Royal College of Physicians of London and the lost library of John Dee

We’re pleased to welcome a new contributor to Copac, the library of the Royal College of Physicians of London.

The Royal College of Physicians of London (RCP) is the professional body for physicians, with over 30,000 members and fellows across the globe. The RCP has an extensive library, supporting the needs of its members and reflecting their interests since the RCP’s foundation in 1518. Today the print collections number more than 55,000 titles, including current clinical, educational and professional resources, secondary sources on the history of medicine and a large collection of rare books whose highlights include 119 items from before 1501, and over 100 books previously owned by Elizabethan astrologer John Dee.

Portrait of John Dee. Stipple engraving by Robert Cooper after unknown artist, late 18th to early 19th century.

Portrait of John Dee. Stipple engraving by Robert Cooper after unknown artist, late 18th to early 19th century.

John Dee (1527–1609) was one of Tudor England’s most extraordinary and enigmatic figures – a Renaissance polymath, with interests in almost all branches of learning. The Royal College of Physicians of London library holds more than 100 volumes stolen from Dee during his lifetime, the largest single collection of Dee’s books in the world. From 18 January until 29 July 2016 a new exhibition at the RCP will display many of these for the first time.

Dee’s evocative sketch of a ship in full sail. Opera. Cicero, published Paris, 1539. © Royal College of Physicians / John Chase

Dee’s evocative sketch of a ship in full sail. Opera. Cicero, published Paris, 1539. © Royal College of Physicians / John Chase

Dee built, and lost, one of the greatest private libraries of 16th century England. He claimed to own over 3,000 books and 1,000 manuscripts. The authors and subjects of Dee’s books are wide-ranging, and reflect his extraordinary breadth of knowledge and expertise. They include diverse topics such as mathematics, natural history, music, astronomy, military history, cryptography, ancient history and alchemy. These books give us an extraordinary insight into Dee’s interests and beliefs and personality through his hand-written illustrations and annotations.

While Dee travelled to Europe in the 1580s, he entrusted the care of his library and laboratories to his brother-in-law Nicholas Fromond. But according to Dee, he ‘unduely sold it presently upon my departure, or caused it to be carried away’. A large number of Dee’s books came into the possession of Nicholas Saunder. Little is known about Saunder, or whether he personally stole Dee’s books. Saunder must, however,  have known that his books once belonged to Dee, because he repeatedly tried to erase or overwrite Dee’s signature with his own. Given that several books have part of the title page missing, we can also assume that Saunder probably cut and tore signatures from some books. Saunder’s collections later passed to Henry Pierrepont, the Marquis of Dorchester: a devoted book collector. Dorchester’s family presented his entire library to the RCP after his death in 1680, where this exceptional collection of early printed books remains today.

John Dee’s signature. Cinquante jeus divers d’honnete entretien. Innocenzio Ringhieri, published Lyon, 1555. © Royal College of Physicians / Mike Fear

John Dee’s signature. Cinquante jeus divers d’honnete entretien. Innocenzio Ringhieri, published Lyon, 1555. © Royal College of Physicians / Mike Fear

The exhibition ‘Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee’ runs from 18 January until 29 July 2016.

You can browse a list of the books in the RCP Dee exhibition on Copac.

 

The Library at The National Archives

Michael Little introduces us to the Library at The National Archives.

The Library at The National Archives has existed since the 1830s, albeit in various guises, and been open to the public since 1997. It contains around 65,000 volumes and its principal purpose is to act as a research library to support the main document collection which has been open to the public, also since the 1830s. The library collection holds titles on a wide range of subjects and acquires new titles with users of the archive collection, including staff, in mind. I have worked in the library since 2001 in different roles but always doing cataloguing. The library has been through several changes in this time but its core collection and aims have remained basically the same.

Amongst its collection, the library holds a large collection of local history society runs, divided up into English counties. Whilst holding these runs is not unique, it is very helpful to have complete runs of these on open access. Many of these societies still produce new volumes and we receive them on a regular basis. They contain both volumes of essays and monographs and cover subjects like cartularies, wills, priory charters, Feet of Fines, Assize Rolls, depositions and eyres. In addition, the local history section contains a large number of monographs on a wide range of topics such as histories of villages, towns and counties, local finance, education, law, rural life and architecture and more All English counties are represented, some with more than one local history society collection. These are an invaluable resource for users of the archive collection and anyone conducting local history research. They can be an excellent starting point for archival research and in some cases are a useful research end in themselves.

