“Lighting the Past”, a new initiative for the cataloguing of the rare books of the University of St Andrews, launches!

Monday 18 June 2012

Last Wednesday, 13 June 2012, the University Library unveiled its plans for the online cataloguing of the large backlog of rare and early books found in the Department of Special Collections. This initiative, branded Lighting the Past, will address the 150,000 books not currently represented in the University Library’s catalogue, SAULCAT, or in larger databases such as COPAC and WorldCAT.

Dr. Norman Reid, Head of Special Collections, at the launch of Lighting the Past (photo by Vicki Cormie, Senior Academic Liaison Librarian)

This project was initiated by the University Librarian, John MacColl, and has been organized by a steering group including Norman Reid (Head of Special Collections), Janet Aucock (Head of Cataloguing), Elizabeth Henderson (Rare Books Librarian), Daryl Green (Acting Rare Books Librarian & Rare Books Cataloguer) and Jeremy Upton (Deputy Director of Library Services) with advice having been given by Jennifer Schaffner (OCLC Research Program Officer). This group has devised a two phase approach that will provide an efficient and accurate way of dealing with this large backlog within the next ten years, while also providing opportunities for the employment and training of St Andrews students and potential internship and short-term project work for new Library and Information Science professionals.

The majority of the retro-cataloguing work will be done to a Phase 1 level first, and then be marked for upgrading to Phase 2 when time and resources are available. It should be emphasised that all of this work will be done book-in-hand and that both phases will be running co-currently. Phase 1 cataloguing aims to provide bibliographically identifiable records of books while also being quick and efficient. This process has been boiled down to the simplest elements of rare books cataloguing, but should provide enough information for accurate research retrieval. Despite being a simplified process Phase 1 operates to a defined standard and will include specific elements of quality control.

An example of a Phase 1 record looks like this which includes the following elements:

  • full transcription of the title
  • full transcription of the imprint
  • a complete pagination description
  • author entry
  • basic subject entries
  • collection-specific identifiers
  • accurate holdings statement (classmark and itemised barcode)

This work has been designed for a student-labour driven workforce of 3rd and 4th year undergraduates as well as postgraduates and PhD students. Lead by a full-time cataloguer and the Rare Books Librarian, we aim to employ and train only from the student body at St Andrews, therefore effectively providing work and specialist training for interested students throughout the academic year and the term of this project. It is estimated that, using the designed process, one Phase 1 cataloguer can work through about 6-8 books per hour.

Illuminated initial at the beginning of Part 1 of John Duns Scotus’s Quaestiones in quatuor libros Sententiarum, an example of a book to be catalogued directly to Phase 2.

Some collections have been identified as too bibliographically complex, too fragile or too important to be done at the Phase 1 level, and so have been set aside for work by an accredited rare books professional. Phase 2 cataloguing work provides full, descriptive records which follow the prescribed rules set forth in DCRM(B), an internationally recognized standard set of rules for rare books cataloguing. Collections such as the Bible Collection, the George Hay Forbes and J.D. Forbes Collections and the Copyright Deposit Collection have been identified as candidates for direct-to-Phase 2 work. Because of the nature of the work involved in handling, describing and researching these books, professional staff is required. We hope to fund direct-to-Phase 2 work with a series of project-level grants from local, national and international philanthropic institutions. These records will include full descriptions about the physical nature, publication history and unique characteristics of the book in-hand (binding, provenance, missing pages, &c.).  An example of a Phase 2 record can be viewed here.

Phase 2 will also be the end-product for all Phase 1 records: it has been agreed that once the direct-to-Phase 2 work has been done, the Rare Books Cataloguer’s (a regular role within Special Collections) main duty will be the upgrading of records created under the Phase 1 scheme.

From the reception following the launch of Lighting the Past (photo by Vicki Cormie, Senior Academic Liaison Librarian)

This new initiative was launched last week in the historic King James Library with speeches given Professor Louise Richardson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews, Dr. Norman Reid, Head of Special Collections, Daryl Green, Acting Rare Books Librarian, and Professor Andrew Pettegree, director of the Universal Short Title Catalogue. The event was attended by staff and students from the Schools of English, History, Art History and Divinity and by members of the Principal’s Office and staff from the University Library. We hope that this event, and the following publicity, will raise awareness to the fact that in the next few years new records for a large number of items from the rare books collections will be appearing online for the first time. We also hope we can share the model for this two-phase method, which is a new and innovative way of dealing with large-scale rare book cataloguing backlogs, with other institutions that are facing the same problems with the same limited resources.


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4 thoughts on "“Lighting the Past”, a new initiative for the cataloguing of the rare books of the University of St Andrews, launches!"

  • jveazue
    Monday 18 June 2012, 3.13pm

    Reblogged this on JANINEVEAZUE.

  • “Unhiding” the Hidden Collections | Unique and Distinctive Collections
    Monday 18 June 2012, 9.26pm

    [...] be discussing these further in the project report.  I was interested this morning to read about Lighting the Past, a new initiative at St Andrews University Library, which will catalogue 150,000 rare books: [...]

  • alison-cullingford
    Monday 18 June 2012, 9.30pm

    Reblogged this on Collections in a Cold Climate and commented: Interesting initiative which tackles large-scale hidden collections of rare books while also contributing to the University's mission through student skills and employability.

  • Completed: a Grand Gathering of the Geographical Gallimaufry! « Echoes from the Vault
    Thursday 22 November 2012, 1.05pm

    [...] June, the Department of Special Collections launched Lighting the Past, a project to catalogue the 150,000 books not currently represented in the University Library’s [...]


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