Archive for July 2015

Cataloging rules, Michael Gorman, memories ….

I’ve been working quite a lot lately with RDA, and that also means working with AACR2. (A paper called “Bibliocentrism Revisited” was presented at the 3rd Milwaukee Conference on Ethics in Knowledge Organization; it will appear in print in Knowledge Organization later this year. I also have just taught music cataloging entirely with RDA, which was an experience, all the while rewriting Describing Music Materials, which will appear in a 4th edition conformed to RDA soon, I hope.)

Somewhere along the line one of those helpful boxes on the right of a search screen showed me an autobiographical work by Michael Gorman, Broken Pieces: A Library Life, 1941-1978. I was looking for something to read on a short trip so I ordered a copy (ALA Editions, 2011). I was surprised I hadn’t heard about the book before.

I worked for Michael Gorman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Libraries in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I was then head of music cataloging, which at various times was a department of the music library or a division of technical services (long story for my autobiography!). I remember early in our acquaintance, we met at a social event in town and chatted briefly about cataloging rules, because he was then finishing AACR2 and I was then becoming more active in CC:DA, the ALA committee that in those days was responsible for the ALA position on catalog code revision. I remember he told me he had a copy of the draft I could read through, and I remember that I did read through it and was startled at all of the uproar about basically nothing.

I also remember that when the Library of Congress decided not to implement AACR2 for awhile (3 years eventually), he decided we would go ahead at UIUC. This was remarkably problematic for music cataloging, because rules for the construction of music uniform titles had changed, and rules for name headings had changed. It meant we had to recreate authority records for almost everything for awhile, because unlike book libraries where the imposition of old name headings helped ease the way, we had a smaller set of composer’s names for whom every record had to change and every work needed a new uniform title. Nobody else in the world was interpreting AACR2, and that meant we had to go it alone for rather awhile. And that meant our productivity plummeted. I do remember the pivotal meeting where this was discussed–I’ll save that story for my autobiography too.

At any rate Michael’s book is interesting. There is rather a lot of childhood and young adult narrative before he gets to the “library life” part. His stories about moving from England to Champaign-Urbana are fascinatingly funny. I was living there at t he time, of course, and remember it well. But then there is quite a lot of fascinating detail about his work in public libraries as a young man, and about the technology then in use in the 1960s and 1970s. His narrative about the development of AACR2 helped me fill in some gaps in my own memories. I had hoped for rather more about his time at Illinois, but then, this narrative ends in 1978, so perhaps that will be forthcoming.

We don’t often include descriptive cataloging when we talk about knowledge organization. On the face of it, descriptive cataloging is not obviously a part of conceptual ordering. But the resource description part of it is a form of knowledge representation, and the indexing function of ordering works by name headings is form of alphabetical classification. Names of “creators” form classes, within which the titles of “works” form divisions, and the representations of specific pubilcations grouped variously form subdivisions. Insofar as works are conceptual ideations, their ordering is a form of conceptual ordering.

It is in this phase that we can understand the importance of the argument that took place around the writing of AACR2 about what was called “main entry,” because it really was about how to name these classes. There is a long history of attribution of creativity to iconic names of creators (i.e.,”authors”). How to preserve that function without the mechanical superimposition of a name above a title transcription wasn’t clear at the time. Lubetzky was both right and wrong on this; the creator-title citation was critical to keep as the name of a class of works, but the Animal Farm-ish approach to which access point was more equal than the others was not. In this RDA has made a small step forward, by separating resource description from ordering of works.