New Terms under Consideration (Rare Book & MS of ALA)


This notice just appeared on the SHARP-L list and seems somewhat relevant to our discussion: the naming of physical attributes, agents, etc. tied to rare books.  In teaching an undergraduate seminar last fall that used ECCO, I discovered the need to create an illustrated glossary for my students to help them grapple with proper terminology for features they were encountering as we left our modern paperback editions behind and turned to ECCO‘s digitized texts and 18th-century books from my own collection.  We had reviewed many features in advance of our first paper, but I nonetheless received essays that indicated decided confusion–the bookplate mistaken as a frontispiece and subsequently analyzed in terms of the verbal text, issues about imprints, and much more. 

From:   SHARP-L Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing on behalf of Nina Schneider Sent:  Mon 7/6/2009 1:31 PM
Subject:   RBMS Controlled Vocabulary Terms under consideration at ALA Annual

This message is being cross-posted
Below is the link to the list of terms that are under consideration for the RBMS Controlled Vocabularies at the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago.



Everyone is welcome to make comments or suggestions.  Please note, if you do want to comment and don’t yet have access to the wiki, please send me an email. I will incorporate all comments received by *Thursday, July 9th.*

Link to terms under discussion:

(If the link does not work, copy and paste into a new browser; the terms under current discussion are under the folder labeled “Term Records for Annual 2009.”)

Please let me know if you have any questions.


Nina Schneider
Head Cataloger
William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
2520 Cimarron Street
Los Angeles, CA  90018


19 Responses to “New Terms under Consideration (Rare Book & MS of ALA)”

  1. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thanks Eleanor! I found the sites by cutting and pasting the urls. The links don’t seem to work.


  2. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Thanks, Anna! I added instructions about copying and pasting in the post–I also removed the link to the meeting agenda.

    I was pleased to see the distribution of these terms to non-librarians. Coordination and collaboration between cataloguers and scholars on what terminology should be used seem important. This is the first time I have seen such a message on SHARP-L in all the years I’ve been on this list–though perhaps its our current discussion that caused me to pay closer attention.


  3. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Yes, this is exactly the kind of cross-disciplinary sharing of information that we need. Librarians and discipline-specific scholars need to work together on these issues and learn from one another. Perhaps this is an example of the kind of interdisciplinarity Dave advanced in the previous post…? I would be interested in hearing more about this meeting.


  4. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    The American Library Association’s main meeting is typically in June, and like MLA, the association has many divisions. I suspect that the Rare Book and Manuscript division collects and reviews new terms, shifting definitions, and the like throughout the year and then discusses the changes/additions at its annual division meeting. I’m not sure to what other lists the poster sent this message–perhaps ExLibris and definitely some library lists, but SHARP-L was a good addition because terminology often comes up as a topic.


  5. Dave Mazella Says:

    Working with librarians on information literacy instruction is one of my hobbyhorses, since students typically need a lot of help dealing with the more powerful digital resources. It’s also interesting how many of these issues regarding organization of information are handled by librarians in their own journals. It’s a good area to collaborate in. DM


  6. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    I have actually found ECCO to be a great tool for enhancing student information literacy skills. My upper-level course, Literature of the Enlightenment, attracts a fair number of non-majors (probably because the title sounds so pleasant–it’s actually a course devoted to poetry and non-fiction prose of the long 18th century), and students seem to recognize that they are gaining important skills that extend beyond knowledge of the 18th century.


  7. Anna Battigelli Says:

    This kind of anecdote, properly quantified so as to show its statistical significance, is exactly the kind of information we need to share with librarians. It might help justify, at least in part, the high cost of these text-bases, and it certainly points to their relevance for undergraduate students.


  8. Ryan Says:

    Just wanted to point out that the actual RBMS Controlled Vocabularies (six thesauri and a list of relator terms) may be found here:


  9. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Yes, such examples do work. The director of West Chester’s libraries has been very supportive in purchasing these subscriptions because he knows that my colleagues and I do use them in our classrooms and he also recognizes their importance to our research. As for the quantifiable part, ECCO has programs that he accesses to see how many searches were executed and more (including the search terms); he can pull such data in a variety of ways. He does use this information to make cases to the administration for purchasing databases. He put a proposal in for ECCO Part 2 and Burney for this year, but I am not sure with the economic climate and budget cuts we will be able to obtain these at this time, but tying the use of these databases to teaching has already helped us secure EEBO and ECCO part 1.


  10. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Thanks, Ryan–a very helpful resource. These thesauri are useful for thinking about metadata relevant in the creation of electronic texts.


