Cataloging, Categorization, and an Ode to the Call Number

This post is part of the Student Experience series, which features current and former archives students as they reflect on graduate school, internships, and early career issues. If you would like to contribute a post for this series, please email me

Guest poster Olivia Shea is a recent graduate of St. John’s University. Here, she discusses her work she has been doing at the Historical Society of Frederick County, MD, reorganizing the ephemera collection by catalog number. 

Imagine: You are in a grocery store. You are looking for a particular brand of the latest-and-greatest-sure-to-add-ten-years-to-your-life bottled juice product. There is only one problem. You have no clue what aisle the product is in. Is there a section for bottled drinks? Is there one for health foods? Or, did it somehow manage to steal some real estate in the produce section? Now imagine that every product in the grocery store is hidden behind manila envelopes, with only the respective categorical organization of each product being shown. It may take quite a while for you to find the product you want (and after all, those antioxidants are essential!).

This is the issue I have faced while reorganizing the Ephemera Collection at the Historical Society of Frederick County, Maryland (HSFC). The Ephemera Collection, as of approximately two years ago, was organized entirely by categories. Though objects in the collection have been cataloged, the physical organization of these objects relied entirely on how previous archivists interpreted the item. And this, understandably, can lead toward a lot of confusion. Take this ephemera item, for example:

shea_snap_photo1

Courtesy of the Historical Society of Frederick County, MD

This is a student report card for Miss Emma Ritchie from the Frederick Female Seminary, circa 1869. It is one of our many prized possessions in the Ephemera Collection. Given the following categories, which folder do you think this would be filed in?

  1. Frederick County Schools (Folder 1)
  2. Frederick County Schools (Folder 2)
  3. Frederick County – Misc.
  4. Schools – Misc.

If you answered (4) you are correct! This object was found in the ambiguously titled “Schools – Misc.” folder. Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the dilemma I have faced over the past year and a half.

In January 2015, I began sorting the Ephemera Collection. My method of sorting involved manually going through every ephemera item description in our catalog, guessing which categorized folder the object would most likely be in, finding the object, and refiling the object according to it’s given call number. If this does not sound tedious enough, I should add that many of the object descriptions in the catalog contain only one word. For example, several items in the Collection are only described by the word “brochure”. Not very helpful when you are sorting a collection that contains over 4,000 objects. I can confidently say that I have handled and analyzed every single object in the Collection.

Now, let’s briefly look back at that school report card. The call number for this object is EPH1125. After refiling the Collection, this object is no longer in the Schools – Misc. folder. It is now safe and sound in a folder titled “EPH1120 – EPH1126”. And this is, what I have learned, the beauty of call numbers. They are precise. A system of subject categorization has simply not been manageable for a collection as extensive and diverse as the HSFC Ephemera Collection. Hence, why I will forever wax poetic about the importance of the call number.

Once I have tied up some loose ends and formally completed my sorting (i.e. figuring out which “brochure” is which) I will begin updating our catalog and accessioning new items into the reborn Ephemeral Collection. This experience has been both a lesson in endurance and an introduction to the world of cataloging ephemera.

snap_shea_profilepic

 

Olivia Shea is a graduate of St. John’s University’s MS Library and Information Science program, where she concentrated in Archiving. She is currently employed by the Frederick County Public Library System.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Cataloging, Categorization, and an Ode to the Call Number

  1. Jane Kelly

    Olivia– So glad to hear I’m not the only person who has labored and labored and labored over a collection of ephemera! I undertook a similar project at my job (at a law school library), sorting through ephemera a staff member had collected over several years. It’s not worth it for us to catalog each item individually, but choosing appropriate folder level descriptions was a challenge in and of itself. Good luck with the rest of your work!

    Reply
    1. Olivia Shea

      Thank you! It is always nice to hear from others that are in the midst of collection overhauls. Unfortunately (or fortunately) our ephemera collection really requires that each item be cataloged individually. Every object in the collection is unique and the collection’s timeline spans three centuries.

      Reply
  2. Jane Kelly

    So glad to hear I’m not the only person who has labored and labored and labored over a collection of ephemera! I undertook a similar project at my job (at a law school library), sorting through ephemera a staff member had collected over several years. It’s not worth it for us to catalog each item individually, but choosing appropriate folder level descriptions was a challenge in and of itself. It took me months longer than I expected to find a proper home for each flyer, brochure, and oddball item. Good luck with the rest of your work!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s