s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: Cat. & Reference: The librarian as detective

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Cat. & Reference: The librarian as detective

Last Thursday I found that I had to catalogue two pamphlets published by the American Woolen Company. At first glance, the two pamphlets looked almost identical. They were both called "Properties of the American Woolen Company" and they consisted of unnumbered pages of photographs of woolen mills in the New England area which were owned by that company. Neither book contained a copyright date, although I guessed that they were from the early part of the 20th century.

As a cataloger, if you don't have a lot of information to go on, it's perfectly legitimate to take your best guess and move on, even if that best guess is very vague. (E.g., you can record something like [19--] or [ca. 1930?] in the date field.) However, I like to provide as much information as I can, even if it means doing a little detective work.

Upon closer inspection, however, I realized that one of the books contained 38 photographs, while the other one contained 54. Presumably, the second book had been published some years after the first one, and the 16 additional properties had been acquired in the meantime. I realized that if I could figure out when those additional mills had been acquired, I'd have an upper date boundary for the first pamphlet and a lower date boundary for the second.

So my first task was to record and organize all of the mills mentioned in the two pamphlets. (There was no table of contents, and they didn't appear to be organized in any logical fashion.) Many of the mills had very generic names which made them hard to research, but I found one, the Waverly Mill in Pittsfield, Maine, which had been acquired by the American Woolen Company in 1914.

In the process of doing this research, I found a Wikipedia article about the
American Woolen Company which mentioned that they acquired the Ayers Mill in 1909. Since that mill appeared in both pamphlets, I could use 1909 as a lower boundary for the date range, meaning that I'd narrowed down the dates of the first pamphlet to between 1909 and 1914.

In the second pamphlet, I found a mill listed as the Foxcroft Mill in Foxcroft, Maine. The town of Foxcroft no longer exists, because in 1922, it merged with the town of Dover to form Dover-Foxcroft. This meant that the second pamphlet had to have been published before that date, so I could give the date range of the second pamphlet as between 1914 and 1922. (Not quite as narrow as the first range, but still better than [19--].)

Cataloging both of these pamphlets took about an hour, but sometimes you have to go the extra mile.


At July 06, 2008 8:47 PM, Blogger Peter said...

What are the ethics of using Wikipedia in cataloguing? Or did you go to the Mils Mansions and Mergers source that the article quoted?

At July 07, 2008 8:08 AM, Blogger Katya said...

That's a good question. If I was doing a higher level work, say for the Library of Congress or if I was the chief archivist for the American Woolen Company, I'd definitely need to go back to original sources and cite them in my records. As it is, when I'm working on obscure material of mostly local interest, I can use pretty much whatever resources I deem to be reliable and the internet's a lot faster than poring through reference books.

I actually use Wikipedia all the time for things like finding out what county various towns are located in or looking up the full Linnean taxonomy of animals and plants. But I don't ever use it as my sole resource, just as a place to start. With the AWC materials, if Wikipedia had told me that the pamphlets had been created in the 1950s or the 1850s, I wouldn't have believed it. But dating them to around the 1910s squared away with my impression of the materials, based on the typography, layout, print quality and aging of the paper. (So I guess Wikipedia was my second resource in that case, with my gut instinct already telling me that the books dated from between 1900 and 1930.)

At July 07, 2008 1:44 PM, Blogger ambrosia ananas said...

Okay, that's just awesome.

At July 08, 2008 12:52 AM, Blogger Th. said...


Wow! You're like the best librarian ever!


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