Title page of Alfred Wyon's 'Great Seals of England'

Title page of Alfred Wyon’s ‘Great Seals of England’

Another noteworthy aspect of the library collection is its collection of books on seals. Seals form an important part of The National Archive’s holdings with over a quarter of a million of them in the document collection. Seals are an interesting and useful historical source; they are used to authenticate and quite literally to seal documents. They can tell us a lot about the time they originate from and are often very interesting in themselves and shed light on the art, customs and power structures of the time. Frequently they are unique. The library holds a large collection of books on seals, one of the best collections on this subject outside the British Library and the Society of Antiquaries. The majority of these are in the main library collection whilst some of these are housed in the library’s rare book collection (which comprises titles published before 1800). Rare books are not on open access but they can be consulted with a reader’s ticket.

One of the most interesting examples of a study on seals is Alfred Wyon’s (1837-1884) The Great Seals of England, published in 1887. Wyon came from a large family of medal makers and engravers who were specialists in the field. We hold two copies, one of them annotated.

Example of seals

Example of seals

Another example of seals

Another example of seals

It contains fine illustrations and plates, along with descriptive text outlining the history of seals in England. It is a rare and very useful title.

You can find several titles relating to seals in the local history society runs that we hold. One of these is Facsimiles of Early Charters from Northamptonshire Collections, (1930) part of the Northamptonshire record society, edited by F M Stenton. This volume acts a useful guide to seals of Northamptonshire as they appear on the county charters. It has some excellent illustrations and plates alongside the text. This is another excellent example of a title on this subject.

There are many titles similar to this in the library and like this title contain excellent illustrations and plates alongside, often extensive, text. The interest in seals is somewhat of a niche market and those books that have been and that are still produced, tend to be of high quality and published or produced in small numbers.

Examples of more general titles are Guide to Seals in the Public Record Office and A guide to British Medieval Seals alongside many others.

We also hold several catalogues of seals relating to archive holdings of other organisations such as those held in Durham Cathedral and to some collections overseas, especially France. In addition there is also a good collection of books on Scottish seals. These are indispensable guides to seals collections. What we hold on this subject to an extent reflects the interests of members of staff in seals over the years.

As a footnote to our holdings on seals, our Collection Care Department now has a research fellow working exclusively on this subject.

Explore Copac records for works on seals held at The National Archives Library

Celebrating 350 years of the Scientific Journal: The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society

The journal as a medium for communicating scientific knowledge is something we are all familiar with today. But just over 350 years ago this style of publication did not exist; those practicing science relied on monographs, pamphlets, and on personal correspondence with colleagues across the world.

Title page of Philosophical Transactions issue one, March 1665

Title page of Philosophical Transactions issue one, March 1665. Image copyright: the Royal Society

On the 6th March 2015 the Royal Society celebrates the 350th anniversary of its journal, the Philosophical Transactions, the earliest and longest-running scientific journal in the world. This blog briefly highlights episodes in the history of the Philosophical Transactions, from its beginnings in 1665 when the ‘journal’ was yet to be defined as a genre of scientific publishing, to its continued production in today’s electronic age.

Henry Oldenburg

Henry Oldenburg, secretary of the Royal Society and founder of the Philosophical Transactions, first published in 1665. Image copyright: the Royal Society

The history of the Philosophical Transactions is the focus of a project based at the University of St Andrews entitled ‘Publishing the Philosophical Transactions: the economic, social and cultural history of a learned journal, 1665-2015’. The early history of the Transactions is framed by the activities of Henry Oldenburg, polyglot and secretary to the Royal Society from 1663 to 1677, who spent a brief period in the Tower of London in 1667 for suspected treason, as a result of his receipt and translation of foreign correspondence during the Anglo-Dutch War. It was Oldenburg’s skill as translator, however, and his connections to men of science across Europe that provided the content for his nascent journal, the Transactions, in 1665, and created a form of print whose flexibility, diversity of content and speed of transmission immediately captured the imagination of seventeenth century ‘natural philosophers’ and sparked a revolution in science communication. The Transactions continued to be a prestigious publication into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and was particularly important as practitioners of science became increasingly eager in the nineteenth century to see their discoveries published rapidly and to secure the credit for their inventions.

