Quirky catalogues; beguiling books

Starting as Nottingham Subscription Library in 1816, what is now Bromley House Library had to find a way of organising and cataloguing its books. For the former, it didn’t have the option of choosing Dewey, the classification system used by the majority of public and academic libraries, because Melvil Dewey wasn’t even born at that point, let alone embarking on a career in Librarianship. So Nottingham Subscription Library created its own, using letters to denote subject areas and their subdivisions, then numbering the books in acquisition order. This classification reflects the interests of the time, with Theology being given priority and therefore the letter A, Philosophy split into two subsections so that Bb becomes Philosophy: Natural and Mathematical, and so it continues to F: Law and Politics, which also at one point included military strategy.


How to know whether the Library had a particular book? A catalogue was published, a slim volume of 61 pages, which started very importantly with the laws of the library, and moved on to listing the fines that could be imposed, enthusiastically one presumes, as the Librarian was allowed to retain a quarter of those collected. Then it listed the books, by classification, with an index, of sorts, at the back of the catalogue. Of course, given that the Library continued to buy books, the catalogue was out of date as soon as it was published. It did have the advantage, however, that each member could have their own copy to peruse at home, and by means of update, lists of books acquired during the year were part of the Library’s annual report.  The arrangement of the books on the shelves reflected that of the catalogue. Thankfully books retained their numbers, rather than it being a strict shelf mark, so the catalogue didn’t need to be updated if the books were rearranged around the Library. Successive catalogues were published until one of 1881, which then had a supplement added in 1894.  Then in 1899 it was decided that a Card Catalogue, a late 19thC innovation, should be produced.


Not an easy task, it would appear, and perhaps one started with more enthusiasm than skill, as the Librarian, Arthur Lineker, was constantly being asked to report to the Committee on its progress.  But it had the huge advantage that new additions could be slotted in as required. Author and subject catalogues were created but it was 26 years (check) before it could be reported that the catalogue was complete. No longer, however, did the members have a copy of the catalogue in their own homes.


And so a century passed, and Bromley House Library continued to use its own classification system and its card catalogue. Was there ever a time when Dewey was considered – if so, there is no record of that, although at some point the entire collections were renumbered. Then, after a decade of consideration, it was decided that a computerised catalogue should be created, and so BromCat was conceived. Software was chosen, funding followed up (Thank you, all you purchasers of lottery tickets) staff selected and volunteers recruited. The project was underway, all of the approximately 40,000 books were taken from the shelves, dusted if necessary, their contents considered and assessed and a catalogue record created for each one. Rare books were allocated for specialist treatment with very detailed records as the result.


So now Bromley House Library has a new catalogue, and those books which were favourites in the past and whose spines are too worn to enable the titles to be read are finding a new audience, and again each member (and non-members as well) will be able to access the catalogue in the comfort of their own home. But the classification system remains the same, so Bromley House Library still has its Dd section, Miscellanies, where you can find the ‘Social Life of the Chinese’, on the shelf next to ‘Practical Billiards’. Alas, the Library has not yet reinstated the Billiard Room that used to be here…


BromCat is expected to go online in May 2013, and will be linked to from the Library’s website at www.bromleyhouse.org.  



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