Copy Cataloging, OCLC, and United States Government Documents
United States government documents have long been underutilized. Plagued by insufficient bibliographic control throughout most of the twentieth century, U.S. government documents did not begin to receive adequate bibliographic records until 1976 when the Government Printing Office started to use OCLC's standard bibliographic rules. When libraries moved their card catalogs to online public access catalogs (OPAC), most pre-1976 government documents records were not entered into these new digital catalogs. As a result, many historically significant government documents remain hidden from the public because of their lack of presence in the OPAC. However, through a piecemeal effort, many bibliographic records for historic government documents have been entered into OCLC's WorldCat by a number of libraries. Copy cataloging services offered through OCLC's CatExpress and Connexion provide a means for librarians to add, with relative ease, bibliographic records of many pre-1976 government documents to local OPACs, thus rescuing them from obscurity.
[A Library's] fundamental concern is with the communication of knowledge, ideas, and thought...(Shera, 1993, p. 461)
As library patrons have come to fully rely upon the online catalog, older government documents not found in most online catalogs have become virtually invisible and forgotten. Government documents librarians have, over the years, cataloged many pre-1976 items and a few libraries with small documents collections have cataloged all of their holdings. Therefore, many bibliographic records for pre-1976 government documents can be found in OCLC's WorldCat. This presents the opportunity for librarians to copy catalog most, if not all, older government documents. Copy cataloging government documents by using OCLC will further the library's function as a communicator of knowledge, ideas, and thought by making older government documents accessible to the public in the online catalog.
Cataloging can refer to many different subdivisions: original, descriptive, subject, copy cataloging, etc. Original and copy cataloging are the two main concerns of this paper. Cataloger Lois Massengale Schultz (1995) describes original cataloging as "creating a bibliographic record without reference to other bibliographic records for the same item or different editions of the item" (p. 9). Schultz defines copy cataloging as "preparing a bibliographic record by using or adapting a bibliographic record already prepared by someone in another library or organization" (p. 9). Therefore, original and copy cataloging share a hierarchical relationship. Before an item can be copy cataloged it must previously have been cataloged. Items that have been cataloged under the MARC standard format for bibliographic control can easily be copy cataloged and downloaded into a local OPAC via a bibliographic utility, "an organization that produces a bibliographic database from members' bibliographic records" (Schultz, 1995, p 272).
Currently, OCLC offers the largest bibliographic utilities: CatExpress and Connexion. Both products provide bibliographic records in the MARC format and allow the user to download these records for copy cataloging purposes. While similar products, Connexion permits more advanced functions and allows for original cataloging uploading. Both CatExpress and Connexion are based on the holdings within WorldCat, an extensive bibliographic database that contains over 108 million records from libraries that represent 112 countries (Online Computer Library Center [OCLC], 2008). The virtual ubiquity of OCLC's WorldCat allows for a relatively effortless retrospective cataloging of government documents.
Why are pre-1976 government documents not well represented in many OPACS? Since its inception in 1861 until 1976, the Government Printing Office (GPO) did not provide cataloging information for the documents that it produced. GPO did produce the Monthly Catalog of United States Government Documents, which listed the documents' titles and gave corresponding Superintendent of Documents (SuDocs) numbers. To find an item in a library, a patron would have to consult the Monthly Catalog of United States Government Documents, get the SuDocs number, and then look that item up in the shelflist card catalog. While the Library of Congress (LC) began in 1902 to distribute bibliographic cards, it rarely became involved in cataloging GPO's material (Hutto, 1996). Hence, reliable bibliographic control of government documents did not exist until 1976 when GPO finally "began cataloging U.S. Documents on OCLC using standard rules" (Hutto, 1996, 336). Dena Hutto, a documents librarian and cataloger, notes that "by 1981 the GPO had become a full partner with LC as a national-level provider of bibliographic information" (1996, p. 336). Finally the problems of bibliographic control and the creation of reliable records for government documents were, to a large degree, solved. However, the lack of bibliographic records in local OPACs for pre-1976 documents still remains.
