Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Cataloguing and All That

When responding to Kristen's comment on Library Thing, and knowing that some of our fellow grad students are trying to figure out how to best handle the research process, I began to think about the whole cataloguing issue. Why is it that I find it easier to catalog stuff I find in the library or want to look for than books I actually own? I'm sure I am not the only one who has this problem.
Granted, often when cataloguing materials from the library, one is importing data (having done a search on, say, Toyen or Štyrský) and mainly has to make sure that it goes in the right places and that the import process hasn't massacred the diacritical marks. A certain amount of personalizing then needs to take place, as one comes up with useful keywords (NOT those endless Library of Congress headings--see the Clay Shirky article on that), which is to say something like "art" and "Czech" instead of "Art--Czechoslovakia--20th century--painting" and one also has to, ideally, note whether the item has been seen or needs to be found.
With books at home, somehow there is usually not quite the same impetus to catalog, other than a vague feeling that it would be a good idea to know whether one already owns something like Marshall Berman's All That Is Solid Melts Into Air or Serge Guilbaut's How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art (the sort of text one has examined at the library and supposes had better be bought one of these days). There is also the feeling that, if the stuff is all catalogued, we'll have something to go on if the house burns down or experiences a natural disaster (horrors!).
I am probably not unusually bad at cataloguing my own books. Sometimes I collect stacks of new ones and refuse to shelve them until they have been entered. This mainly creates an unsightly hazard on my desk or wherever they have been piled. If they are not on the desk, they are likely to tempt Ms. Spots, who believes that all items must at least be licked and more likely nibbled. Ms. Spots is very fond of books, as she wishes to share in my interests and finds paper products tasty.
More productively, during the pre-Prague packing process I catalogued what must have been several hundred titles (or so it seemed). This was rather tiring and impeded the packing, which was already slow enough due to my insistence on packing each box as perfectly as possible to protect the contents (sorry, that's how I was taught to do it, not that I have fully mastered this skill).
Unfortunately, there are all those anthologies. In some cases, it is enough just to catalog the anthology itself. If I only have one book on nationalism and architecture (or even just two or three), and am unlikely to assign much reading on this topic (but then, you never know), I am probably safe. But what about canonical articles that will have to be assigned sooner or later to droves of unhappy students? For instance, Clement Greenberg's article on kitsch. Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Carol Duncan's "Virility and Domination in Early Twentieth-Century Vanguard Painting." Since I don't own a collection devoted to Greenberg's writings, there is no way of figuring out where Greenberg's articles are if they aren't separately catalogued.
This quickly becomes nightmarish. I gaze in horror at my copy of Art in Theory, (note, I only possess one volume, 1900-1990, already superseded by 1900-2000) as it contains hundreds of items that I might possibly want to assign. (Worse yet, the print on the table of contents is small. I hate trying to deal with this valuable compendium.)
On the research front, I am still trying to get straight which of Karel Teige's articles are in his collected works, which in Vlašín's 3-volume set of avant-garde writings, which have been republished elsewhere, which I've seen in the original publication and photocopied or transcribed, etc. After all, if I have access to the original publication, I want to cite that, but I want to look at the bibliographic comments in the anthologies. Each catalog entry has to be cross-referenced to the others, although it's true that I can sort by title.
Sorting by title does me no good with the writings of Jindřich Štyrský, as some of them have different titles in different places. I have to keep in mind that "Koutek generace" refers to the same text as "Generace na dvou židlích."
Ah well. However one does it, it's an ongoing process, especially the keywording. There's always the realization that everything should have been given a century or other time period, or that some items have not gotten listed as Czech or avantgarde. Life is short, cataloguing endless.

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Anonymous be said...


came to this blog whilst searching for charles uni.

February 28, 2006 1:38 PM  
Blogger Kristen said...

You overachiever, you! ;)

February 28, 2006 7:49 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

Welcome; I'm afraid there is not much about the Charles University on this blog, although I am auditing a class there.

And Kristen, you know I am somewhat obsessive.

March 01, 2006 9:06 AM  

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