If you’re reading this, chances are you have a lot of books lying around at home. Do you ever think about how you keep your books organized? If you’re like me and you think about organization a lot at work, then you probably enjoy not thinking about it at home. But some people swear by one organizational system or another, whether it’s author’s last name, genre, or even color.
One of the major differences between a personal library like what you might have at home and an institutional library is the organizational system, both the cataloging and the classification, that ensures each book is discoverable online through a quick search of title, author, subject, date, keyword, etc and also findable on the shelf. Cataloging is the standardized process of describing an information resource (in this case, a book, but could describe a collection of archival papers or a run of newspapers), according to set professional rules. Classification is the system by which those resources are physically or intellectually arranged and made findable, usually according to subject.
At the Niels Bohr Library & Archives our cataloging allows for our materials to be found online in two different ways. We use our very own Integrated Library System (ILS) to publicize our holdings on our online catalog.
Our catalog contains a description of every item in the library so researchers can both know what we have and find it easily. If you don’t know a specific title or author, there are other access points, like subject headings, to search by as well. In addition to our own catalog, we also upload our catalog records to the international union catalog (in other words, a universal catalog) available online at WorldCat.org. This is useful because if you’re searching for “Inquiries concerning the intellectual powers and the investigation of truth” by John Abercrombie published in 1830, you can see which libraries all over the world have this book. If you happen to be near College Park, Maryland, or even if you live very far, you can see we are listed as a holding institution, here.
As part of cataloging we also assign a classification number to each book. You may be familiar with the Dewey Decimal System or Library of Congress Classification System, both of those are used extensively by public and academic libraries to shelve materials by topic so they are easily findable by researchers. We use a custom home-grown classification system, but it does the same thing. Assigning classification numbers can be a bit of an art, after all, physics can overlap with everything! Our scheme was created especially for classifying history of physics books, so it has a lot more categories for the history and culture of physics and related fields than the more typical and general Dewey Decimal System or the Library of Congress Classification System.
If you’re thinking all of this is sounded rather complicated...that’s because it is! But cataloging and classification are some of the foundational procedures that happen at libraries across the world, no matter which system or set of rules are used. The Wenner Collection, which began life as a personal library, isn’t being cataloged just yet, but we’re hoping to get started on that in 2019. Before we start any cataloging, we will do a very careful analysis to create a detailed plan for how to tackle this immense project. The first step will be to create an inventory of every item in the collection, giving each item a unique number. This is the foundation upon which we can build the cataloging, once each book and journal is minimally described and findable on the shelf.