Library cataloging rules might not sound very exciting, but they’re the only way you can find anything in a library.
It’s not too much to claim that the history of library catalogs can be divided into periods before and after Anthony Panizzi (1797-1879). Modern library cataloging rules trace their origin to Panizzi’s 91 rules, published in 1841.
Libraries have existed at least since the time of the ancient Assyrians. Libraries of any size have needed some kind of catalog. Until less than two hundred years ago, most of these catalogs existed for the convenience of the librarian or librarians in charge.
Catalogs until after Panizzi’s time were compiled to serve one particular collection. As the collection grew, and as one librarian followed another, some kind of library cataloging rules became necessary. Each librarian’s efforts had to conform to the practice of his predecessors.
At first, library catalogs served only as inventories of property. They could be arranged in the same order as the books on the shelves. And the order of acquisition largely determined shelf order.
Library catalogs as finding aids
Some medieval monasteries recognized a new purpose for the catalog. They attempted to make it into a finding list to direct patrons to the books they wanted. These library catalogs were organized alphabetically by author. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
For one thing, not every book had an identifiable author. Anonymous works somehow had to be incorporated into the list. The catalogers had three ways to do so: a form entry (dictionary, for example), a subject entry, or a catchword entry using keywords from the title.
Most of these old libraries had only a few books. Catalogs of larger collections could be unwieldy. Oxford University had a library as early as 1437. It fell on hard times in the 1550s. In 1598, Sir Thomas Bodley undertook to restore and enlarge it, starting with 2,500 books. The collection grew quickly as Bodley arranged for the library to be depository for every book published in England.
A catalog of sorts existed, but it was haphazardly arranged. If two books were bound together, which was not uncommon, they appeared only once in the inventory. Bodley needed to develop intimate familiarity with the collection he took over to avoid buying something it already contained.
His letters detailing the catalog’s failings are among the earliest writings advocating creation of a catalog for the use of others besides the librarian.
The advent of printed catalogs necessitated some kind of systematic and predictable way of handling anonymous works. In 1674, Bodleian librarian Thomas Hyde spent nine years preparing a printed catalog. He had initially thought he could do it in two years. The preface to his catalog lays out the problems he had faced and the library cataloging rules he developed.
Panizzi, a successful lawyer, fled from his native Italy in 1821. He had nearly been arrested for trying to overthrow the Duke of Modena. Eventually, he made his way to England, where he made some very influential friends. At first, he supported himself by teaching Italian in Liverpool. Then he became professor of Italian at University College, London in 1828.
In 1831, he was appointed assistant librarian to Henry H. Baber in the printed book department at the British Museum. Thomas Horne had begun a subject catalog of the collection in 1821 but had made little progress.
The library trustees asked Baber to prepare an alphabetical catalog in 1834. Baber proposed putting Panizzi in charge of the project. Largely because Panizzi was an immigrant and not born British, the trustees instead divided the work among all the senior officers of the department. Panizzi, however, did most of the work.
Unfortunately, the British Museum at the time had antiquated facilities, inadequate funding, and such poor management that Parliament investigated in 1835. Panizzi contributed massive statistics to its inquiry.
In his testimony, he said,
I want a poor student to have the same means of indulging his learned curiosity, of following his rational pursuits, of consulting the same authorities, of fathoming the most intricate inquiry, as the richest man in the kingdom, as far as books go. And I contend the government is bound to give him the most liberal and unlimited assistance in this respect.
Today, most people would take that sentiment for granted. In the 1830s, it was radical.
The parliamentary committee recommended complete overhaul of the museum’s administration. Despite the opposition of powerful enemies, Panizzi became to Keeper of Printed Books in 1837. His duties included moving the library to new quarters. He served as Principal Librarian from 1856 until his retirement in 1866.
The rules on which this Catalogue is based were sanctioned by the Trustees on the 13th of July 1839; and, with the exception of such modifications as have been found necessary in order to accelerate the progress of the work, they have been strictly adhered to. Some additional rules, the want of which was not foreseen at the commencement, are printed in italics.
The application of the rules was left by the Trustees to the discretion of the Editor, subject to the condition that a Catalogue of the printed books in the library up to the close of the year 1838 be completed within the year 1844. With a view to the fulfillment of this undertaking it was deemed indispensable that the Catalogue should be put to press as soon as any portion of the manuscript could be prepared; consequently the early volumes must present omissions and inaccuracies, which it is hoped, will diminish in number as the work proceeds.
In giving to the world the first volume of a Catalogue, which promises to be of an unprecedented extent, the Editor thinks that it would be premature to name each gentleman in his department to whose zeal and talents he is indebted for much that will add to its usefulness. He looks forward to a continuation of the same assistance; and he, therefore, reserves till after the conclusion of the work the particular expression of his obligations.
No subsequent volume appeared in print until after Panizzi’s death. All previous British Museum catalogs had been in manuscript. Panizzi and his team preferred to finish the catalog in manuscript.
A printed catalog would have been more legible, and it would not have been necessary to be physically present in the library to consult it.
To Panizzi, however, these advantages did not outweigh the disadvantages. He objected to the expense of printing the entire catalog. It would rapidly become obsolete. Keeping a manuscript catalog up to date seemed easier and more useful.
Panizzi’s library cataloging rules
Before Panizzi, the British Museum had issued two catalogs, both in Latin. Panizzi conceived his catalog in English.
His debt to Hyde’s rules is evident, but his 91 rules far exceed any earlier ones in both number and in scope. Among his innovations, he improved handling of anonymous works. In the process, he pointed the way to the modern method of corporate author entries.
He numbered the rules but did not give them titles. They can be summarized as follows:
- Rules 1-17: choice and form of name entries, including (rule 9) corporate entries.
- Rules 18-31: descriptive cataloging (such details as the title, edition statement, size, pagination, publication data, etc.)
- Rules 32-43: anonymous and pseudonymous works and works of joint authorship
- Rules 44-49: collections and an additional rule on corporate entries
- Rules 50-53: translations and commentaries
- Rules 54-69: references
- Rules 70-78: organization of multiple entries under the same author heading
- Rule 79: the Bible
- Rules 80-91: entries under broad form headings, along with another rule on corporate entries
Panizzi wrote these rules for a book catalog. The card catalog, and later the online catalog, have somewhat different needs. And yet about half of Panizzi’s basic ideas remained in the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules of 1967. Today’s library cataloging rules, Resource Description and Access, appeared in 2010. I have not seen figures on how much of Panizzi’s rules remain in them, but they still build on his foundation.
Anthony Panizzi and the British Museum / Edward Miller, British Library Journal 5 (Spring 1979): 1-17
A comparison of Panizzi’s 91 rules and the AACR of 1967 / Donald J. Lehnus, University of Illinois Graduate School of Library Science Occasional Papers no. 105. December 1972
The development of authorship entry and the formulation of authorship rules as found in the Anglo-American code / Julia Pettee, Library Quarterly 6 (July 1936):270-90
Development of cataloging rules / Seymour Lubetzky, Library Trends 2 (Fall 1953): 179-86
Panizzi, Anthony / Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900
Panizzi’s 91 rules for standardizing the cataloguing of books / Jeremy Norman, History of Information. August 25. 2014
Sir Anthony Panizzi / NNDB