Cataloging & Anonymous Authors

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This February 28th article in Atlas Obscura  discusses the cataloging of texts by anonymous authors and authors who publish under pseudonyms. Inspired by the research of Emily Kopley, a scholar of British and American literature, Sarah Laskow writes about the difficulties of locating anonymous texts in a library catalog. Laskow and Kopley propose that these difficulties primarily arise from a lack of consistency and standard practice in cataloging these items, both within individual organizations and across information institutions.

Kopley initially ran into this issue because she hoped to research the motivations behind anonymity over time and found it very difficult to locate resources. Anonymous authors don’t all publish the same way; there are a variety of conventions for stating anonymous authorship including “no author,” “by the author of [previous work],” and “by a lady.” As there is no standard accepted way to indicate this authorship, you cannot easily search a catalog for all resources by anonymous authors. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, there were efforts to effectively catalog these resources through the creation of bibliographies devoted to works by anonymous authors. Unfortunately, these were lacking in adequate information and rarely up to date, which quickly made them useless.

As future information professionals, this is an issue that should concern us for two reasons. Firstly, this is an issue of accessibility that only continues to grow as more works are published. It is great that anonymous texts are kept for posterity in libraries, but if they are functionally unsearchable, they may go uncirculated and be forgotten. Secondly, this is cataloging consistency issue that should be kept in mind as we consider ways in improve the process of cataloging in the future on both an institution-wide and profession-wide level.

Megan Westman, LIS 653-01 Spring 2017

Laskow, Sarah. (2017, February 28). Uncovering the hidden books tucked inside every single library. Atlas Obscura. Retrieved from http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/library-hand-penmanship-handwriting.

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