Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Cataloging of Artifacts

Cataloging of Historical Artifacts

By Daniel D. Stuhlman

Libraries collect more than just published materials.  The library collects materials that represent all kinds of human creative activity.[1]  One aspect of the collection is to gather books and materials (including electronic resources) that fill the short-term information and recreational reading needs of the patrons and another aspect is to think about the longer-term preservation of knowledge.  The longer-term needs are part of the research and historical mission of the library.  Part of the preservation task may include older books, papers, manuscripts, ephemera, and artifacts.  Many libraries collect museum or art items and some collect realia. In researching this article, I found libraries that collect educational kits, tools, items to study anatomy, tools of a trade, kits to learn or teach math, and more. I found a collection of wood samples used in the building trade to help people decide what flooring to purchase.  I also found items such as dolls and games both for recreational and study purposes.  

The Northwestern University Herskovits Library of African Studies collects objects that are connected to any aspect of Africa. Examples of objects include clothing, signs, figurines, dolls, etc.   This picture is a shelf with hats used at a soccer world cup. The items are organized in boxes on shelves, but most of them are not in the library catalog.

Avery Library of Columbia University has about 4,667 works of original art in their catalog, but the catalog has no “realia” format.  CARLI [2] (union catalog for Illinois research libraries) has many examples of 3D objects.  I didn’t find any bibliographic records in WorldCat for these realia.  Each library followed its own rules and that makes inconsistent bibliographic entries and difficulty to look up items.

The cataloging of realia (that is an object for its “thingness” rather than its intellectual content) presents challenges not quite covered in the rules of cataloging. An artifact is a sub-category of realia.  The usual definition is anything made or modified by human beings.  However, for purposes of including in a library catalog it must have a connection to a time, place and/or responsibility.  Works of art are not necessarily historical artifacts.  A work of art that is produced in multiple copies, and meant to be sold or distributed, can be cataloged similarly to a published book.  If it falls within the collection policy of the library, it will be part of the collection. For example, a non-print object connected to an event is a historical ephemeral artifact.  A fancy tzedakah box that is sold in many copies may be considered published or if connected to an event it may be a historical artifact.  

Cataloging of Kippot

This article concentrates on the cataloging of kippot as historical artifacts.  From this discussion one can generalize the cataloging of other materials. For example, other items that may be imprinted for an event. The suggestions here are strictly my personal opinion.  While based on the examination of records of many libraries, standards of library description, and based on many years of cataloging experience, no other library or librarian has approved or adopted these rules.  I use cataloger’s prerogative to create rules that best serve my library users.  If your library shares bibliographic records with OCLC or other libraries, you will have to consider their needs, too.  

Very often after events such as bar/bat mitzvah celebrations or weddings the celebrants leave kippot[3] outside of the sanctuary. While passing by and seeing the piles of practically new kippot, they seemed to call out me, “Save us!”  Since they are historical artifacts connected to the synagogue, its members and a historical event we decided to save, collect, and catalog them. The congregation is attuned to history because this is the year celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding. 

These kippot are historical artifacts that eventually researchers can put into context and notice trends. It would have been very interesting to see how kippot changed over the years.[4]  It would be helpful for other libraries to create a collection and see if trends could be identified based on time, community or denomination[5].  The synagogue library would have no interest in collecting kippot in general. However, if we received a donation of a kippah that was connected to an historical event or representative of an historical period, we may decide to keep it as part of our general Judaica collection policy. [6]

When cataloging a book[7], the chief source of information for the bibliographic records is the title page.  Unless the publisher is a complete neophyte, the title page contains the information concerning the title and responsibility that the publisher wants potential readers, vendors, and libraries to known about the item.  In other words, how does one find the item and know this is the item is the result of the search?  I choose “artifact” as the record type.  This record type depends on your system.  You may want “realia” or even create a new type to fit your library’s needs. 

When the vendor, creator or manufacturer does not supply a chief source of information, the librarian gathers the information in a way that figures out how they sell the item.  Many of the kippot had the name of the vendor/manufacturer on a sticker or tag.  I visited the vendor websites to get information for the bibliographic records. 

A picture of the item is an important part of the bibliographic record because the other information is weak when compared to book cataloging.  Use vendor supplied pictures or take your own. For the fixed field 008, the place of publication is the same as you choose for the 264 field.  Date is the date of the event. Language code is blank and catalog source is ‘d’ for other.  Since there is no person or corporate body that is responsible, there are no entries in the MARC 100 fields. For the 245 title field use the descriptive or item title used for selling the items. If the vendor is not known, then create a title in the same style. Some libraries put the cataloger created title in square brackets. The use of brackets may depend on how your systems alphabetizes and searches for bracketed words. Measure the diameter for the size in centimeters in the 300 field. If there is an illustration on the top use $b illustration.  