The Review of the Works of the Royal Society’ by John Hill, a book-length satirical critique of the Philosophical Transactions, attacking its past papers

The Review of the Works of the Royal Society’ by John Hill, a book-length satirical critique of the Philosophical Transactions, attacking its past papers. Image copyright: the Royal Society

As well as the notable successes of the journal, the Transactions came up against a number of challenges: it survived in the face of criticism in the eighteenth century from a disenfranchised few outside the Society who believed the Society was not publishing the most scientific papers, and managed to ride out reform in the Royal Society in the nineteenth century due to unrest among the Fellowship. Interwoven with the social, political and cultural circumstances of the journal’s development are the stories of men and women of science who sought publication in the journal. Their experiences reveal how the editorial and reviewing processes evolved from Oldenburg’s sole editorial power, through decision-making by committee, to the use of written referee reports and discipline-based advisory editors.

Charles Darwin: long-winded geologist

Charles Darwin: long-winded geologist. Image copyright: the Royal Society

Even the naturalist Charles Darwin, for example, had to go through the reviewing process to get his paper published in the Transactions: Darwin faced criticism in 1839 from his referee, Adam Sedgwick, for the unnecessary wordiness in his paper on the parallel roads of Glen Roy. The paper was the only paper Darwin ever published in the Transactions (though he later acted as a referee on papers).

The financial history of the Transactions is also important, and up to the 1940s the journal ran at a loss. It was only after World War II that the journal’s income consistently exceeded expenditure. Today, the Society’s publishing section now hosts ten journals in total and has grown to include academic editors, commissioning editors and other professional members of a production team of twenty. The journal is delivered largely electronically and is distributed through institutional subscription rather than individual subscribers. The Royal Society and its publishing division, including Philosophical Transactions, continue to be at the forefront of debates about science publishing in an ongoing communication and information revolution.

George Gabriel Stokes, secretary and editor of the Transactions 1854-85

George Gabriel Stokes, secretary and editor of the Transactions 1854-85. Image copyright: the Royal Society

The Publish or Perish? Conference being held at the Royal Society from the 19th – 22nd March will address both the history of scientific publishing and its future through two public evening events royalsociety.org/events/2015/03/publish-or-perish/

An exhibition on the Transactions is currently open at the Royal Society and runs until June 2015. The exhibition is open to all and you can download the brochure here royalsociety.org/events/2014/12/pubs-350-exhibition/

Dr Julie McDougall-Waters
Research Fellow, University of St. Andrews

Explore records for the Philosophical Translations of the Royal Society on Copac.

New Directory of Rare Book and Special Collections in the UK and Republic of Ireland and the RLUK “Hidden Collections”

Dr Karen Attar is currently editing a new edition of the Directory of Rare Book and Special Collections in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland: http://specialcollectionsdirectory.org for the Rare Books and Special Collections Group of CILIP. Here she reflects on how it relates to RLUK activity:

Recently I was looking again at the results of the survey carried out by the London Library and RLUK in 2010 on hidden collections: http://www.rluk.ac.uk/work/hiddencollectionsreportwork, conducted to gather evidence about the ongoing need for retrospective cataloguing. Findings included the facts that hidden collections are a problem (because, not being known, they are becoming marginalised and therefore cannot be earning their keep in terms of use); that some sectors have more hidden collections than others but that the problem is cross-sectoral; and that special collections, both printed and archival, form a significant proportion of the hidden collections. An intriguing point of the survey was its sheer breadth of coverage: not just the university and national libraries that are especially strongly connected with RLUK, but such diverse places as the National Portrait Gallery, Hull City Libraries, and the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution.

