Blog Archives

Higher visibility at Eton College Library – guest post

Our new guest post is by Louise Anderson @LibrarianLCA about her work as Catalogue Librarian working to make the fascinating collections of Eton College Library more visible.

A new year at Eton College Library hopefully means a new (the first!) OPAC. This is very exciting for us after several years building up to the event. Electronic cataloguing started on the main library, housing pre-1800 materials, at the turn of the century and these are still being catalogued now. I was brought in just over three years ago to catalogue the 19th and 20th century printed materials and am still working on these. With this frenzied activity we have a respectable number of items catalogued with which to launch the OPAC.

This would have happened sooner but we seized the opportunity to piggy-back on the rest of the college collections’ change of management system. We have moved from Mikromarc to SSL (System Simulation Ltd.) and, not before time, from UKMARC to MARC 21. We have been working with other SSL users including the Royal Academy of Arts, for whom the system was devised, to optimise the usability and features and have
been able to tweak it in significant ways. When we are up and running, users will be able to search across the collections, many museum items will have images (hopefully this will be extended to books, mss., and archives), and within our records we can add links to webpages.

A letter and airgraphs from Glen Byam Shaw to Angela Baddeley, MS 442. Reproduced by permission of the Provost and Fellows of Eton College.

This has coincided with a drive to catalogue our literary archives and after researching embryonic GLAM guidelines and looking at records of literary archive holdings in other institutions – including the John Rylands University Library – we have decided to do this in the archival rather than the MARC cataloguing system, allowing us to add levels of detail when time and funding allows. We will still have MARC records with links to finding aids for archives that have already been listed, but this will be easy to copy into an archive system record if we wish to in the future. The decision was not straight forward; we may have to iron out issues with the separate authority files and the format of the data within, and if we ever want to put all library items on a different system the mapping would be difficult, however, the college should always have an archives system.

We have made the decision to continue to catalogue our individual literary mss. in MARC 21, including small groups of letters, drafts, etc., although there was much debate about when a group of mss. become an archive. Is it when they are by the same person in the same period of time, or when the letters are to the same person? Is it when the documents exceed a certain number even if there is not necessarily a subject shared? Or does it matter when in their history they were gathered together in one place? We decided there would be an element of cataloguer’s discretion, influenced by factors such as shared subject, place of production, volume, and if they had been collected together before they came to us. However, this is not yet set in stone and any suggestions would be very welcome!

Now for the fun bit. Our priorities regarding what to catalogue have been influenced mainly by use, retaining institutional knowledge, and what we wish to display in the public arena. Our literary archives have been, and are increasingly most likely to be, our high use items. Archives of Glen Byam Shaw, Wilfrid Blunt, Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Thesiger, and David Horner/Osbert Sitwell fall into this category. Our individual literary mss. are also likely to be well used, and the knowledge about most of these rests with our Modern Collections Curator, which we need to capture electronically. I will hopefully be moving on to these very soon and I can’t wait to get my hands on mss. by Coleridge, Byron, Dickens, Browning, Bridges, and Fleming to name but a few. The same motivation will lead on to cataloguing the WWI materials that have been collected in addition to
those forming the original collection of the Macnaghten Library of WWI materials, given to Eton as a memorial in 1938. We will also need to know exactly what we have when we start curating our 2014 WWI exhibition. However, before all of this we need to finish cataloguing the items in our soon to be published “100 books and manuscripts” (working title) publication, which is a roundup of some of the stunning acquisitions of Eton College Library in the last 40 years, including a King James Bible, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s annotated Sophocles, and journals of Anne Thackeray Ritchie – just to whet the appetite.

Attitude versus skills

Happy 2012 to all the high visibility cataloguers out there! Here at HVCats HQ, we have great plans for this year, starting with a post hoping to generate some debate.

This guest post is from Robin Armstrong-Viner, Head of Collection Management at the University of Kent. It’s an interesting look at how to go about recruiting in a time of almost continuous change, with a bonus job advert at the bottom if anyone’s jobhunting at the moment.  What do you think? What is most important now, specific defined skills or the attitude of the person recruited in the face of changing times? How do you describe what you’re looking for to make sure you get the right candidates? And what skills and attitudes should cataloguers be looking to in their professional development (#catcoders, I’m looking at you – post to follow about that!). Over to Robin…

Like many (if not all) HE institutions the University of Kent is experiencing a period of rapid change. The most obvious driver is the increase in tuition fees for new entrants later this year but there are a number of reasons for this. The need for the University to offer an inspiring student experience and produce innovative world-leading research while operating in an effective, efficient, sustainable and professional manner (three of the key messages from the University’s Plan for 2009-12) creates significant challenges for Information Services including Library Collections.

During 2012-13 we expect to see transformational change within Library Collections as we review each of our core processes including the selection, acquisition, cataloguing, classification, processing, delivery, preservation and disposal of learning and research materials in all formats. We are fortunate in being able to recruit a Project Manager to help lead and support these projects working with the teams involved but there has been much discussion about what should be included in the person specification for that role.

Most of the discussion has been around how to find someone with the right attitude. Naturally job descriptions tend to focus on specific tasks and skills, but is this the best approach in a period of uncertainty and change? What are the skills associated with innovation? Can you write a job description around attitudes such as being keen to explore new ideas and develop new skills? Is it appropriate to demand that candidates are not only comfortable with technology but eager to exploit it to achieve its maximum potential? How do you attract advocates and champions?

And where does this leave traditional library skills? Should a formal qualification in librarianship be an essential criterion? By making it one would we risk creating a barrier to those outside the profession (or even those within it but who haven’t ever taken that final step) who could bring the very attitudes and approaches we need? An understanding of library processes, MARC, etc would help, but could someone who has been involved in process improvement and the transformation and repurposing of data in other contexts use that experience to benefit us?

I don’t know that we’ve found the answer (yet!) but we’ve had a go in the job description we’ve created at And if you’re a High Visibility Cataloguer who is looking for a challenge we’d love to receive an application from you!