The Development of the Catalogue
of the University of Pennsylvania Library

by Eleanor Devlin

The earliest catalog of the University of Pennsylvania Library was in book form, entitled Catalogue of Books, Belonging to the Library of the University of Pennsylvania, and printed in 1829. No later printed catalog exists; however, various references in the Minutes of the Trustees of the University indicate that a catalogue was maintaines through the nineteenth century.(1) It was probably a hand written record in book, or loose-leaf arrangement.

In 1883-84, the Librarian began a hand written card catalog, which was to "embrace in a single alphabet, references under author, title and subject, to the entire contents of the Library."(2) The books were classified by the Dewey Decimal Classification.(3) This catalogue was installed in the new building when it was opened in 1891 and the methods of cataloguing which were begun in the 1880's were continued until 1898.(4) The original plan for a dictionary catalogue was changed to that of a divided catalog with the cards in one section arranged alphabetically under the name of the author (or other form of main entry), and the cards in the other section arranged by subject matter.(5) Some few cards from this period are still extant.

As the book collection continued to grow, the system of cataloguing and classifying was found to be inadequate and the Library administration decided on a complete revision of the catalogue and a substantial modification of the classification.(6) The work of revision was begun in the summer of 1898 and the bulk of recataloguing and reclassifying was completed by 1900,(7) although it was not until 1907 that the co-ordination of all subject headings and the making of all necessary cross references marked the end of the period of the great revision.(8) For the two years of the "big push" several additional cataloguers and clerical workers joined the staff.(9) Members of the faculty contributed their special knowledge to assist the cataloguers in the establishing of entries, the assigning of proper classification numbers, and subject headings.(10) The old divided catalog was refiled as a dictionary catalogue with main entries and subject entries interfiled in one alphabet. As the new cards were prepared they replaced the old ones in the catalogue.(11) t was a thorough and painstaking procedure and the finished result was the solid foundation of the present catalogue.

As a catalogue it had its excellencies. The structure was basically sound, the majority of the cards were true indications of the works described and contained all the necessary information for the reader. It was a system suited to a growing collection, its rules provided for all types of material, and all its entries conformed to the pattern traced in its rules. However, it had one sserious fault: an overemphasis on sonsistency and thoroughness which resulted in a highly involved and convoluted system of cataloguing. This made little difference in the ordinary cataloguing of monographic works and works by one author, since material of this kind poses no particular problems, but other types of publications were not so easily dealt with. The Library's collections contained hundreds of publications of our own and of foreign governments, publications of learned societies, scholarly journals and series, collections of pamphlets, variant editions of the great writers of the past and present. All these required careful and consistent treatment; this was accorded them, but when a complicated method of cataloguing was applied to such complex material the entries sagged under their own weight. Such practices as the double analytic entry,(12) the dash entry, double subject tracing for analyzed sets and ambiguous tracing done by underlining on the face of the card, produced cards which contained all the information, but in a form confusing to the user, and detrimental to the output of the cataloguers. As the catalogue grew in size, its ponderousness increased accordingly.

There was one other glaring fault in the catalogue; this, I fear, was due not to fallacies of the system but to the fallibility of cataloguers. There was evidently not enough utilization of expert knowledge; thus we meet many examples in the catalogue of books ascribed to the wrong author,(13) identical persons entered under two different forms of their names, variant titles of the same work treated as if they were different texts, and works (usually in forei gn languages) with erroneous subjects. When the Cataloguing Department moved to new quarters out of earshot of the readers, the cataloguers be-an to produce typewritten cards, thus reducing the hazard of incorrect copying and -increasing the readability of the cards.(14)

The Library followed this system of cataloguing until the late 1920's, a period of about thirty years. During this time the book collection and the catalogue grew considerably and certain sections, under various main entries and subject headings became rather confusing. In retrospect it appears that much of this confusion arose from the lack of consistent editing and from the interfiling of ambiguous or wrong entries with little attempt to relate them to items already represented in the public catalogue. The cards still showed a painstaking adherence to the rules, but knowledge and judgment were lacking in their application. The Library administration decided that steps must be taken to improve the catalogue; methods must be revised and the output of the Cataloguing Department increased.(15) It was decided to adopt the Library of Congress method of cataloguing and to buy printed cards from the Library of Congress for use the catalogue of the University Library. Unfortunately this decision plunged the catalogue into chaos.

There were good reasons for advocating a change to Library of Congress cards and cataloguing procedures. At that time the importance of the Library of Congress as the model for large scholarly American libraries was widely discussed in library circles Library of Congress cards were available for purchase and its list of subject headings and its classification schedules could be secured and used by other libraries. The advantages of uniformity of cataloguing practice among large scholarly libraries were obvious and desirable. Such uniformity would make the use of catalogues in various libraries easier for the scholar. The purchase of the Library of Congress cards would give every library the benefit of the skills and knowledge of the Library of Congress cataloguers. It would, therefore, compensate for the deficiencies of the cataloguers of the University Library, reduce the amount of time spent by them in establishing correct entries and subject headings, and introduce a more "streamlined" and less complicated method of cataloguing.

