatist”?

Publishers did ask some writers to ignore the Second World War, however there were also incredibly popular books which focused on the war and it’s repercussions such as Visitors from London (Kitty Barne), I go by Sea, I go by Land (P. L. Travers) and We couldn’t Leave Dinah (Mary Treadgold).  This shows children’s fiction was fully able to take on the war and produce stories which were popular with readers both at the time and afterwards.

Brian Alderson “How are we doing, Miss Butler?”: the children’s literature collections of the Robinson Library
(17 April 2013)

The lecture was preceded by a quick introduction to a new AHRC Cultural Engagement funded project to research Brian Alderson’s own archive and collection of children’s books as well as his own stories and recollections relating to those collections.  This was described by Dr Kate Wright and Dr Tara Bergin and it sounded an absolutely fascinating project and I think many of the audience really envied their jobs over the next three months.  They are aiming to digitise selected items, create a websiite and record some of Brian’s stories into an oral archive.

Brian then took the floor to talk about what had been the Joan Butler collection at Herfordshire County Libraries.  He was disappointed to discover that many of the early eighteenth and nineteenth century books had disappeared before it had reached Newcastle but he still had some interesting pieces to talk about.

Sarah Brown “I am Malala” Annual Fickling Lecture (25 April 2013)

Sarah has blogged herself about giving this lecture and even kindly includes the full text which is wonderful for those who couldn’t make it to Newcastle.

Sarah emphasised first the importance and the power of stories and their impact on the world in which we live.  She quoted Pullman’s lovely idea about the space between the reader and the book where your own ideas are given back to you clarified and magnified.  I could immediately relate to that feeling.  She continued the theme by affirming that literature and reading is not just a way of passing time, it was about finding meaning and books can teach children complex moral lessons.  Stories have the power to tell us who we are.  This is why the most terrifying thing for the Taliban is a girl with a book…

This led neatly into Sarah’s focus for the evening of education and the need for every child around the world to be in education.  There is a goal set by world leaders in 2000 that all children should have a place in school by 2015 but currently that goal is still 61 million children short of being met…  So the campaign is on to force world leaders not to forget their promise at A world at School

She wasn’t asking for our money, just our voice.  To sign up to receive the newsletter, the tweets and to forward them to our followers and friends.  Simple and effective.  So do go and read the speech and sign up.

Brian Alderson “Enid Blyton and the big red ledger” (22 May 2013)

This lecture was held at Seven Stories who also kindly allowed us to visit the Enid Blyton exhibition (including sitting in the Noddy car…) to see the huge range of work Blyton created in her 600-700 works.  Brian emphasised however, that the thread running through all her work was Education.  She was trained as a Froebel teacher and one of her earliest efforts was a Teachers Treasury with ideas for work, stories, poems and plays.  One unusual element was “Unfinished Stories” to be used for teaching narrative.  A very forward thinking idea!

Natural history also runs through her work and she clearly believed that children should have a knowledge of animals, birds and the countryside.  Even her Nature Readers are constructed around a story with an accompanying reference book to give the detail.  She is converting instruction into a narrative.  Brian also highlighted the immense variety in how her work is illustrated.

He then talked about the problem Blyton posed for librarians and their worries that there would be no urgency for a child to read anything else and her storytelling was limited in what it had to offer.  After all, it was generally 2 boys, 2 girls and an animal in her adventure series with minimal differences between them.  Oh, and the animal usually rescues the children at some point….  Brian asked “What did these children go on to read?”  Well, as a Blyton child myself, I went on to read an awful lot but I do still have a love for series fiction.  Perhaps that’s a Blyton legacy?

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Fifteen – a new goal in life!

A couple of weeks ago a really interesting question came up: “how many books do you catalogue in a day?”  It’s one I’ve been asked before, mainly by fundraisers who were trying to calculate how much they could claim I could achieve.  This time it was another librarian asking – Katie Flanagan and I was really interested to hear the results.

