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Reflections on Cataloguing, Summer 2018

Reflections on Cataloguing, Summer 2018
Reflections on Cataloguing, Summer 2018
Reflections on Cataloguing, Summer 2018

I think the red rot permanently stuck between my keyboard keys will not let me forget this summer of cataloguing. Physically handling the books we catalogued, with the care it was ensured we would take, closed the distance between what I thought rare books would be like, used books from the 18th century would be like, and what they actually were. It’s a different thing to imagine a dusty, fraying, leather-bound volume from over two hundred years ago and holding in your hands a dusty, fraying, leather-bound volume from over two hundred years ago. It’s great to have digitized so much of these novels, but I don’t think we can every really (digitally) capture the tactile experience of slowly setting a book on a foam board, paging through it with caution, and basically taking care of it as though it were to fall apart at any second (which, okay, it probably were).

The most interesting part about cataloging this summer was probably cataloguing the 10-volume Sterne collection. While it didn’t have much marginalia or any physical signs of having been read and used and passed along (the books had actually been rebound and were in very good condition), there was much to catalogue- with paratext that I mostly had to put into the 500 fields or 520 “other”, because there was no controlled term for a black “marble” page, or squiggly lines to indicate the trajectory of the plot (I believe there were about 25 520 fields alone).

All the other novels I catalogued stood out perhaps in the marginalia they contained, or their illustrations, or their publication information (I do want to mention the scribbled note I found in a book I catalogued on my first day: “I know not whose book this is”). These books were notable because of the text itself (especially Tristram Shandy). Also a nice reprieve from Gothic or righteously moral fiction.