If you want, add a 500 note giving the source of the title.  However, I consider that 500 note to be overkill for a small library.  A research library may require the note.  The 245 has no $b[8] sub-field as there is no sub-title and no $c for responsibility.

For 264 use the vendor or manufacturer.  When I looked up the web sites for the vendors they indicated that they had a shop where the kippot are made or assembled.  I assume the companies have a large supply of raw materials and make the kippot for each order.  If there is a broker or sales agent, it will be up to the cataloger to figure out the name of the producer.  The date is the date of the event unless there is an indication that the item was made at another time. If the item has no indication for the vendor concerning the place of publication, use [Brooklyn, New York?] or [United States] depending on any other evidence you have. Most the of US manufacturing of kippot is done in Brooklyn.  “Brooklyn” would be a good guess unless you have other evidence of a place.  For the sub-field $b leave it out or use something like “publisher unknown.”

Add a 500 general note or a 590 local note with the exact wording of the inscription inside the kippah.   For a kippah always add the subject heading 650 $a Jews $x Religious life and customs $v Head covering[9].  Since I wanted this to be a special collection I created a series, “Kippah collection.”  This series is optional, and any 440 field would have to follow your library’s practice. I debated as to how to include the celebrant of the event.  The name is very important part of the artifact nature of the item.  I debated as to whether the name should be in the 600 or 700 field.  I decided that since the celebrant had nothing to do with the creation of the item and was the central player or subject of the event, the 600 field was the best choice. If the kippah is from a wedding, decide locally if both names are included.  If the item is for a “b’nei” mitzvah event that is two celebrants[10] using the same kippah, make two 600 entries.

Since the item is an artifact you may consider making a 380 Form of Work entry.  In the pre RDA days a sub-field $h was used as the medium in the title 245 field.  This subfield is optional today.  The 33x fields are used for medium.  However, I have no advice on what to write in the 33x fields.  None of the library records I examined had the fields and the documentation from OCLC didn’t help.

For classification numbers I use “Kippah” followed by a consecutive number.  The collection is separate and there is no need for a subject classification.  I do not write or mark on the items.  I use a clip to attach a bar code and put the items in individual a plastic bag.  They are stored in an old card catalog drawer. For circulation purposes they are considered museum pieces.  They will not circulate outside of the library, but library users are welcome to examine them.

In summation, the cataloger’s goal is to enable library users the ability to look up item using the name of the celebrants, subject heading or the search term “kippah” to examine the whole collection. I hope this advice helps you to create consistent records and provide ways to systematically search for the records. Please consider this a work in progress.  If you have any ideas for refinements, please don’t hesitate to send comments.[11]


[1] Museums and libraries both collect materials and have the overlapping goal concerning the preservation of human creative activity.  The differences between their missions is beyond the scope of this article.  When walking into a building, one would not be confused as to whether it was a museum or library.

[2] Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois.  CARLI serves 94% of Illinois higher education students and have 130 members.

[3] While searching libraries for examples of kippot, I came across several articles that had “kippah” in the title but were in the subject area of chemistry.  For example: “Controlling sol–gel polymerization to create bowl-shaped polysilsesquioxane particles with a kippah structure” in the journal Polymer, Volume 54, Issue 10, 26 April 2013, Pages 2493-2497, talks about bowl-shaped particles with a kippah structure.
When I use “kippah” or the plural “kippot” I refer to the ritual head cap used by Jews in worship. Catholic clergy use a head covering that looks like a kippah, called zucchettos, but our library would not collect them.   In modern Hebrew כיפה has a more generic meaning.  It can mean any special dome-like coving such as in Kipat Ha-selah (Dome of the Rock).   For more discussion on Jewish head gear see my two articles in Librarian’s Lobby: “The Yarmulke : part 1 Etymology of the term” and  “The Yarmulke : part 2 Head Gear in General.” 

[4] This is a Reform congregation and probably there was a time in its history kippot were either forbidden or the use was frowned upon.  

[5] With the few that I collected so far, I found none with writing, symbols or designs on the top (outside).  In Orthodox synagogues I have seen many kippot with writing or messages on the top.  Some even have imitation sports symbols. In my personal collection, I have one kippah that had the corporate symbol of the non-Jewish organization that I worked for that was given to me by my supervisor. I considered it part of my work clothes.  

[6] In the “The Yarmulke: part 1” mentioned above there is a picture on the last page showing men wearing two distinct types of kippot.  I would collect those for the library because of the historical value.

[7] Cataloging rules for non-print materials such as recordings have different places for the chief source of information.

[8] Also called delimiters.

[9] If you are adding kippot that are from the general community, don’t hesitate to substitute the appropriate religious group in place of “Jews.” You may want to add the place of the event if you think your library users will benefit from the added entry.

[10] Such as two siblings.

[11] I thank the people who helped me with ideas and read earlier versions even though that does not make this quite “peer-reviewed.”

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