Personally, in the past I guessed, and was always too ambitious…. I’m an optimistic person! Since then, I’ve avoided putting a number on it, saying “well, it depends how many enquiries I have that day” or “well it depends how difficult the book is” or “it depends if they’re all in English” or “it depends how much help the volunteers need that day…”  I tried timing how long it takes me to do a book (10-15 minutes) instead, but then multiplying up tends to forget about all the interruptions in a working day.

I was quite pleased that most other libraries weren’t setting targets (whew!) and interested to discover that the average response was fifteen books a day.  For me, that felt ambitious, but I was interested to see how I “measured up” so this week, I’m counting!  Monday went well – 16 books (but it did snow so the number of walk-in visitors interrupting was lower).  Tuesday, only 10 sadly, despite the continued snow.  Today, well, so far nil so I don’t think the next three hours are going to make a big dint in the To Do pile, but we’ll see.

The even scarier thought is, if I can only do fifteen books a day (on a good day), how long is it going to take me to finish the library?  And that’s just the books.  Not the journals, or the maps or the uncatalogued archives….

Let the cataloguing race commence!

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Umbrella 2011: Fitting a round peg into a square hole (B3)

Fitting a round peg into a square hole
Jason Siddall, Suffolk Heritage.

Jason Siddall’s presentation explained the problems he had encountered developing a solution for the Suffolk Heritage website which wanted to share records from a range of different organisations using different management systems on one website.  The needed an online tool which could search records currently held in MODES, CALM and CATALIST and this needed to be sustainable, not with huge yearly ICT bills.

His job was effectively to design himself out of the solution!  A brave man, although I’m sure there are many other jobs for such a talented IT professional elsewhere!  The solution, he emphasised, was something anyone could achieve without a great deal of IT knowledge.  It still looked quite scary to me with some new acronyms to boot!  It revolved around exporting the data in XML then using an XSLT to transform this source XML into the target XML format.  This was achieved by mapping the different fields across (the more difficult technical bit).

It all looked amazing, and showed what could be achieved in terms of co-operation without a huge price tag.  Even images could be attached as long as the file names matched and the images were copied across.

He did agree that there were a few disadvantages:

  • It will not solve any problems with the content of the data. E.g. people using castle vs castles.
  • It will not help if standards of each source database are different.
  • Responsibility for upload in hands of user base – which can be volunteers.  Need to be willing and have the IT resources.

To help solve these problems he suggested using a standard thesaurus and map each of their terms against that rather than trying to make each organisation use the same terms.  In general in fact, He emphasised keeping away from changing the original partner databases in any way.  Instead, make the computer ask, “you searched for X do you want XA?”.

Slides not yet available

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Ridiculous classifications!

Old book labels at the MI with long numbers

How long can UDC numbers be?

A huge part of my job is reclassifying, checking, relabelling and reshelving the entire library.  It is endless but incredibly necessary when you see some of the previous book classifications.  I mean, who needs a 33 digit classification?  With brackets, colons and all other imaginable punctuation to boot.  I was sending volunteers to find books with a cribsheet of which punctuation came where until I realised this wasn’t practical on a long term basis.

So I’m inventing my own system with a UDC basis, adding extra numbers and removing punctuation as I go.  I just hope I don’t fall into any massive pitfalls as I go.  I considered swapping entirely to Dewey but sadly we can’t actually afford access to it…  Running a library on a budget of nil again!  Even the relabelling involves volunteers with black paper, gold pens and reversible PVA.  After first checking their handwriting of course.  It’s slow, labour intensive and can mean books being backed up in the labelling queue for several weeks but the cost is very low!

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CILIP Umbrella!

I am really pleased to say that I am (for the first time) going down to CILIP Umbrella.  I never dreamt I would ever have the chance to go.  I automatically throw all the stuff out, laughing at the price of a ticket!  This year I was fortunate enough though to be awarded the NE UC&R  sponsored place, and I’m incredibly grateful.

It’s not till July but I’m already planning useful things to take (business cards, leaflets, laptop) and any tips are certainly very welcome.  I’m sure CILIP Update or GAzette had an article about first time Umbrella/conference tips so I will check back for that.   I also need to think about specific questions and problems that I want to chat to people about such as the new image/metadata project.

I’m still absolutely astonished that I’m going!

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