Cataloguing in 20/21

This post is a celebration of the extraordinary cataloguing work of the Collections and Academic Liaison department over such a difficult year.  More than 21,000 individual new records for printed books and ebooks have entered the catalogue through our efforts, not including records added for the titles contained in ebook packages (these are added en masse through a cataloguing process called bulk import).

Part of a new Greek record I am working on (original script yet to be added!).

It can be hard to remember some of the details of the past 18 months, but we started being able to come back in to work in the UL only in September 2020, for the first time since mid-March.  During the November-January double lockdown period, we were allowed only 2 people in for 1 day a week; otherwise we have largely been at a maximum of 4 people in, but at least this has been a daily rather than a weekly allowance!  I’ve written before about the processes we put in place to allow print books to be catalogued and processed through a combination of office-based and home-based work (see here).  We’ve also had quite an amount of staff absence over the year, through vacancies and more.

Despite these challenges, CAL staff have managed to bank amazing numbers.  In 2018/19, our last ‘normal’ year, we added over 28,000 individual records.  In 2019/20 (a normal year for 7.5 months), we managed 21,199.  In 2020/21, a fully abnormal year, we still managed 21,365!  Here is a yearly breakdown of the languages with the largest numbers.

18-19 19-20 20-21
English 5708 9319 11378
Dutch 497 138 124
French 5147 2317 2074
German 6719 3006 1332
Italian 2631 1836 2077
Polish 526 271 515
Portuguese 1084 391 593
Russian 1596 886 360
Spanish 3327 2398 2524
Ukrainian 292 178 127

There are a few things worth drawing out here.

  • The increasing English numbers in 2019/20 largely represent the enormous increase in ebook purchases (largely English) from mid-March 2020.  The 2020/21 English numbers include:
    • hundreds of new or significantly recatalogued records added through our project to improve the discoverability of Cambridge’s Official Publications collection (hidden from these stats are the thousands of records we edited more lightly but still did significant holdings work on in order to clarify for our readers what we actually have);
    • several thousand records done for English purchases which CAL did for many months to relieve pressure on the UL’s English Cataloguing department; and
    • several hundred records added through our colleague Emily’s work on the Bowness Collection.
  • Most languages saw decreases over the years, and this represents a combination of [a] our reduced presence in the office forcing us to focus our efforts on new arrivals almost exclusively, while in normal times we would also be cutting our remaining backlogs down, and [b] fewer books coming in overall, since our research budgets have had to be significantly tightened during the last 18 months to divert funds to teaching and learning purchases, per the University’s stated focus on this part of Cambridge’s work.
  • It is also well worth noting that the German numbers specifically have significantly gone down because 2018/19 saw a huge effort by our colleagues Anne, Katharine, and Christian to clear most of the German cataloguing backlogs!  French also saw a peak in 2018/19, which partly represents the results of an intensive cataloguing project by Anne and Clara, on secondment, on the Chadwyck-Healey Liberation Collection.

A great deal of other languages have also been represented in our statistics over all years.  For 20/21, these include Afrikaans, Catalan, Greek, Romanian, the Scandinavian languages, and South-East Slavonic languages.

In terms of a print/e split of the statistics, detailed data isn’t easily available.  Traditionally, ebook cataloguing has been done by the ebooks@cambridge and English collection development teams of CAL, but the lockdown has seen many other CAL staff pick up ebook cataloguing too.  This has partly been to help out with teaching and learning purchases and partly to handle records for the increasing numbers of foreign-language research ebooks being bought.  Looking at the cataloguer-specific statistics, I would say that about 50% of our overall individual cataloguing statistics have been for ebooks in 20/21.  It will be interesting to see what the proportions for 21/22 look like.  While it has been critical that we buy ebooks where available throughout the lockdowns, print remains vastly important, particularly for our research collections.

I am hugely grateful to my colleagues for their incredible work over 20/21, and before – and since!  Hopefully we will have a rather more straightforward time of it overall in 21/22…  And to our readers: thank you for your book recommendations, and do continue to send them in.

Mel Bach

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