Hidden notes, “bibliographic nightmares,” and STC call numbers

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Sometimes when keyword searching Hamnet, the results include mystery matches: when you Ctrl-V to find the word you’re looking for on the page, it’s not there. That’s because some fields only display on the “MARC view” tab. Usually the information isn’t worth making public. For example, what displays as:

Five-line description of specific copy of a book.

is served up by this underlying Machine Readable Cataloging, or MARC: Picture of text that reads: 852	 0_ |b DeckC-Rare |h PR2805 |i 1820b Sh.Col. |j cs790 |x CMS 20101102 |z In plain paper wrappers. Owned by Mr. and Mrs. Folger.

The only hidden piece of information is “CMS 20101102″ – the initials of the cataloger who created the record and the date the record was finished.

Sometimes, though, information in a non-public note seems worth bringing to light. When keyword searching for “fingerprints” the other day, the results included the Hamnet record for Folger call number STC 22459b.2 for no apparent reason. That’s because “fingerprints” only appears in a non-public note, which can be revealed by clicking the MARC view tab:

An exceptionally difficult item to classify bibliographically; see "The Library", ser. 5, vol. 1 (Sept. 1946), p. 113-26. There are, broadly speaking, three settings of the work. The fingerprints provided in STC 22458.5-22459b, based on this article, fail to give a meaningful sorting by these settings, and further subdivision (by imposition, &c.) is frustrated by the mixture of states exhibited by each forme from copy to copy.

If the information wasn’t meant for public viewing, who was it meant for? Answer: staff of the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC). It’s in the 509 field, which Folger ESTC catalogers used in the late 1990s and early 2000s to send messages back and forth to ESTC Headquarters. Sometimes entire conversations about an item take place in the 509.

The “exceptionally difficult” item described in the non-public note is the 1634 masque The triumph of peace, by James Shirley.

Title page of The Triumph of Peace (the year is given according to Lady Day dating, where 25 March marked the beginning of a new year)

Title page of The Triumph of Peace (the year is given according to Lady Day dating, where 25 March marked the beginning of a new year)

The Folger has seven copies of the text in varying settings of type with call numbers based on the first edition of A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad, 1475-1640. As you can see from this scan of the master copy of STC used by Folger catalogers in the card-typing days, they did their best to match up Folger copies with STC numbers, making up new numbers by adding “.2″ to make a new in-house number when necessary.

Printed page of text with handwritten notes and check marks for Folger holdings

Entry for The Triumph of Peace from the 1926 edition of A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad, 1475-1640.

By the time the second edition of STC came out between 1976 and 1991, the editors were able to make use of the article mentioned in the hidden note: W.W. Greg, “The Triumph of Peace, A Bibliographer’s Nightmare,” The Library, series 5, volume 1 (September 1946), pages 113-126. As a result, they  re-numbered, upgrading 22459a (a variant) to become 22458.5 (a separate edition), and converting 22459c to 22459a.5.

Entry for The Triumph of Peace from the  1976-1991 edition of A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad, 1475-1640.

Entry for The Triumph of Peace from the 1976-1991 edition of A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad, 1475-1640.

With the various settings, partial re-settings, presence or absence of the extra “Speech” leaf, and general uncertainty about the integrity of the original that surrounds early modern books re-bound in the 19th century, it’s no wonder the cataloger left a note to ESTC saying, more or less, “This is the best we can do, under the circumstances.”

Just to confuse things even more, the Folger originally decided not to renumber the Library’s STC collection when numbers changed between the first and second editions of STC. Instead of simultaneously being call numbers and STC citations, they became call numbers alone: in order to call up the book at the Folger, this is the number you have to write in the appropriate box on the call slip.

Here’s how the call numbers currently read, in order of new STC citation:

Folger call no. as of June 11, 2014 STC 2nd ed. reference no.
STC 22459a copy 1 & copy 2 22458.5
STC 22459 22459
STC 22459.2 22459a.5
STC 22459b copy 1 & copy 2 22459b
STC 22459b.2 22459b

Now that changing a single call number doesn’t involve re-typing dozens of cards, we’re working at figuring out how many Folger STC call numbers are different from 2nd edition STC numbers. Some have already been re-numbered. See the Hamnet record for STC 13006.5, for example:

Hamnet record showing "Former call number"

The old Folger call number, STC 13009, displays on the second last line as “Former call number.” One drawback is that former call numbers can’t be brought up in a “Call Number (Left-Anchored)” search in Hamnet. You have to use the Advanced Search tab, searching either in “Call Number” or as a keyword phrase.

As for the hidden note from a cataloger to ESTC headquarters about The Triumph of Peace, we’ll be editing those records so that this useful information can easily be seen. The “bibliographic nightmare” isn’t over, but it will at least be a little less scary.

Author: Erin Blake

ERIN BLAKE is Head of Collection Information Services at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Previously (from March 2000 through March 2014) she was the Folger's Curator of Art & Special Collections. Erin teaches History of Printed Book Illustration in the West at Rare Book School, and is chief editor of Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (Graphics).

3 Comments

  1. Each time I see “Former call number” in that image, I misread it as “Folger call number.” Should we change it to “Old call number”?

    • Hmm, I haven’t had that problem, but I’m not averse with changing the phrasing. “Old call number” seems a bit odd in the context of a library that holds a lot of old things. Maybe “Previous call number”? What did we do with manuscripts that changed number?

  2. Yep. I’m with you, “Old” does look odd. I was afraid “Previous call number” sounded like part of a browse: previous call number would be the thing to the left on the shelf, Though I guess the fact that there no “Next call number” label is a clue.

    Standard wording in the free-text notes in Hamnet is generally either “Formerly…” or “Reclassified from…”

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