Electronic Cataloguing of Manuscripts and Old Printed Books: Problems and Solutions icon

Electronic Cataloguing of Manuscripts and Old Printed Books: Problems and Solutions



НазваниеElectronic Cataloguing of Manuscripts and Old Printed Books: Problems and Solutions
Дата конвертации28.11.2012
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Electronic Cataloguing of Manuscripts and Old Printed Books: Problems and Solutions

Dr. Aleksei Krakhmalnikov

A considerable part of a nation’s heritage is embodied in its manuscripts and old printed books which are commonly housed in libraries, archievs and museums. The collections in the leading libraries may consist of hundreds of thousands and even millions of such items. To date, no adequate solution has been devised for the electronic cataloguing of these huge quantities of data.


Most extant catalogues describe manuscripts and old printed books in the same way that they describe modern books, while overlooking the unique characteristics of the matherials. As a result, the catalogues do not fulfill their function, which is to identify and preserve these threasures while providing the maximum number of people with access to their contents.


The problem with the current approach lies in erroneous selection of the bibliographic characteristics that are chosen as the basis for the cataloguing system. “Author” or “Title” serve as main entry fields, despite the facts that quite often the author of the text is unknown, and the identification of the author is in itself a major research problem. Similarly, by attempting to catalog manuscripts and old printed books according to their “Titles”, one complicates the process, since a significant number of these manuscripts are untitled, or often there are a number of different titles for the same text surviving in several manuscripts.


A solution to the problems of electronic cataloguing of manuscripts and old printed books can be found by choosing the appropriate characteristics as the basis for the cataloguing system. The characteristics used to describe this complex material may be divided into two categories. The first is subjective characteristics: These are variable, inconstant, changeable characteristics that are sometimes the subject of scientific discussions and controversies, such as author; time and place of the text’s composition; its title; ect. The second category contains the objective characteristics: These are tangible, constant, unchangeable characteristics, such as format; number of pages; marginal notes by readers/owners/librarians; as well as the text itself. There are the characteristics that can be used as solid basis for cataloguing.


To test these ideas, I created a tentative catalogue using descriptions and texts from 17th to 19th centuries. The experiments I have made, using the program VicMan’s DataBase 3, indicate that catalogue built on the basis of the objective characteristics is more effective than the extant catalogues for the purposes of identifying the items (which is the most complicated problem in the cataloguing of manuscripts and old printed books) and for carrying out research work, such as finding additional copies, as well as for a preliminary analysis of the text.


In the course of my experiments new problems surfaced, such as: What is the proper way to describe a composite (i.e. containing more than one text) compilations assembled in manuscripts and old printed books. I found solutions to this problem as well as to others, such as the selection of the appropriate language to use when inputting portions of the text that belong to different chronological periods, coping with textual variants etc. Still, these and others problems will require futher consideration as the project progress.


The realization of the proposed project may lead not only to the creation of more useful, user-friendly catalogues, but also to effective preservation of cultural treasures, which will serve to advance research and lead to new discoveries in the humanities.




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