Many libraries with government documents have a very limited number of pre-1976 documents in their online catalog. In 1996, Hutto noted:
Retro Link Associates (RLA), an Ameritech company that specializes in retrospective conversion, uses imaging technology to scan cataloging shelflist cards, bound catalogs, or any other printed source of bibliographic information. The digitized records can then be searched against bibliographic databases or processed to create MARC records. Might this kind of technology form the basis of a cooperative project among depository libraries to put bibliographic information about pre-1976 U.S. documents online at last? (p. 341)While libraries may not be utilizing RLA's technology to put these earlier documents online, many records have found their way online via WorldCat. However, the fact that a record for a government document can be located in WorldCat does not necessarily mean that that item can also be found in a library's local online catalog, even though that library may hold that item. Many records for pre-1976 government documents have been uploaded into WorldCat by original cataloging. These records entered WorldCat via piecemeal efforts and were generally the work of individual government documents librarians and catalogers who saw historic value in a given document and, therefore created a bibliographic record for that item and uploaded it into WorldCat. Generally, each library that has government documents has cataloged a limited number of their pre-1976 documents. The result is that, while an individual library may have a few pre-1976 documents in its online catalog, WorldCat now has a vast number of pre-1976 documents in its database. These records are easily searchable and with minimal effort can be copy cataloged.
A 1987 article by Margaret S. Powell, a documents librarian at the College of Wooster, opens by noting, "U.S. government publications are a valuable but underutilized resource in many research libraries in part because records for these materials have traditionally not been included in the public catalog" (p. 16). Although the majority of government documents from 1976 to the present are generally included in OPACs, many pre-1976 documents have yet to be entered into local online catalogs. As most library patrons rely on the online catalog to retrieve items in the library, older government documents that could be of great research value are almost completely lost. By utilizing copy cataloging from OCLC, many historically rich government documents could be used in both student and faculty research.
The University of Pittsburgh's Hillman Library has been a depository of government documents since 1910. Hillman Library contains thousands of pre-1976 documents, most of which are not in the local online catalog. A few examples of documents that may be deemed historically rich, and which are not in the local catalog but are in WorldCat, are provided to demonstrate the usefulness of retrospective copy cataloging using OCLC. "One Nation's Response to Communism" by J. Edgar Hoover, a fourteen-page manifesto on the dangers of communism with a note stating it "was translated into Spanish and distributed in Latin America by the United States Information Agency" (1952, p. ii), appears in only thirty-seven OPACs according to the WorldCat record. Another document from 1952 concerning communism, "Report Espionage, Sabotage and Subversive Activities: Call the FBI," can be found in only two OPACs. "Fifteen Years After College: A Survey of Alumnae of the Class of 1945," a document from the Women's Bureau that contains interviews with and statistical information about college-educated American women, appears in only four OPACs. If a library's main concern is the communication of knowledge, then important items such as the above must have their records entered into the local catalog. When items are outside of the online catalog, they are outside of the patrons'--and perhaps the librarians'--view.
United States government documents have long been underutilized. A large part of this problem has been a lack of bibliographic control and omission from both the general card catalog and online catalog. With the growth of OCLC's WorldCat and its cataloging services, ExpressCat and Connexion, many pre-1976 government documents now have bibliographic records. These records can easily be copied for use in local OPACs. Although copy cataloging a government documents pre-1976 collection all at once may not be feasible, copy cataloging documents that may be deemed as having historic worth or undoubtedly valuable information may be the best starting point for retrospective cataloging. Copy cataloging using OCLC can recover valuable items from obscurity.
Hutto, D. H. (1996). Old solutions in a new age: Cataloging and the future of access to government information. Journal of Government Information, 23(3), 335-344.
Joseph A. Hurley holds a B.A. and an M.A. in history and completed an M.L.I.S. degree from the University of Pittsburgh in August 2009. He has recently accepted a position as a Data Services Librarian at Georgia State University.
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