The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Meet the Hamnet HBCN (“Handy Butt-Cover Note”)

When libraries replaced card catalogs with computer catalogs, researchers lost a crucial piece of information: an at-glance indication of relative trustworthiness. Consider this thin slip of paper from the Folger’s card catalog, for example:

Accession-level record from Folger card catalog
Accession-level record from Folger card catalog

Looks fairly preliminary, right? That’s because it is. This is an “accession slip” (referred to in some libraries as a “flimsy”). It was typed up in the Acquisitions Department, then filed in the card catalog as a place-holder until the item could be cataloged.

Now look at the same accession-level information as it would have appeared in Hamnet:

Same accession slip information as it would appear in an online catalog

Instead of a smudgy carbon copy annotated by hand and partly crossed-out with grease pencil, you have what appears to be a perfectly fine record. Some Folger staff members could tell at a glance that this is an accession-level record because the call number doesn’t have a hyphen and a space after the first three digits, but that’s pretty esoteric knowledge even for staff.

The print has since been cataloged. Here’s what its catalog record in Hamnet looks like today:

Online catalog record for the print with accession number 234842
Online catalog record for the print with accession number 234842

So, how can we make up for the loss of the non-verbal cues that accession slips provided, visually telling researchers that they shouldn’t accept the descriptive information unquestioningly? We ruled out hiring a programmer to customize Hamnet’s stylesheet so that accession-level records appeared on a pink background in a blurry fixed-width font with random scribbles. Instead, we developed what we refer to in-house as the “HBCN” — or “Handy Butt-Cover Note.”

Now, all newly-created accession-level records in Hamnet include this HBCN in the “Notes” field:

This record represents material that has not yet been cataloged. It may contain incorrect or incomplete information. Please consult Curator for assistance.

Here’s how that HBCN looks in context:

HBCNrecord

Other HBCNs for vault material in Hamnet include:

  • “This record contains unverified data from a re-keying contract and may contain incorrect or incomplete text. Please consult Curator for assistance.” (Introduced when the art card catalog was sent out for re-keying into Hamnet)
  • “Measurements from Folger catalog card. Not verified.” (Used when a cataloger updates a re-keyed art record based on the digital image rather than item-in-hand)
  • “This copy has not yet been cataloged. The description may contain incorrect or incomplete information. Please consult Curator for assistance.” (Used when we have acquired another copy of an already-cataloged rare book or print)

For more information about Handy Butt-Cover Notes, see the “Advisory statements” article in Folgerpedia.

Unfortunately, we haven’t figured out an efficient way to add HBCNs to potentially dubious records that have long been in Hamnet, but we’re working on it. And really, shouldn’t everything on the Internet be taken with a grain of salt?

I’ll end with some additional non-verbal communication: digital images of Wenceslaus Hollar’s [fully-cataloged] etching of Elizabeth Castle, and William Capon’s [uncataloged] watercolor of the Theatre Royal, Haymarket:

Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677). Elisabeth Castle in Iarsey. Etching, 1650. (Click image for a zoomable version in LUNA)
Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677). Elisabeth Castle in Iarsey. Etching, 1650. (Click image for a zoomable version in LUNA)
William Capon (1757-1827). Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Watercolor, 1803. Folger call number ART 268356. (Click image for a zoomable version in LUNA)
William Capon (1757-1827). Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Watercolor, 1803. Folger call number ART 268356. (Click image for a zoomable version in LUNA)

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