Counting books

I’m taking the easy route over Easter and will be blogging about removing mould from books in the next instalment. However, here’s an interesting short post on “counting books” in a library collection as part of the nation-wide effort to update the Directory of Rare Books and Special Collections, edited by Karen Attar, Rare Books Librarian at Senate House Library in London. Although in this case the quantification of the collection was limited to what has already been catalogued, it is also a very useful tool to pull together, relatively quickly, a statistical breakdown of items in a collection that still await cataloguing (so-called “hidden collections“).
Two years ago, I did a report for the Angus Library in Regent’s Park College, Oxford, which concentrated on their hidden collection of several thousand books. They were not entirely sure how many uncatalogued items they had, from what period the books dated and where they had been printed. In addition, I recorded languages, provenances, interesting bindings and checked pre-1800 books against national STCs. The advantage of looking at each book was that I could also make some general observations about the physical state of this part of the collection.
Without cataloguing the individual items to antiquarian standards (which is what is currently happening), I was able to present a relatively detailed overview of the Angus’s hidden holdings.

Directory of Rare Book and Special Collections in the UK and Republic of Ireland

Reporting collections for the Directory encouraged librarians to delve more deeply into their collections. Jesus College in Oxford was founded in 1571, and its library had been built by 1628. Owen McKnight, the current Librarian of Jesus College, reports:

Books in the Fellows’ Library (Nick Cistone; © Jesus College, Oxford) Books in the Fellows’ Library (Nick Cistone; © Jesus College, Oxford)

The guidelines for the new edition of the Directory of Rare Book and Special Collections ask libraries to indicate where possible how many printed books they hold from each century. I didn’t know how the Fellows’ Library measured up but I was keen to find out, so I asked the Oxford University cataloguing team to extract the dates of our books from the SOLO catalogue and set my graduate trainee to explore.

Even allowing for the fifth of the collection which is still to be catalogued, the figures demonstrate that the seventeenth-century Fellows’ Library houses an overwhelmingly seventeenth-century collection. This ties…

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1 Comment

April 19, 2014 · 12:14 pm

One response to “Counting books

  1. Pingback: Hatfield House Library Survey (1) | Behind the Spines

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