Editing the Directory of Rare Book and Special Collections in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland makes one very aware of just how fascinating some of these hidden collections can be. Like the survey, the Directory aims to cover all libraries that are willing to make their holdings open to bona fide researchers: national libraries, university libraries, school libraries, ecclesiastical libraries of different levels and denominations (how many people know about the French Protestant Church’s library in London, which has existed since the early seventeenth century?), museum libraries, professional libraries, subscription libraries, club libraries, company libraries, and more. The only restriction is that they must contain printed rare book or special collections of at least fifty volumes. Libraries are asked to provide brief collection level descriptions providing the date range of material, subject matter, and other salient features; the provision of urls enables potential users to investigate in more detail from each library’s own website. Especially exciting is to see reports from libraries not represented in the previous edition of the Directory (1997) – some, but by no means all, new libraries. Take the following, for sheer diversity:

    • The Congregation of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God in Brentford, Middlesex. This international Catholic religious order was founded by Frances Margaret Taylor (1832-1900), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Margaret_Taylor who established a considerable reputation in the late-nineteenth-century as a journalist, author, and translator. It is to her that the order owes the origin of its library, which focuses on the various editions of the literary works of Fanny Taylor (aka Mary Magdalen Taylor) and her friend Lady Georgiana Fullerton. Given the century, this might sound pedestrian – but in fact Copac shows her output to be held in few libraries, mainly Oxford (16 titles), Cambridge (18 titles), Trinity College Dublin (10 titles) and Heythrop College, London (8 titles), and no library on Copac holds everything.
    • Prison Service College Library, Rugby. Here there are some 200 volumes, mainly related to prisons, including some by the early prison reformer John Howard (1726-1790).
  • The Laurence Sterne Trust http://www.laurencesternetrust.org.uk/the-collection/ at Shandy Hall, near York.
    Marbled page featured in 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman'

    Marbled page featured in ‘The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman’. Image reproduced with permission of the Laurence Sterne Trust.

    Founded in 1967, this holds the world’s largest collection of first and contemporary editions of the works by Anglo-Irish curate and writer Laurence Sterne (1713-1768), as well as a comprehensive run of later editions and of translations into more than fifteen foreign languages, and other books, manuscripts, and ephemera relating directly and indirectly to Sterne.

  • The Grey Coat Hospital School, London. Headmaster William Dear bequeathed his collection to the school in 1728, and the subsequent donations enriched the library: mostly mathematical and Christian texts, reflecting the school’s history as a religious foundation that prepared its pupils to be ships’ navigators.
  • The Mills Archive, Reading (founded 2002). http://www.millsarchive.org/. Its library contains about 3-4,000 rare, out-of-print or hard-to-find books and pamphlets on mills and milling worldwide from primitive technology through to the present day. Most titles were published in short runs or privately printed; about one-quarter are in foreign languages.

    The Mills Library

    The Mills Library. Image reproduced by permission of the Mills Archive.

Not all these collections are hidden. Some have opacs accessible from their own websites – and the definition for the ‘hidden collections’ study is that collections are not catalogued online; it does not look at how or where they are catalogued. Very few collections being reported to the Directory have no finding aid at all: many still count as ‘hidden’ for want of online cataloguing, but it is unusual not to have a card catalogue, a printed catalogue, or a handlist of some description, and sometimes this is mounted on the web. But one needs to know that an organisation like the Mills Archive or the Laurence Sterne Trust exists in order to go to its website and use its catalogue, and here the Directory of Rare Book and Special Collections meets a need by recording the presence of collections rich in editions of Emanuel Swedenborg (the Swedenborg Museum), economic pamphlets (the Marshall Library of Economics at the University of Cambridge), Regency novels written by women (Chawton House), and so forth.

A desire arising from RLUK’s hidden collections report was for an online register of retrospective cataloguing. The Directory does not quite provide that, but it goes a long way towards providing all the information by noting a large number of collections and by recording when they are not catalogued online, and noting the alternative method of accessing the contents. RLUK’s ‘Unique and Distinctive Collections’ project is intended to show ‘how RLUK members and other libraries can make the most of their collections in challenging times’. Reporting their presence and holdings to the Directory is a good start.

Library of the Society of Friends catalogue loaded

We’re pleased to announce that the holdings of the Society of Friends Library have been added to Copac.

Photo of Society of Friends Library

Photo: Colin Edwards. Copyright: Britain Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends (Quakers)

The Library of the Society of Friends is one of the world’s largest collections of Quaker and Quaker related material. Founded in 1673, its printed collections include works published by the Society of Friends, and works written by and against Quakers, as well as a growing collection of work about Quakers and Quakerism.