However, the rules for main entry and subject heading according to the University Library's system of cataloguing were very different from those of the Library of Congress. The University Library administration, in arriving at the decision to make use of the skills and techniques provided by the Library of Congress, could have chosen one of two possible solutions. It could have revised and simplified the University Library's method of cataloguing, following Library of Congress practice where it could be adapted, and securing information identifying authors and subject matter from the Library of Congress Depository Card Catalogue at the University Library. This method would have been a slow process allowing for gradual modification within practical limitations. The alternative was to recatalogue the entire book collection. according, to the Library of Congress cataloguing practice, buying Library of Congress printed cards for that purpose. The administration tried to do a little of both. The evidence in the catalogue itself shows that they proposed to buy Library of Congress cards immediately for the new cataloguing and eventually as replacements of old cards, and to interfile the new Library of Congress cards with the old cards already in the catalogue.(16) In their eagerness to purchase Library of Congress cards, the administration either failed to realize, or chose to ignore, the extent of the differences between the two systems and the amount of time and personnel which would be needed to effect a successful amalgamation. An attempt was made to force the new Library of Congress cards into the old pattern, or, as time went on, the old cards into the Library of Congress pattern,(17) by weird systems of crossing out and numbering parts of headings on the catalogue cards. The old University Library main entries,(18) and subject headings(19) would riot interfile with the Library of Congress headings; filing in the public catalogue became a nightmare. Clearly then this somewhat arbitrary and ill-advised introduction of Library of Congress cards into a catalogue which had been growing for thirty years on another principle precipitated the chaos. The task of co-ordinating the divergent entries was too great for the existing staff of cataloguers to accomplish. For twenty years everybody struggled, achieving the increased pro-duction in the Cataloguing Department that the administration had hoped for, but with dire effects on the final object, a workable catalogue for the users of the University Libraries.

In 1947 the sad state of the catalogue was finally faced. It was by then too late to discuss the pros and cons of the old University Library entries versus Library of Congress entries and impractical to throw both systems away and start out all over again with a third system. The history of the past eight years is an attempt at gradual co-ordination of discrepancies. Library of Congress practice in cataloguing and subject heading is generally accepted as the basis. Procedures in the Cataloguing Department emphasize the necessity of following consistent patterns. Unco-ordinated entries no longer go into the public catalogue and discordant elements are recognized and suffered only as necessary evils. The process of reconciling these elements is inevitably slow; the problems are multifold and involve attention to large sections of the catalogue. Cataloguers are faced constantly with the problem of how much correction and co-ordination of old entries they can undertake without dangerously retarding the cataloguing of current accessions. Decisions are further complicated by the fact that correction and co-ordination of older cards is often inevitable in order to prepare useful records of current accessions. Improvements have been achieved in sections of the catalogue which are more nearly self-contained. Some of the worst problems remain untouched, because they involve too many interlocking elements and must be considered major projects. 'We may say that the catalogue is now much more usable than it was ten years ago. If this statement seems a feeble accolade, at least it possesses the virtues of truth to the facts and hope for the continuing, improvement of the catalogue.


1. Gregory B. Keen, [Extracts from Minutes of the Trustees . . . 1749-1882, in Regard to the Establishment and Maintenance of the Library]. Ms.

2. University of Pennsylvania, Catalogue and Announcements, 1885-86. Philadelphia, 1885, p. 159.

3. Proceedings at the Opening of the Library of the UIniversity of Pennsylvania, 7th of February 1891. Philadelphia, 1891, p. 7.

4. University of Pennsylvania, Librarian's Report, 1898-99, p. 5.

5. Loc. cit.

6. Loc. cit.

7. Morris Jastrow, Librarian's Report to the Trustees Library Committee, Nov. 2 nd, 1899. Ms.

8. Morris Jastrow, Librarian's Report to the Trustees Library Committee, Jan. 30th, 1907. Ms.

9. University of Pennsylvania, Librarian's report, 1898-99, p. 6.

10. Ibid., p. 8.

11. Ibid., p. 5.

12. Appendix, example 1.

13. Appendix, example 2.

14. A. D. Dickinson, Librarian's Report to the Trustees Library Committee, October 9th, 1991. Ms.

15. A. D. Dickinson, [Stattistics on cataloguing in the University of Pennsylvania Library, June 13, 1927]. Ms.

16. Cataloguing Department Filing Rules. Typescript.

17. Appendix, example 3.

18. Appendix, example 3.

19. Appendix, example 4.

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