During my time interning and volunteering in the cataloging department at University of Richmond’s Boatwright Memorial Library I have been introduced to various ways of cataloging items in hand, such as books, Honors Theses, CDs, DVDs, BluRay discs, music DVDs, and finally Rare books. While all items, including both written and digital, are cataloged using MARC21 combined with either AACR2 or RDA rules, they also differ from one another in various degrees. Books and Honors Theses for example, are quite similar – books simply have additional information added, such as notes (Table of Contents or the summary listed on the inside of a book jacket), but rare books are incredibly different from all other items I have seen. In fact, rare books truly require at the very least, a general knowledge and understanding of different bindings, covers, clasps, type face, printing styles, signatures, among many other distinctions.
The aforementioned characteristics are incredibly important for a cataloger to include in a rare book record because rare books were printed not by mass production as books today are printed, but one by one and oftentimes by hand. Because rare books were not mass produced they can differ slightly or drastically from one printing to the next: The title page can have a misspelled word, signatures (symbols at the bottom of certain pages that told the printer how to fold the paper so that the pages and text would line up properly), bindings, and paper. Due to the many different requirements of rare book cataloging, the Association of College and Research Libraries – a part of ALA (American Library Association) – created specific rules and accompanying guidebooks to aid catalogers when entering an original record for a rare book. I was able to look through these guidebooks earlier this week, and there were a lot of them! There was a book on paper types, binding types, provenance, type face styles, covers, and a few others. Thankfully these books have been transformed to websites, found on the RBMS (Rare Books and Manuscripts Section) website. If interested, please take a brief look at the website: http://www.rbms.info/committees/bibliographic_standards/controlled_vocabularies/index.shtml
Cataloging in general is not fully understood (perhaps because so few schools actually teach cataloging beyond a basic class) and rare book cataloging further specifies the already esoteric profession. Rare book cataloging does include something that general cataloging does not: an understanding and appreciation for art and history.