Cataloguing has begun

by anchorarchivist... ()

Now that we have this awesome catalogue, our next task is to fill it with data, or catalogue the collection of the Anchor Archive Zine Library. There are about 2000 zines in the collection, plus books and other items, but we’re just focusing on the zine collection for now. We hope to have most of the cataloguing done by September or October of 2008.

We just found out last week that we got a grant to do this part of the project. Yay! The Halifax Regional Municipality awarded us a Community Grant in Arts, Culture, and Heritage for $4,800. This funding will mainly be used to pay wages to me to coordinate the cataloguing project. However, I decided a couple of months ago, when we were still waiting to hear about funding, that I was going to coordinate the cataloguing project whether I got paid or not, and so I’ve been working pretty steadily on it since the beginning of June.

The plan is to recruit as many people as possible to help us catalogue the collection, so my job is to get those people together, train them, supervise them as needed, and put together a user guide that can be used by future cataloguers. I’m also responsible for training Anchor Archive folks on other aspects of using the catalogue, such as checking zines in and out, and creating a user guide on how to do these other tasks as well.

But I decided that before I get a bunch of other people involved, I should catalogue about 1/5 of the collection on my own so that I can work out any bugs in the system, get a really good understanding of the cataloguing process, and put together a thesaurus of subject terms. In order to get a good cross-representation of subject terms for the thesaurus, I’m cataloguing approximately 5 zines from each box (each box represents a category, such as Bicycles or Anarchism) in this initial stage. This will also allow people later on to catalogue zines in areas they’re interested in, which would be harder if I worked through entire boxes at this point. I have been getting help from Skye, an MLIS student who’s working at the Anchor Archive this summer, and a couple of my librarian friends, because they’re all familiar with the concept and process of cataloguing in general. It’s actually way better to catalogue with other people because I find that I’m constantly questioning which subject terms to use and it helps to be able to get someone else’s input. It’s also good to have help with subjects I know almost nothing about, such as anarchism (thanks Braden!)

I don’t think it will be too hard to recruit other folks to help out once I’m ready for them because there are a few Anchor Archive volunteers who ask me when they can start cataloguing every time they see me, and often when I mention the project to other people, they say they’d like to catalogue too. I can understand their interest because cataloguing zines is really fun - if you like zines. You don’t necessarily have time to read through the zines you catalogue, but just to look through piles of zines and see what’s out there is absolutely fascinating.

Definitely the hardest part about cataloguing is coming up with good subject terms that will be used by other people while searching the catalogue. I think this is always a challenge in cataloguing, but what makes it even harder is that we don’t have a thesaurus or list of subject terms to use as a guide. Library of Congress Subject Headings are what most libraries use, but they’re not very useful to us because they use compound subject terms (e.g., dogs–breeding) whereas we’ve decided not to, and a lot of zines deal with alternative content that’s not well represented by Library of Congress. I would really like to find some other thesauri out there that I can refer to for guidance. I’ve looked online a bit and haven’t found anything. Most zine libraries don’t have catalogues online, or if they do, they don’t index their zines by subject. I’ve tried to think of other types of libraries or resource collections that might have thesauri that would work for us, like women’s centre libraries, but I haven’t had much luck yet. Maybe I just need to be more creative. If anyone has any suggestions, please send them my way!

Another thing we’ve found challenging is determining the difference between the field “physical description” and “subject.” Some things are obvious, but there are grey areas. For example, we’ve been putting “comics” in physical description because we feel this describes the format of the content rather than the intellectual content itself. Same with “interviews.” But it’s confusing and we often question ourselves.

I’m going to start putting together a thesaurus this week, as the list of subject terms has become quite large and unwieldy. At first I thought I wouldn’t make a hierarchical thesaurus, because a hierarchy seemed to go against the spirit of zines, but I’ve realized that it will make things way easier. For example, if you’re cataloguing a feminist zine, if you’re using a non-hierarchical thesaurus you have to look through the whole list of subject terms to find terms that may apply to your zine. But if you’re using a hierarchical thesaurus you can look up the broader term “feminism” and see a whole bunch of narrower and related terms that could apply to your zine. I’m kind of excited about making a thesaurus, but I also know it’s going to make my brain hurt.