Today is a big day for the library! We’re upgrading our library software, which means that, for the time being, I can’t actually do part (most) of my job. Thus, I’m going to tell you about it!
Do you ever wonder where we get our materials? How many we get? What happens once they get here? How they’re cataloged? No? Well, I’m going to share anyway.
You might think, as a relatively narrowly-defined special collection, that we wouldn’t acquire a large amount of materials regularly. To a degree, this is true. There are only so many Maine women writers and they only wrote (or are writing) so many things.
Well, yes. And no.
We’re always finding new materials. Always. We find them in some ways you might expect – being introduced to a new writer, buying newly published books, acquiring somebody’s personal papers – but also in some ways you might not expect. Like, “Hey, what’s that box over there in the corner that’s been sitting there for so long nobody actually notices it anymore?” Oh! It’s full of books nobody’s ever cataloged! Or perhaps we’re processing a collection and find a whole bunch of periodicals in it that need to be added to our online catalog.
(I am extremely glad these things keep popping up since it’s a very large part of my job – to catalog our holdings and add them to our online catalog. What would I do if they didn’t keep coming?)
As it happens, I’ve received an unusually large amount of materials over the last few weeks. Of course, this immediately followed a moment in time where I started to think I might actually get caught up on all my cataloging! Silly me.
I thought it might be entertaining to share where these books and other items have come from and give you a little sneak peek at a few things that aren’t even in the catalog yet.
Quite a few of them are books we received from a collector. Most of the two stacks on the left in the photo above are books with covers designed by Sarah Wyman Whitman. She was an artist and illustrator and was responsible for a large number of book covers for Houghton Mifflin in the late 19th century. She lived in South Berwick, Maine for a time and was friends with Sarah Orne Jewett. Many of Jewett’s covers were designed by Whitman, employing her typically simple yet elegant design principles. The books in this batch encompass a large number of writers already in our collection: Margaret Deland, Lucy Larcom, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Blanche Willis Howard, Annie Fields, Julia Ward Howe and a handful of others, including Jewett. Thus, these are books that we will keep not only for their authors’ sake, but also because of the cover designs.
Also in the piles are some books that we’ve had sitting around for reference purposes and are finally now getting around to adding to our catalog. This is another category of materials we have here that perhaps you’ve been unaware of: books that may not be written by or about Maine women writers but which are nonetheless relevant to our collection. For example, in this current batch we have books on women and nature, feminism, and digital preservation. The first two are relevant in that they pertain to women, Mainers or not, and the last one is relevant to the actual act of collecting and preserving information – an act that we here think about every single day!
Additionally, not pictured, there are two large boxes of periodicals sitting beside my desk – various journals that started out in our manuscript collections and were found in processing. We add journals, magazines and newspapers to our online holdings so that our patrons will know exactly which issues of which periodicals we have! Often, though not always, we are also able to tell why we have a particular issue – for example, perhaps one of our writers published a short story in a particular issue of a particular publication. We do our best to make a note of these things, since the more information we include, the easier it will be for us (and you!) to find what we’re looking for.
We also have, not yet cataloged, some delightful one-of-a-kind artists’ books by the Ant Girls. Artists’ books appear on my desk not infrequently and are one of the most interesting, yet challenging, parts of my job. Many, though certainly not all, are one-of-a-kind. Even if they aren’t, there are maybe only a handful of others out there and those may or may not have been cataloged (or even purchased!) yet by another library. Normally, with a mass-produced book, someone, somewhere, has cataloged it before I do. This means that when I catalog it, I get to piggyback off of their information, using what I want to, deleting what I don’t, and adding a few things specific to our institution. But with these, that’s not possible, so I have to start from scratch. (And that would be why they aren’t done yet…)
There you have it! A small sampling of some of the things that come across the desk of a cataloger.