November 29th, 2011

In the Research Information Network’s (RIN) influential report Uncovering Hidden Resources: Progress in extending the coverage of online catalogues[1] (November 2007) one of the key recommendations was that:

Work towards ensuring that all their research collections are covered by online catalogues should remain a high priority for all research libraries; and they should seek to make their users aware of the broad nature and scope of collections which remain uncatalogued, or the catalogues of which are not available online

The RIN report goes on to identify four common criteria[2] for both librarians and researchers which they suggest should help determine the selection of catalogues for conversion:

1. Importance of material for research

2. Difficulty in accessing/browsing collections

3. Rarity of collection(s)

4. Relation to other collections which have already been catalogued

We have identified two existing card catalogues that, were they to be available in digital form, would transform scholars’ access to the resources of the Bodleian Libraries. These are:

  • Music
    The catalogue of the Bodleian’s printed music collection has been analysed in some detail as part of the Mellon Foundation-funded Harmonia Mundi project. This project showed that the catalogue comprises some 369,000 cards and slips for printed music up to 1984. This study also revealed that some 54, 564 items described by the catalogued had already been converted into online form on OLIS (and that a further 57, 315 printed music items had been catalogued into OLIS for which there were no records in the card or slip catalogues).
  • Maps
    The catalogue of the Bodleian’s printed map collection comprises some 220, 000 cards describing most of the 1.2 million sheet maps and atlases in the collections. Atlases after 1988 are all described on OLIS, with the addition of around 10,000 records for early maps in the Todhunter Allen Collection. The entries in the card catalogue are arranged by geographic area (continents, countries, oceans), each of which is sub-divided by districts, regions, counties, etc. Town plans, islands, rivers and lakes form further sections of each geographic area, together with thematic cross-references. The general arrangement is by map scale, but records for maps dated before 1851 and all atlases are arranged chronologically. There are some 5,600 records for post-1850 maps on OLIS.

However, selecting suitable catalogues is only part of the challenge in retroconversion projects. Our thinking has also been shaped by the key findings and recommendations for action, recently identified by OCLC in Taking Our Pulse: The OCLC Research Survey of Special Collections and Archives[3] (OCLC, October 2010). In particular[4]:

ACTION: Compile, disseminate, and adopt a slate of replicable, sustainable methodologies for cataloging and processing to facilitate exposure of materials that remain hidden and stop the growth of backlogs.

ACTION: Develop shared capacities to create metadata for published materials such as maps and printed graphics for which cataloging resources appear to be scarce.

ACTION: Convert legacy finding aids using affordable methodologies to enable Internet access. Resist the urge to upgrade or expand the data. Develop tools to facilitate conversion from local databases.

In undertaking this project, we shall be attempting to drive down the costs of retroconverting catalogue materials, whilst at the same time describing and documenting our procedures, decisions, and techniques for others to take-up and adapt as they wish. The resulting catalogue records will be made publicly available in accordance with the latest best-practices and thinking, with the clear intention that they should be readily available for access and reuse by libraries and individual scholars and research projects, wherever they are based (more details are given below).

[1] See http://www.rin.ac.uk/our-work/using-and-accessing-information-resources/uncovering-hidden-resources-extending-coverage-on

[2] Uncovering Hidden Resources (RIN, November 2007) p19.

[3] See http://www.oclc.org/research/publications/library/2010/2010-11.pdf

[4] Ibid. p.12.

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