Cool Stuff, Rediscovered: Cataloging at the Caroliniana

By Meg Coker

Note: In this post, Meg Coker provides a highlight of her work as Cataloging Assistant for the Caroliniana’s retrospective conversion of the old card catalog into electronic format. This is an ongoing project that is crucial to providing researchers wider and deeper access to our collections. Meg is now employed as a Librarian with the Tobin Library at Oakwell, which is part of the San Antonio Public Library.

For a few days in October 2016, freshwater sponges were my arch nemeses. Or, to be more accurate, the stupendous amount of articles about freshwater sponges written by a scientist, Nathaniel Gist Gee (1876-1937), who traveled from South Carolina to China for a few years to study them. Over 30 of these writings had been gathered up and tucked into a single large folder, but there were also plenty of others on the shelves of the South Caroliniana Library stacks. The first 3 or 5 of the articles were interesting, but I was definitely ready for a change of topic by the 20th or so.

Illustration of freshwater sponges from China

Illustration from Nathaniel Gee’s pamphlet, “Freshwater Sponges,” published in 1931.

My main task as the Published Materials Cataloging Assistant for the Caroliniana can sound impressive (“retrospective conversion”) or relatively simple: find the items in our card catalog which aren’t in our modern electronic catalog yet and add them, while describing the materials well enough that someone researching a topic (like freshwater sponges in China) can find them. Sometimes an item already had been cataloged by another institution who had a copy of the same book or article via , and I was able to note that we also had a copy and add the record to our local systems.

Most of the time no one had cataloged that particular work before, and it was my job to write a record for it with all of the known details, including date(s), author(s), title(s), material type, measurements, subjects, etc., and add it to both OCLC and our own local catalog. You can see what a record like this looks like in our online catalog when you select a collection item and then click on “MARC display” (just above the title): a carefully-crafted combination of numbers, cataloging symbols, and text that tells the catalog system about each and every item which we have in our collections. And it all started with thousands of little typed cards.

Palmetto Cat Show program cover

Program cover from the 1976 Palmetto Cat Show

It’s amazing, the places you’ll travel to just by looking through our card catalog. Sometimes you’ll have a quick jaunt around town with the newsletters of medical societies and charitable organizations (and some amazing cat show programs), or to other points of the state regarding matters of education and managing our natural resources. Sometimes the materials were from our Southeastern region of the US, with programs for conferences, fairs, and other projects worked on across state lines and organizations. And yes, sometimes you can end up reading about something as far-flung as freshwater sponges in China, because the naturalist studying them was a native South Carolinian and a local instructor. There’s a little something for practically every interest, and I am glad to have had the pleasure of making it a little easier for everyone to find what they’re looking for here at the South Caroliniana Library.




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