Catalog Systems

By | September 30, 2014

Until I read The Industrial Library, I didn’t even think of how people find or meet books they need. And I was impressed by the card catalog systems that librarians created. 

Anthony Panizzi worked at the British Museum introduced a subject catalog that no one had ever tried to create such kind of classification. “Panizzi explored a sophisticated and nuanced approach to modeling the implicit links between books…that catalog users should be able to see these relationship even as they search for particular book.” The author describes that creating catalog was “an act of revolution”. The rules Panizzi made embodied a political purpose. 

On the other hand, Charles Ammi Cutter the great American cataloger “saw cataloging as more of a spiritual pursuit.” He proposed a new multidimensional catalog system which provided a mechanism for describing books by author, title, and subject. Dewey Decimal System became standard for public libraries. I felt that the system became more and more standardized and normalized. It made the library and user easier to find the book that you already know the title or author, but I think it also changed the role of librarians. 

It brings the argument to the role of library in the early twentieth century when a new professional field of “special libraries” came out. According to the author, “special librarians saw their roles in a different light, less as book curators and more as active participating in organizational ecologies of information.” And the author also makes a connection with the word “documentation” and mentions that library worker takes on a active role in the production of information. 

It also reminds me the book that I had from library; The Last Whole Earth Catalog founded by Stewart Brand. In the first page, it says “The Whole Earth Catalog functions as an evaluation and access device. With it, the user should know better what is worth getting and where and how to do the getting.” And they categorized into Understanding Whole Systems, Shelter and Land Use, Industry and Craft, Communications, Community, Nomadics, and Learning. I like the catalog in the way that cataloging by not only one person but also many people around the world, and I could see the personal recommendation and organization on it. 


One thought on “Catalog Systems

  1. shannon Post author

    Thanks, Eishin! The Whole Earth Catalog is a great case study in classification: it embodies a worldview, an ethic, an ideology, etc., in the way it organizes itself.
    I’d be curious to hear more about how you related the Wright reading to the *other* texts we explored for this week.


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