It holds notable collections of 17th-18th century pamphlets, anti-slavery campaigning literature and peace publications. Quaker work in foreign missions and war relief (such as the Friends Ambulance Units of the two world wars) is well represented.

To browse, or limit your search to the holdings of the Society of Friends library, go to the main tab on copac.ac.uk and choose ‘Society of Friends’ from the list of libraries.

Special Collections at York Minster Library and the University of York Library

Sarah Griffin, Special collections and York Minster Librarian, talks about
the Special collections at the Cathedral and the University.

I was appointed to the post of Special collections and York Minster Librarian in 2010 following a partnership agreement between the University of York and the Chapter of York Minster.  The university provides all library staff, and technological support through the cataloguing and circulation modules of the library management system. In return university users get free access to the Minster library collections, we run induction tours for students and we host seminars for groups using the books.

The Minster library is the largest cathedral library in England holding around 120,000 items. As well as a substantial collection of early printed books, including 130 incunabula, the library has a modern reference and lending collection. The bulk of the historic library is housed in a 13th-century building to the north of the Minster.Image of Upper Hall of the Old Palace

The Upper Hall of the Old Palace. Image courtesy of the Chapter of York.

Cathedrals libraries are known for their broad and diverse collections and York is no exception. Subjects include travel, botany, science, medicine and, of course, theology.  We attract students of medieval studies, church architecture especially stained glass, and church history. My favourite part has to be the Yorkshire collection which was donated in 1890.

It came from Edward Hailstone, a solicitor from Bradford, who thought public libraries were ‘spoilators of books’ and would not countenance leaving his collection to them. Luckily that meant they came to the Minster where they now occupy a large proportion of our special collections room. They include everything from playbills, to civil war tracts, to children’s books, to local printing; the list is endless. Choosing a favourite item is hard as I have a new favourite every week.  However here is a constant much loved item, a commemorative handbill produced by Thomas Gent who set up his printing press on the frozen river Ouse in 1740.

Image of Verses on the frozen River Ouse, 1740

Verses on the frozen River Ouse, 1740. Image courtesy of the Chapter of York

Thomas Gent was a York printer from 1724 until his death in 1778 with a great line in blarney. He wrote an autobiography which is still fantastic reading although best taken with a big pinch of salt. What he was very good at was writing histories of Yorkshire towns. His books on York, Ripon and Hull contain information not found elsewhere and appear to have been based on first hand research and observation. The Minster library has almost all of Gent’s publications and would like to complete the collection in the future.

At the Minster I battle against the same things as many rare book librarians, namely looking after a collection in a historic building with all the environmental issues that entails, and achieving objectives with limited resources. In fairness big stone buildings do actually control temperature and humidity fairly well but dust and pest control are on-going problems. We suffer every year from a plague of ladybirds that come into the building through poorly fitting windows and promptly drop dead. It can be very disconcerting for readers to find themselves in the middle of a sea of ladybird corpses!

So that’s my first hat dealt with, I am also responsible for the special collections at the university. In the main these are printed books as archives are housed in and curated by the Borthwick Institute for Archives situated on campus. It is a collection of collections, comprising of around 20,000 items. Highlights are the books of Hugo Dyson, one of the Inklings, a group that included JRR Tolkien and C S Lewis; the Raymond Burton Yorkshire Collection; two Yorkshire parish libraries; two provincial medical society collections and much much more. I have got a definite favourite here though. It’s a scrapbook from 1819 produced by Laura Hannam.

Image of Scrapbook 1819

Scrapbook by Laura Catherine Hannam 1819. Image courtesy of the University of York

It was donated to the university on its opening in 1963 but there is no more information than that. However looking at the pictures Laura has drawn it is possible to work out that she must have lived in East Kent, and probably on a farm. The pictures are quite crude but so charming. It sits with a small collection of printed children’s books illustrated by Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway, and Randolph Caldecott among others.

The area I probably spend most time on is promotion of the collections within both institutions and also to the wider community in York and further afield. This is done through a combination of exhibitions, talks, tours and the use of social media.  At present I am working on producing a treasures booklet which will showcase the unique and distinctive collections at the Minster, the special collections and the Borthwick.  I am also working with a group of academics from English and History to create an exhibition and events celebrating the 600th anniversary of the Minster library.

