Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Two shuffles forward, one step back

As I look back on the activities of the past few days, I see that there is still a whole lot of shuffling going on in our collections. Even though we've been engaged in concerted organizational efforts for some years now, there are still vestiges here and there of old systems, or perhaps they are pre-system fossils, which jump out at me periodically from their resting places.

Take the Vertical Files: when they were formally established, no one knows. Generally, as we've seen, they contain ephemeral material about non-OHSU personalities. We have seen how some important pamphlets were tucked in there, when they should have been cataloged (and I did find another Osler pamphlet in there yesterday, this one a short biography of the pathologist Alfred Stille, held by only three libraries in WorldCat). Was this done during a time when there was no full-time cataloger on staff? Whatever the reason, now we remedy the problem by pulling the item to be cataloged and made available to bibliographic utilities.

An example of the opposite case came across my field of view this morning: looking to see what we had in the History of Medicine Collection by or about Robert Carswell, I saw that we had cataloged a collection of "miscellaneous xeroxed material, including portrait and biographical data and six articles." To me, this packet screams Vertical File. Was this cataloged before the Vertical Files had been established? Certainly, we can free up a little of the very valuable shelf space in the HOM Collection by removing this to the Vertical Files, and so we shall.

Additionally, the Historical Image Collection holds some clear Vertical File candidates. Today, filing some of the new (and newly processed) photographs from a recent donation from OHSU News & Publications, I grabbed a magazine cover depicting Elizabeth Blackwell and two copies of a reproduction of a portrait painting of Archibald Menzies for transfer.

All in all, these small operations do tend to slow the general pace of activity, but they are a necessary and important part of what we do on a daily basis: imposing some sort of order on our materials to make them more useful for future researchers. While some (such as David Weinberger in his new book Everything is Miscellaneous) would argue against the utility of organizational schemes, it seems, frankly, ridiculous to throw our hands and our materials up in the air, to let them fall where they may and expect anyone to find anything useful. Serendipity is good, but rummaging around for lost items will take you more than one step back!

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