Article Summary for Lecture #6- Wajenberg

Wajenberg, A. (1989).  A cataloger’s view of authorship. In E. Svenovius (Ed.), The Conceptual Foundations of Descriptive Cataloging, pp. 21-27.  San Diego: Academic Press.

What constitutes someone being an “author”?  Does it apply only to the person who creates a new work, or could an author also be someone who compiles multiple articles, books, etc.  into a new work, commonly known as an anthology?  Authorship is a simple concept that wouldn’t normally be thought of as debatable.  However, in the world of cataloging and organization, defining who an author is can be both difficult and frustrating.  Arnold S. Wajenberg dives into this issue (with, as he says, “trepidation”) and discusses some of the different views of authorship.

Wajenberg uses two cataloging theorists who have dealt with this issue in the past-Lubetzsky and Carpenter. Lubetzsky defines an author as someone who “produces” a work, but his definition isn’t complete because authorship can also include different versions or add-ons of the same work.  Carpenter, however, uses the examples of “multiple” and “diffuse” authorship.  This is where translations and screen adaptations of certain works come into account.  So many changes can be made to an original work that the changes become “bibliographically significant”, which is why this topic becomes so important to catalogers.

However, new problems are now emerging for defining authorship: computers.  Wajenberg gives an instance of a computer program that “authored” a book.  It created the book, but there were two men who created that computer program,; one of the men wrote the introduction for the book.  Wajenberg mentions that The Library of Congress uses the title as the search entry, which avoids the problem of author categorization altogether, but there is no entry for “Racter”, which is the name of the computer program that created the book.  He proposes that a possible solution to this problem would be to include in AARC2 a section about computer programs as authors.

Wajenberg’s main point, however, is shown when he gives his own definition for authorship: “an author of a work is a person identified as an author in items containing the work, and/or in secondary literature that mentions the work.”  He also notes that the identification of the author can be anywhere in the work, but it is best to have formal identification to make it clear for the cataloger who the author is.  Authorship can be attributed by association; therefore, the computer program Racter is very clearly an author.  On the other hand, the cataloger must too be able to have the knowledge to locate the author in non-formal identifications in order to properly organize the work.

Arnold S. Wajenberg’s article is outdated for today’s use (as it was written in 1989), but has many good points and brings to light some of the problems and struggles in the library world.  He seems wary of the future of computers and programs, but has very credible and thought-provoking suggestions with how to handle the future of bibliographical organization.  He also makes it clear that a large responsibility rests on the shoulders of catalogers- they are the non-biased organizers of the bibliographic world, after all.  Wajenberg has a good command of his audience and uses clear, concise language to prove his point.   Finally, “A cataloger’s view of authorship” carries with it a sharp wit, and that is something that I think we could all appreciate when debating a subject as dry as authorship.

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Article Summary for Lecture #4- Creider

Creider, L.S. (2006). Cataloging, reception, and the boundaries of a “work”. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly 42(2): 3-19.

What really defines a “work” in terms of a piece of literature or biography?  What are the limitations of a work? How far can a manuscript wander from its original text before it becomes a different work altogether?  L.S. Creider decides to dive into this topic and give an explanation for all of the chaos.  She begins by stating that research has led to a distinction between a work and its container; in other words, content is separate from its physical manifestation (or lack thereof).

Creider notes that this argument is important because the way a work is categorized determines how a user obtains that information.  Magazines and periodicals not only show if a library carries a certain work, but which issues and volumes are available in each one.  It is up to the cataloging theoreticians to clear up this issue, and what research has been accomplished in the past hasn’t yielded many concrete answers. There are many different definitions- no one seems to agree on one solid definition of a “work”.  Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) has helped to break down the different categories of records for the people who organize them, but tends to stay away from creating those specific boundaries of a work.  What has been discovered is perhaps quite different than what those in the LIS field are used to hearing.

A “work” is an abstract entity; a construct that has many different meanings depending on the content.  The work is almost a philosophical argument, where it is neither completely unobtainable nor comprehendible by one route.   It seems that the main problem with the discussion of a “work” is that it is so difficult to define, and that the closest definition we have to defining it is that there is no definition.  A “work” is not something that can be contained or exists in one entity.   It is, however, possible to define the limitations of a work.  For example, through time different works can change forms so much through physical ways as well as perception of the audience.  Theorists and organizers must then decide where the boundary lies between a different version of the work and a different work altogether.  If it is a different work, then where an item is organized and the routes to it are changed drastically.  In other words, as Creider asks, where does it become “distinct?” FRBR has attempted to cover the definition of what constitutes a new work, saying it could stem from “a significant degree of independent intellectual or artistic effort”, but that definition still allows theorists to struggle with the idea of what “independent intellectual or artistic effort” means.  Theorists have determined that defining a work can also be related to defining a text.  Moreover, that what constitutes a work is almost completely subjective and relates to how the user obtains the information (s)he needs, and what the information is used for.  Each individual’s own experiences, both in relation to the text, as well as their own lives, determine what a work is.  And it cannot be comprehended by the entire population.

