January 31, 2002

Library Updates Card Catalog With Grant

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Those endless rows of monolithic card catalogs will never be a problem again.

With $830,000 granted by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Jan. 22, the Cornell University Library (CUL) will digitize much of its remaining catalog records by early 2005.

The grant will allow over half of CUL’s 512,000 undigitized records to be converted, adding almost 6 percent of its collections to the online database. All of the records to be digitized are housed in Olin Library and classified according to the Library of Congress system. In the Mellon tradition, many of the titles are in the humanities and social sciences.

University librarians believe that if the items were in the online catalog, they would receive increased exposure and visibility and ultimately be read more often.

“On campus, experience has demonstrated that most undergraduates, and even some scholars, ignore the card catalog when conducting research,” said Karen Calhoun, assistant University librarian for technical services. “Increasingly, if it’s not digital, it’s invisible. For these reasons, the total conversion of the records … is a fundamental imperative.”

CUL began converting records in 1973, when it started using Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), a shared cataloguing system. The materials catalogued before that year have been undergoing continual conversion, with over 1.5 million records digitized to date, according to Calhoun.

Records available in CUL’s digital catalog are also online in two international databases, she noted: Research Library Information Network and OCLC WorldCat.

“Through these two databases, CUL’s holdings can be discovered by all the region’s public and academic libraries, as well as by a large national and international audience of students, faculty and community researchers,” she said.

Ranking among the top 10 academic research libraries in North America, according to Calhoun, CUL has almost 7 million volumes. After completion of the Mellon-funded work, approximately 238,000 records will still be left as traditional hard copies. These include the Harris Collection, the Area Collection and a series of monographs called Cornelliana, Calhoun said.

Also receiving a Mellon grant for card-catalog conversion is Cambridge University, according to University librarian Sarah E. Thomas.

The conversion process will be implemented by library staff in conjunction with OCLC.

“The library has been doing a really fine and conscientious job in translating traditional library materials to digital sources,” said Morton Sosna, director of foundation relations. “Mellon is aware of that, and that’s why they chose to work with Cornell.”

Archived article by Andy Guess