I am lucky to work in an institution that places great value on its special collections and with the initiatives of bodies such as RLUK in this area I am looking forward to expanding the reach and scope of the collections I curate.

More information on the Minster collections can be found at http://www.yorkminster.org/treasures-and-collections/historic-collections/library.html

For more information on special collections see http://www.york.ac.uk/library/collections/special-collections/

Humanist Library (Conway Hall Ethical Society) catalogue loaded

We’re pleased to announce that the holdings of the Humanist Library and Archives (Conway Hall Ethical Society) library have been added to Copac.

Library at Conway Hall Ethical Society

Image copyright Conway Hall Ethical Society

Conway Hall, owned and operated by Conway Hall Ethical Society, is a membership organisation and educational charity that began as a dissident congregation in 1787 in London. Since 1929 the Society has been based at Conway Hall in Holborn.

The Library originated in the 1840s as a general lending library for members, but now specialises in subjects relating to ethics, Humanism, rationalism and philosophy. It is the foremost resource of its kind in Europe and the only library in the UK solely dedicated to the collection of Humanist material. The collection includes books, periodicals and pamphlets, all of which are accessible to the general public.

Conway Hall’s book collection comprises around 10,000 volumes, combining those of the South Place Ethical Society, the Rationalist Press Association, the Coit Memorial Library and the National Secular Society. Subjects include animal rights, business ethics, civil rights, education, environmental issues, family issues, free speech, health issues, and medical ethics.

Other collections: journals (the Library houses runs of many rare and important nineteenth century freethought journals), pamphlets, archives, manuscripts, a small collection of audio visual material and a collection of sheet music. Conway Hall and its library also possess numerous original works of art and architectural features, comprising: portraits, sculpture, photographs, posters, architectural plans, and artefacts.

To browse, or limit your search to the holdings of the Humanist library, go to the main tab on copac.ac.uk and choose ‘Humanist Library and Archives (Conway Hall Ethical Society)’ from the list of libraries.

Zoological Society of London library catalogue loaded

We’re pleased to announce that the holdings of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) library have been added to Copac.

ZSL Library. Image copyright Zoological Society of London

Image copyright Zoological Society of London

Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity, whose mission is to promote and achieve the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. ZSL Library has an important role in communicating information about, and inspiring an interest in animals, habitats and their conservation. It contains a unique collection books on all aspects of zoology and animal conservation. The book holdings date from the sixteenth century to the present day, and include many of the magnificently illustrated folios of the nineteenth century; books on the development of zoos and menageries; books by Fellows of the Zoological Society; the history of the Zoological Society and zoology.

To browse, or limit your search to the holdings of the ZSL library, go to the main tab on copac.ac.uk and choose ‘Zoological Society of London’ from the list of libraries.

 

The National Archives Library loaded

Copac is pleased to announce that the Library holdings of The National Archives have been added to Copac. The collection serves primarily as a research library for users of the archive and holds approximately 65,000 books and journals as well as online resources. It is open to visitors and staff of The National Archives.

The Library holds publications from the 17th century onwards and is still growing.  Primarily

Image from The National Archives, under CC-BY

Image from The National Archives, under CC-BY

a history library, its collection includes local history record society series, military history especially covering the First and Second World Wars, family history and directories including London Post Office directories.  It also houses complete sets of the published State Papers and other calendars of public records, a good collection of Acts and Statutes and a range of academic journals. A growing number of online resources are also available.

To browse, or limit your search to the holdings of The National Archives library, go to the main tab on copac.ac.uk and choose ‘The National Archives Library from the list of libraries.

Implementing RDA in Cambridge University Library

Celine Carty, Cataloguer at Cambridge University Library and member of the Cambridge RDA Steering Group, writes about the Library’s transition to using RDA.

Entrance artwork at Cambridge University Library

Bronze book bollards at the entrance to Cambridge University Library

“Cambridge implemented RDA in 2013”. What a simple statement that seems to be, but behind it lie an awful lot of detail and hard work.