Creider mentions that her field of expertise lies in European Middle Ages, and mentions two commonplace rules regarding manuscripts from that time:  firstly, that every manuscript, because they were hand written, varied a little in its content and layout; however, that characteristic did not make it a different work.  Secondly, that manuscripts associated with a specific author were more “stable” over time in regards to copies than anonymous works.  In other words, texts without authors were copied with more liberties because there was not a person to attribute to the original text.  Changes in these texts were caused by social and cultural factors.  Creider states while providing examples from ancient texts, “…what is important is the way in which this example illustrates how the determination of where a work starts and stops is determined not by theory but by the paths of scholarly investigation and the accidents of manuscript survival (10).”  Moreover, the “state of reception” of the text is extremely important.  How we perceive a text from 200 years ago is completely different from how the people of that time interpreted its meaning.  Even those insights can change the meaning of a work.  What we may see as many different works may have been intended to be one work, and we must change how we categorize that entity accordingly.  Creider even goes so far as to use her own websites as examples, saying that to her, they are two separate works, but to the user (who would have no information on either on the intentions of these works), could interpret the information differently; however, both interpretations are valid, and one does not supersede the other.

Creider’s main point is that in each case, a text must be looked at individually, and researchers must take into account the history of the text, the ways in which it was and is used, and the knowledge that each individual’s encounter with a work is different from another’s.  Each person’s viewing of a work, whether it is for the use of scholarly research or one’s own personal enjoyment, is valid.  She is exactly correct in her arguments- subjective is the key to understanding the boundaries of works, not objective.  So long as information specialists and organizers are clear in their documentations, and we are open to changes that may come for our textual content and order, we can always find a way to make it work.

Article Summary for Lecture #3- Russell

Beth Russell, author of “Hidden Wisdom and Unseen Treasure: Revisiting Cataloging in Medieval Libraries”, discusses the main ways ancient libraries’ techniques of indexing and cataloging shape how we organize modern libraries. Russell begins by stating that how materials are organized determine the sort of ideas and information that are transmitted to the user. Additionally, she argues that although it is easy to assume that medieval organization was much simpler than what we use today, medieval libraries actually had the same struggles we deal with today in library and information studies, including the local and community needs and how to provide better access to our information resources.

Russell points out a couple of differences in medieval organization and modern organization in her article. Firstly, medieval culture did not focus so much on cooperation between the institutions. Secondly, indexing became a part of the cataloging practice (around 1321), and today indexing is a completely different field for a library cataloger. Those differences aside, the organization of medieval libraries very much parallels the organization of today’s libraries. For example, in the 1000s and 1200s, catalogers would keep a basic inventory that would tell what books were physically there. These inventories would, over time, show how collections would grow, which is something that still holds value today. This type of organization was more of use to the librarian and/or cataloger than the user.

Russell also notes the different types of basic classification in medieval libraries. The simplest manifestation of this organization was seen in the physical division of storage for collections of books. Religious texts would be held closest to monasteries and were most likely kept behind lock and key. These religious books were considered the most important; therefore, they were the most protected. The division of texts sheds light on medieval culture and how society was divided as well. As time went on and collections grew, however, the need for more sophisticated categorization was needed. Cataloging included shelf listings and assigning letters of the alphabet to volumes of books. Some collections even provided physical descriptions of the books (material, binding, and general state) to make tracking them down easier. This may seem like a modern advancement, but medieval libraries practiced this detailing because one copy of a text may not have been exactly the same from another due to differences in writing.   In between the years 1250 and 1296 what we now call a “union list” was created, which combines the catalogs of several libraries’ holdings. Although it is incomplete, it contains the catalogs of 183 libraries.

Early medieval library collections were also categorized by subject rather than by title or author name. Each text would be fit into one of the seven liberal arts or areas of knowledge, beginning with the most important religious texts. Some works that were written by famous authors were categorized by author name, and would contain no subject. This practice led often led to confusion, and put quite a bit of pressure on the cataloger. Later on, in the 1300s, however, alphabetical organization became more accepted and more closely resembles the structure we use today.

The main point that Russell gives in her article is that library cataloging should not been seen throughout history as a direct line of progression; rather, it is an ever-changing field that was always complex. The medieval librarians dealt with the same issues we see today, but perhaps just in a different way. This is really eloquent commentary that can be applied beyond the study of libraries. Our culture shapes the way we receive information, and the way in which we give information shapes our culture.