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Here’s a very important question!  How many special collections books can be catalogued in a day’s work?  The answer to this tells us how long such cataloguing will take and therefore, crucially, how much it will cost.  It’s a tricky question though.  There are so many variables: the nature, language etc of the book, the availability and quality of existing catalogue records, the policy of the library on adding provenance details etc, and the experience and skills of the cataloguer.

Olive of Sylcote by Yorkshire author W. Riley - typical of the modern special collections books at the Uni of Bradford

Olive of Sylcote by Yorkshire author W. Riley – typical of the modern special collections books at the Uni of Bradford (and one of my favourite dustjackets!)

However, pooling the experience of several libraries gives a surprisingly clear answer.  Katie Flanagan recently asked librarians on lis-rarebooks about their targets for cataloguing modern special collections books.  In general, and with lots of caveats of course, the answer came out at around 15.  Here’s Katie’s blog post with full details of the replies.  That feels about right to me from my 20-odd years of managing the cataloguing of modern special collections books.

Katie also mentions an invaluable forthcoming journal article by Karen Attar of Senate House Library: “Modern special collections cataloguing: a University of London case study”, to appear in the March 2013 Journal of Librarianship and Information Science (subscribers to Sage OnlineFirst can get a sneak preview now).

Confession: I am the 30-books-per-day cataloguer in Katie’s post – that was always my aspiration for really easy stuff with good records and simple provenance like J.B. Priestley books, University working papers and the like.  However, I haven’t done much book cataloguing for a couple of years so I rather think I have lost a yard or two of pace in that respect.

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