Cataloging and Classifying Bookmarks
Many people have misconceptions about what librarians do, assuming that when they are not simply reading, they are shelving books. Those who are a little more informed may believe that all librarians are experts at cataloging books and other materials. I have a confession to make: I really don’t like cataloging nor can I claim to deeply understand how to do it, even though I took two courses in it in graduate school. When I realized I would have to do something to organize my collection, I challenged myself to learn how to catalog and classify, at long last.
Since bookmark collecting is still a rather obscure hobby, there are no established schemes or rules for how to catalog them. One of the things I dislike about traditional cataloging is that many of the rules either don’t make sense or are way too picky. The Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, Second Edition (or AACR2) struck fear in many library school students as it spelled out in excruciating detail how to describe every conceivable element of a book or other information resource. It has now been succeeded by Resource Description and Access (RDA), an attempt to incorporate rules for describing digital objects as well. Part of the appeal of cataloging my bookmarks is that I could make up my own rules since I was doing this just to satisfy my own needs. I could even be (gasp!) inconsistent if I felt like it.
There are three parts to cataloging items. First is the container which is a mechanism for defining the field names for descriptive elements, such as title, publisher or date. I use database software designed for managing citations to articles, books and other publications. By modifying the generic form, I created a special form for bookmarks, although it has many of the same elements used to describe a book. The second component is the set of rules guiding what goes in the contents of those fields—that is what AACR2 and RDA do with the goal of helping catalogers make judgments about when to record exactly what is found on an item, what to do about ambiguous information, and how to record certain elements in a standardized way. I made up my own rules, listed on one page, as compared to about 750 pages for AACR2.
The third part is about classifying which involves using various schemes to group similar items. Usually, classifying refers to giving an item an address, or call number, so that it can be found on the shelf along with other items on the same topic. This is what the familiar Dewey Decimal System does, using a system of numbers that represent broad topical areas. Another aspect is assigning subject terms to the items which allows for richer description. Whereas an item can have only one physical location, it can have many subject terms.
I did locate one scheme for assigning subjects to bookmarks that was developed by Joan Huegel, who published the Bookmark Collector newsletter from 1987-2004. She called it “The 13 Categories” and occasionally listed her “rules” for using them, copied below. She also wrote articles based on the categories.
Joan indicated that several categories are related: 1 and 2; 3 and 4; 6 and 7. As you can see from her notes, sometimes categories overlap and her rules for deciding didn’t always work for me. For example, it seems more useful to group all Booksellers in the same category rather than put only those with addresses into the Advertising category. While I used many of Joan’s categories, I added some to fit my collecting interests and changed the rules to work for the way I wanted to group my collection. The main categories I use for “shelving” my bookmarks are as follows:
In general, I emphasize the producer or publisher (Bookstores, Businesses, Government, Libraries, Museums, Organizations, Publishers, Universities) since they determine the purpose or message of the bookmark and they are easy to file alphabetically within the category. For those that are crafts, novelties or products, I then use location (Places or Other Countries) followed by subject matter (Art, Nature, Religious), then material, especially when there is no other identifying information. The subject and material categories have no obvious filing order within the category but so far, they are not too large so that I can scan through them easily.
Thus I have collapsed some of Joan’s categories that are related: instead of Advertising and National Organizations, I use Businesses and Organizations (non-profits); instead of Commemorative and Souvenir, I use Places (or categorize by producer); instead of Silks, Woven, Ribbon, Other Materials and Handmade, I use just Material. I separated Publishers and Booksellers into separate categories because I collect so many of those.
Beyond the filing categories, I have defined a number of secondary characteristics for assigning subject terms. These can be subdivided indefinitely since they appear only in my database. The major secondary term include:
There is always a question of whether to pre-coordinate terms or post-coordinate them. For example, a pre-coordinated term is Material—Wood; a post-coordinated approach would assign Material and Wood as separate terms. I use a combination, depending on how the main term tends to work. I pre-coordinate Bookstores, Places and Other Countries by place (e.g., Bookstores—CA, Other Countries—Zimbabwe), libraries by type and place (e.g., Libraries—Academic—Oregon). That way, I can add the secondary terms as I need them. For Books and Authors and Publishers, I post-coordinate terms like Fiction and Non-Fiction. For Museums, I post-coordinate terms such as Art or History. Occasionally, I will decide to change from post to pre-coordination which I did with the Dual Purpose category. It just worked better to have them all grouped together in my term list so that I could see what I had already defined. I guess the rule of thumb is that when there are just a few terms that are coordinated, it works best as post-coordination whereas when there are many pairings, they function better if pre-coordinated.
