Monday, March 03, 2008

Bibliographical Answer: Of a Kind

This recent post about the British Library and Library of Congress cataloguing of books, geeky though it was, provoked a little interest and so I decided to go straight to the 'horses mouth' as it were and emailed the Library of Congress 'ask a librarian' service. Remarkably, they replied today at exactly the same time as an anonymous poster gave more or less the same answer in the comments under the original post.

For the record, this is the email from the Library of Congress CIP department:

We follow the Anglo-American cataloging rules which state that "In the titles of books, pamphlets, periodicals, documents, and other publications, legal cases, and works of art, the first word is capitalized." Hope that helps you and the bibliogeeks!

This and anonymous's comment (for which many thanks by the way - do feel free to identify yourself either in the comments or by emailing me using the link at the right hand side of the page), both give a good answer to the question why the cataloging data is written in this way except there is another why behind it - WHY do the cataloging guidelines say to do this? I'm too shy to email the Library of Congress again, they'll think I'm some kind of bibliographical stalker and, let's be fair, I don't want to know that much but the question of why the guidelines say to do this is still open I feel.

Does anyone know who wrote the guidelines and have his/her email address?!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Frankly, many cataloging rules don't make a lot of sense to anyone other than a cataloger. But "why" is always a good question.

For titles, here are some of the reasons why they are transcribed in this manner:

1. A title where every word is capitalized gives no prominence to personal or place names ... and a title where every letter is capitalized is hard to read.

2. A title on a catalog record will always have a beginning (the first word) and an ending (ending punctuation - sometimes a period, sometimes a space-slash-space, following by an author statement). Titles do not need to have every word capitalized to make the title either distinctive or prominent.

3. Convention - libraries like consistency (and catalogers love consistency), and many, many years ago when the powers-that-were at that time decided how titles should be recorded, they picked a method that seemed to make sense to them, and we've been using that method ever since.

In addition to the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, there's also the International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD). Most libraries in the world follow one or the other, and they both require the same practice with regard to transcribing the title of a work.

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