How do catalogers make library materials findable? The cataloging process has already been covered here at The Collation—identifying the item and describing its contents so that users and other catalogers alike can compare the book in the catalog record to the book in their hands or the book they want to retrieve from the stacks. At the Folger, we pay particular attention to the artifactual evidence of our items in addition to their contents, and this level of cataloging is enabled by the use of genre and form terms.
Genre and form terms describe what an item is or what physical form it takes, rather than what it is about—a book can be described as being a translation without necessarily including information describing the contents of that translation. In contrast, subject headings are terms which describe the “aboutness” of a book.
The first book, below, is a bibliography of embroidered bindings, featuring many facsimiles in its pages, but its own vinyl binding (no doubt familiar to users of any library!) is a far cry from those it describes. The second book is a stunning example of an embroidered binding, but inside is a religious text. In both cases, the physical form of the book does not match the contents.
Folger catalogers consult several controlled vocabularies—organized sets of specific terms to facilitate access to information—to select genre/form terms which describe the features of the item they are cataloging. 1 When deciding on a term, our first stop is the set of six RBMS vocabularies. These—Genre, Paper, Provenance, Type, Printing & Publishing, and Binding—were specifically designed to aid rare materials cataloging.
In the case of the book above, we can see that it is a translation of Hamlet into Welsh (genre) and a presentation copy (provenance evidence), and that the presentation inscription takes the shape of a fill-in-the-blank form (genre). There are also several advertisements for the publisher inside the front cover (not shown). Checking in the (easily searchable!) RBMS vocabularies shows us that Translations, Presentation copies (Provenance), Blank forms, and Publishers’ advertisements are the established terms used to describe these, so we add them to the record.
Sometimes, the RBMS vocabularies don’t have the exact term needed to describe the item in hand, or we want to supplement them with additional terms. On these occasions, we turn to other specialized vocabularies such as the Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT), or occasionally to the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). Though the LCSH is meant to be used primarily for subject headings, it does contain a few genre terms that can be used to create hybrid headings such as Miniature books ǂv Specimens or Shaving ǂx Equipment and supplies ǂv Specimens.
The subfield ǂv in the MARC record indicates a genre term—so the preceding examples would ascribe the genre “specimens of miniature book” or “specimens of shaving equipment” to an item. These hybrid headings are located in the 600, 610, or 650 MARC fields, since they are adapted subject headings. 2
Notice in the MARC records above, though, that standard genre/form terms are typically placed in the 655 field (handily titled the “Index Term – Genre/Form” field in the official documentation). This keeps them separate from the subject headings, and allows Hamnet to display them distinctly.
It also enables you to search for particular genre and form terms, using several options in Hamnet. In the Basic Search tab, “Subject and Form/Genre Browse” will allow you to browse a combined list of subject headings and genre/form terms by their initial letter, while the “Form/Genre (Keyword Search)” is just that, a keyword search for form and genre terms. On the Advanced tab, the “Form/Genre” is another keyword search, but can be combined with other searches; importantly, the Advanced Form/Genre search also includes the hybrid genres indexed in the 650 ǂv field discussed in the example above.
As always, if you encounter catalog errors during your browses or keyword searches, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a genre heading out there for error reports—or emails—yet!)
- You can read more about controlled vocabularies on Folgerpedia.
- Staff in the Library of Congress Policy & Standards Division are currently in the process of de-coupling genre terms from the LCSH list, and establishing them in separate lists of their own, so in the not-too-distant future you will hopefully see even fewer of these hybrid headings.