  11. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thanks, Ryan, for the link. If I understand this correctly, these RBMS Controlled Vocabularies attempt to systematize MARC (machine-readable cataloguing) terms pertaining to physical features of a book rather than its content. Is this correct?


  12. Ryan Says:

    “If I understand this correctly, these RBMS Controlled Vocabularies attempt to systematize MARC (machine-readable cataloguing) terms pertaining to physical features of a book rather than its content. Is this correct?”

    For the most part, yes, but content is reflected at times in Genre Terms, e.g., Book auction catalogs, Sermons, Fantasy literature, Erotica, Literature of prejudice, and Family histories. The difference between these terms and their analogues in Library of Congress Subject Headings is that an RBMS term indicates the genre of the work (what it _is_), rather than what the work is _about_. So, the RBMS term Fantasy literature is used to index works of fantasy literature while the LCSH term is used to index works _about_ fantasy literature.

    It can get confusing, but in a good online library catalog, the terms will be indexed separately and displayed with unambiguous labels.

    Other controlled vocabularies that might be of interest to you are the Getty’s Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) and the Library of Congress’ Thesaurus for Graphic Materials (TGM), in particular the terms that formerly comprised TGM II.




  13. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thanks. I now understand the difference bewteen LCSH and RBMS controlled vocabularies. What is the relationship between these two sets of vocabularies? Are they parallel lists now developing in divergent directions?


  14. Ryan Says:

    There is no distinct relationship among the vocabularies. A cataloger will go to a specific vocabulary based on his or her specific needs: RBMS CVs for bookish things, TGM for graphic/illustrative terms, and AAT when neither of the former sources has an appropriate term. At least that is how I approach them.

    The vocabularies develop independently, but as terms are considered for inclusion in the RBMS CVs, many other lists are checked. Redundancy is fine, but efforts are made to avoid preferring a term which is elsewhere a non-preferred term.


  15. Anna Battigelli Says:

    I understand the difference between controlled vocabularies and folksonomies. What I’m having trouble seeing as clearly as I should is the value of folksonomies. I can certainly see that they are better than no indexing, and that they track usage and popularity, which helps us understand current reading practices and interests. Are there other advantages to using tags that I’m not seeing?


  16. Dave Mazella Says:

    I found this article on Sharon’s EMN site, which describes the pros and cons of folksonomies, which takes an agnostic attitude towards their use.

    Sharon is right, I think, to say that structures don’t just happen, but need to be imposed upon materials in a fairly conscious, deliberate, and organized way, but that also entails an organization and sufficient agreement to get the job done.

    I think the question really is whether we can sustain an organization and protocols long enough to organize the data, or whether the more passive model of folksonomies is all the organization we can expect to get.


  17. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thanks, Dave. Alexis Wichowski explains the use of folksonomies clearly. Particularly interesting was her claim that

    folksonomies may be flawed, but they are, at present, the best means known to track what is happening with the non–mainstream of the information environment. If the greatest evolutionary changes in the biological environment — the birth of new species — occur not at the center but in the long tail, what great new transformations may be occurring in the long tail of the information environment? Tagging provides this outlying information, published far from the mainstream, a chance to be found, to be considered useful, and ultimately, to survive.

    But this still means that folksonomies are best at charting public opinion, which is different from organizing knowledge or systematizing a field of inquiry. They are therefore great for tracking online trends or identifying emerging fields. But are we more curious about what we study or about which fields are being studied?


  18. Dave Mazella Says:

    Frankly, my own view is that the folksonomies “work” as well as anything else that is essentially public and non-proprietary, and they are better than nothing, which is the only other option for much of this stuff. They do not organize, because they are collected, not assembled.

    If you want standards and consistency, however, you need to figure out an organizational model that can be sustained, as Sharon points out. But does the contemporary research university really welcome such initiatives? This is my question.

    Textual editing had such models, when academic publishing was still underwriting projects like the California Dryden. But these new projects would have to happen at a far greater scale, and in a university setting that seems structurally hostile to large-scale humanities projects. This is one reason why I am interested in the more ad hoc models described by Wichowski, though this could be my own projection. I think, frankly, we’re in an aggregative phase like the antiquarians experienced in the 17th and 18th centuries, where maybe the point is to heap things up without worrying too much about where things belong. But I think Sharon would disagree with me about this. I do think the Cohn and Rosenzweig piece is very good at describing the trade-offs in practicing digital history, and should be required reading for those thinking about projects like 18th Century Connect.



  19. Anna Battigelli Says:


    I’m assuming that Cohn and Rosenzweig’s piece is


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