Through the Revolving Door: The Fisher Library Blog

Cleaning up our records

Date posted: Thu, Apr. 09, 2020

As we adjust to working from home, one of the projects that we have been working on is cleaning up older catalogue records, which is leading to some interesting discoveries as well as opportunities to make these items easier for researchers to find.

Many of our earliest catalogue records actually have their origins in the physical card catalogue, which were made into digital records in the early 1990s. As a result many of these records use outdated language and cataloguing conventions that make searching for certain kinds of information quite difficult. Provenance, or evidence of previous ownership and use in books, is perhaps the best example of this difficulty. Currently the library uses standardized language when describing the provenance of a particular book. By using a standard vocabulary, researchers can search for these specific phrases and terms to more easily locate the items they are interested in.

In fact the first record in one of our earliest call number ranges is a copy of The Roman Question by Edward About, published by Jeffs in 1860 and autographed by Edward VII that same year, when he was the Prince of Wales. The way this information was recorded was in such a way that it implied that all copies of this book were signed by the prince and the way it was worded “signed by Edward VII as Prince of Wales, dated 1860” would have been difficult to find.  The way we would have searched for it today would have been as an exact search “with the autograph of Edward VII.” These differences may sound esoteric, but they make searching for this information a challenge for staff and researchers alike. Changing these records to reflect our current standardized vocabulary increases the chances for librarians and researchers to find these items. 

Working through these earlier records also provides an opportunity to rediscover unique and interesting items in our collection. Already in one small section of the library I have located a book of poetry by John Hall published in 1647 by J. Rothwell that was owned by the renowned Victorian writers Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. There are several books that were owned by geologist, explorer and surveyor for the Geological Survey of Canada, Joseph Burr Tyrrell (1858-1957), a selection of whose important photographs of his expeditions is available in the Library’s Flickr albums. Another intriguing item is a copy of Remains, in verse and prose, of Arthur Henry Hallam, published in 1834, a year after his death, and inscribed by his father. Arthur Hallam was a close friend of Alfred Tennyson who died suddenly at the age of 22 from a stroke and who has been described as the “doomed young man” of his generation.

We will doubtless uncover a great many other significant items and our work will ensure that they will be more discoverable in the future. 

- Andrew Stewart, Reading Room Coordinator