What is the most difficult classification problem? For me, it is bookmarks that just have an image with no text, no indication of producer or date and no distinctive secondary characteristic. If there is a rose embroidered on a piece of silk, does it go in the Material—Fabric section or in the Nature—Plants—Flowers section? Sometimes I just go with what feels right and I’m sure I have been inconsistent.
Of course, every good classification or subject heading system needs a Miscellaneous category which seems counterintuitive. After all, if the purpose of the system is to locate and group together like items, doesn’t Miscellaneous make it more difficult to find something, let alone put it with its peers? Currently I have 217 in this category, a large number of homeless bookmarks. Many of them are what Joan Huegel describes as “like those sold in gift shops with tassels,” often with inspirational or humorous sayings, often produced by Quality Art Works or Antioch. Some commemorate birthdays or names, weddings or births. Quite a few have book themes or simply say “Bookmark.” Even though I can find terms to describe them, they don’t cluster in ways that justify creating separate locations for filing. However, it is probably a good idea to go through this category every so often to see if a new filing category is emerging.
My scheme is definitely an organic one, evolving as my collection evolves. Official classification and subject heading systems are judged on their ability to accommodate new subjects, sometimes referred to as “hospitality.” Any scheme starts with a set of assumptions about the world it is attempting to describe, and there will always be changes in terminology, interests, and characteristics. For example, I used to assign a secondary topic of Web bookmark for those whose purpose was to advertise a web address and/or when the web address was the dominant graphic element. In the early days of the web (yes, I’ve been collecting that long!), this was an uncommon and interesting characteristic, but now it’s just like having a physical address on an item—nothing special, so I rarely bother to record it anymore. It is useful for dating an item, just as mentions of Facebook and Twitter provide more recent indicators. I have an odd but important term, “Bookmarks on Bookmarks” that no one, including myself could have anticipated adding to the list. I added it because it is unusual to find bookmarks that have illustrations of bookmarks, and it is now one of my specialties. Even though I put this in the free text description, I wanted to easily and reliably find these particular bookmarks, something not possible with just a free text search.
What is the largest category I have? Apart from Antique which really covers many other categories, it is Businesses with 772 to date; a close second is combing Books and Authors (both children and Adult) at 765. Although I have several secondary terms assigned to only one bookmark, the smallest filing category is Universities at 130.
The few examples I know of where other collectors have created their own schemes that also reflect their interests and approaches to collecting. Our friend and collector extraordinaire Don Baldwin likes to focus on physical characteristics and has devised a way to categorize the blades or page flaps and discusses other organizing schemes in his blog. Another collector, Stuart Barr, who specialized in celluloid created categories relating to the die or design made by different companies such as Whitehead and Hoag or Bastian Brothers, subdivided by the type of page flap. Asim Maner who creates the beautiful Mirage Bookmarks has categorized his “The Art of Bookmark” exhibition as follows (re-ordered to better illustrate his scheme):
No doubt these categories reflect his interests as a designer and many of these categories provide inspiration for Mirage bookmarks.
One thing that is true about librarians is their desire to organize materials. For collectors, any approach is legitimate, but should have some organizing principle and logic that makes sense to the collector.
Bookmark specifications: Find It: Dewey Decimal Classification
Bookmark specifications: Decimal Points
Laine Farley is a digital librarian who misses being around the look, feel and smell of real books. Her collection of over 3,000 bookmarks began with a serendipitous find while reviewing books donated to the library. Fortunately, her complementary collection of articles and books about bookmarks provides an excuse for her to get back to libraries and try her hand at writing about bookmarks. Contact Laine.