Getting started

The main University Library and four of its affiliated libraries all implemented RDA (Resource Description and Access) on March 31st 2013. The other Cambridge libraries – there are over 90 in total including colleges, faculties and departments – will implement on October 1st. The preparations for this implementation began at least a couple of years ago, however, and the transition to RDA requires ongoing support and learning even after the initial training is over. Those 5 words at the start of this post describe a long process.

Once the Library of Congress and the British Library announced that they would be implementing the new cataloguing standard RDA on March 31st 2013, it made sense for Cambridge to follow suit. As part of the Legal Deposit Libraries Shared Cataloguing Program, we contribute to the BNB (British National Bibliography) and as part of NACO  (Name Authority Cooperative Program) we both use and contribute to the LC/NACO Authority File. Once the date was set, it suddenly felt like we had an awful lot of work to do in a very short time.

Training and implementation

One of the main challenges of RDA implementation in Cambridge was simply the logistics of coordinating training and implementation across so many libraries. By the end of this month, we will have offered RDA training to almost 200 people across all of the Cambridge libraries, some of whom are full-time cataloguers but many of whom only do some cataloguing as part of a more generalist post. Developing and delivering training in this context is quite a big job in itself. Beyond that, though, the main issues were agreeing Cambridge policy for the various options and alternatives available in RDA and also making sure all the systems were able to display, index and interpret the new MARC fields. The fact that RDA itself is in constant flux as changes and clarifications are made to the text and to the practices of the major national libraries certainly makes RDA implementation more complicated too.

The fact of setting an implementation date was itself quite useful, as it helped to focus the mind and encourages staff to take a bit of time out of their very busy work schedules to think about RDA. Over time, the number of RDA records in the BNB, in the Library of Congress and in Copac itself has grown and grown. This meant that many staff saw RDA in their copy cataloguing, which was very useful for familiarising them with the changes that RDA brings (particularly the more immediately obvious such as relationship designators, the loss of GMD (General Material Designation) and the new-look 264 fields for publication, distribution and manufacture information).

Cambridge RDA logo

Cambridge RDA logo (links to training materials website)

Creating policy: Do, discuss, document

Based on our experience of developing local policy for RDA, I would say that there is no need to wait until every aspect of policy decisions is finalised – instead try as early as possible to do some hands-on cataloguing in RDA. This really helps to bring to the surface the main issues and problems. At the recent CIG (Cataloguing & Indexing Group) pop-up workshop on “Getting started in RDA”, I talked about the 3-Ds of creating policy: “do, discuss, document”. This iterative process allowed us to develop our local policy, all of which is documented in the Cambridge Monograph Workflow (available in the RDA Toolkit, for anyone with a subscription) as well as our Cambridge Standard Record. Both of these documents are being constantly updated as changes are made to the RDA guidelines or in light of our own experiences with cataloguing in RDA.

There is a great deal of RDA training freely available online. Originally, we planned to avoid writing our own training by using as much of the freely available material as possible. However, although the Library of Congress modules were thorough and detailed, we felt that their pace and content wasn’t quite right for our local needs. It quickly became apparent that we would need to rework the existing training to make it suitable for Cambridge cataloguers. We therefore adapted the LC and BL modules, with some additional material. At this stage, we incorporated all the Cambridge local policy decisions about RDA (and developed more when we realised we needed them).

While we were preparing the training, I was in frequent contact with colleagues at the University of Oxford, Trinity College Dublin and the British Library as well as in many national and academic libraries in the US, Canada and New Zealand. The help of this international community of cataloguers proved invaluable to our own work and we were extremely grateful to other institutions, in particular to the Library of Congress  and British Library, for making their documentation and training available.

Cooperation and sharing

We agreed that it was very important to build on this spirit of cooperation and sharing and so, in May 2013, we launched CambridgeRDA, a website hosting all of the RDA documentation developed for training the staff of the libraries in the University of Cambridge. All of these materials are made available under a Creative Commons CC-BY licence for anyone to reuse or adapt. CambridgeRDA gives full details of the contents and order of the training modules. Although the training materials were developed for an internal audience and so obviously reflect Cambridge practice and policy, we hope they may be of use to you if your institution is thinking about implementing RDA cataloguing some time in the future.

Card catalogue - "superseded by"

Image is in the public domain: http://www.flickr.com/photos/deborahfitchett/2970373235/in/pool-685365@N25/