Do you use Hamnet, the Folger’s online catalog? Do you want to help make it better? Of course you do! This is the first in what I hope will be an ongoing series of conversations designed to keep me from playing around with the display settings in whatever way strikes my fancy just because I happen to know the master password. First up, “Variant Title(s).”
Consider the silkworm picture from last month:
As the post about V, u/v, and library transcription rules went to great lengths to explain, the title could be converted from uppercase to lowercase three different ways…
- Ser, sive sericvs vermis
- Ser, sive sericus vermis
- Ser, siue, Sericus vermis
…but only the last one in the list is “correct” according to current rare materials cataloging practice. Luckily, the rules also say that catalogers should provide access to variant forms of the title “if it is thought that some catalog users might reasonably expect” to find the material under that title.1 (Note that even though this is a record for an engraving, the same rule of reasonable expectations holds for books, manuscripts, and all other formats.)
The list of reasonably expected titles can get very long, so Hamnet is currently set to display them near the end of the main record, so you don’t have to scroll through them to get to key information like the publication place and date (the block of information that starts with location and call number gets brought in from a secondary record, and always displays last).
Notice that in addition to the two variant spellings, the list includes a completely different variant title for the print, “New Hollstein title: Production of silk.” Unlike the library world, which prefers transcribed titles, the art world prefers descriptive titles, in the vernacular. The New Hollstein series is the acknowledged authority on early modern European prints, so it’s reasonable to expect that many people know this one by its New Hollstein title.
When you look at the MARC code behind the online catalog display, you can see a difference between these two types of variant title.2 All three have the main code “246” (defined as “Varying form of title”) but the spelling differences are flagged with the secondary code “3” while the New Hollstein title is flagged with the secondary code “1”.
Code “3” indicates that the reason for including that version of the title is easily intuited from the rest of the record. Code “1” indicates that the reason can’t be figured out on its own (which is why this one has “New Hollstein title” in front of it). At most libraries, variant titles coded “3” don’t display in the normal view of the record, only in the “MARC” or “Staff” view. For a long time at the Folger, it was felt that users would prefer to see all variations, even the ones that aren’t normally displayed, so that a person wouldn’t be left wondering why, for instance, typing “Ser, sive Sericvs vermis” into a “Title” search brought up a record that shows only shows the spelling “Ser, siue, Sericus vermis.”
So, dear users, here’s the question: do you like it this way? Would you rather that the obvious variations not display at all? Would you rather that the not-obvious ones display right after the main title, with only the obvious ones pushed to the end?
Here are three options for you to weigh in on:
- No change. Keep all “Variant Title(s)” together near the end of the record.
- Move any unclear variant titles up so that they’re immediately below the main “Title” and continue to display the obvious variant titles near the bottom.
- Move any unclear variant titles up so that they’re immediately below the main “Title” and hide the obvious ones so that they can only be seen if you click the “MARC view” button.
Comments are open. Don’t be shy. Anyone who uses our records—readers, librarians, folks browsing from afar—has a stake in this question, so please chime in!
- Library of Congress-Program for Cooperative Cataloging Policy Statements (LC-PCC PS) for 126.96.36.199 and Library of Congress Rule Interpretations (LCRI) 21.30J. [↩]
- If you want to learn how to interpret MARC, there’s a handy online tutorial called Understanding MARC Bibliographic: Machine-Readable Cataloging linked to from the MARC Standards homepage. [↩]