Re-cataloguing the Museum’s library

September 10, 2013 -


Yesterday I started to add our newly re-catalogued literature section to our computer database. The project to make the library’s contents searchable on-line continues steadily behind the scenes.

For the last few months, Library volunteer David Cornwell has been working on refining the literature holdings to ensure that all the major authors, literary critics, and scholars that you’d expect to be represented at the American Museum are here. On arrival at the Museum David has to be served a strong coffee with about 150 grains of sugar, ever grateful for his dedication I am happy (ish) to comply! Our first job was to de-accession a number of unsuitable books and duplicate copies; just like the Museum, the library is a specialist collection with a collecting policy and it’s important to only accept and retain volumes that fulfil our criteria, if for no other reason than we have finite space.

David and I then agreed on the number of sub-categories we thought would be useful under the over-arching Dewey class number of 800. The Dewey Decimal Classification (or System) was first published in 1876 by Melvil Dewey. It categorises and locates each book in relation to other volumes within a library. Each subject area has a unique three digit number (Architecture: 720, Literature: 800, Biography: 920, etc.) and then the sub-category is indicated by the numbers after a decimal point. It means that books on a similar topic are shelved together, which makes it easier to find publications you know you want to consult, but also offers you the opportunity to happily stumble across others in the discipline. It is estimated that today 200,000 libraries in at least 135 countries use the Dewey System.

In a library the size of ours we want some sub-categories, but not so many that there may only be a handful of books in one section. The Dewey System is very adaptable and I have customised elements that make better sense for our specialist holdings. Once David had assessed our literature holdings he recommended 13 sub-categories (we’ve since added one more!) and 5 sub-sub-categories (allowing the division of American Fiction – the largest section – into centuries).

Each book is assigned a number and then shelved alphabetically by author (we use the first 3 letters of the surname in our shelf-marks). Now David has finished these initial stages I am tasked with adding the books to our computer database, ADLIB. We have adopted this computer management system because it provides a linked library, archive, and collections module allowing for all the objects in our care to be recorded on the same database and items to be linked. For example, if one of our quilts has been illustrated in a book and the archive contains letters about its acquisition all that information can be accessed from the same record.

David will now draw up a wish list of titles and authors we believe should also be represented within the American Literature section of the American Museum’s library. Now, what section to ask David to do next…I’d better put the kettle on and start counting out those sugar grains!
Literature Selves

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