Monday, December 14, 2009

Subject Indexing: To classify or not to classify?

If there is anything that I have learned thus far in my examination of poetry in cataloging, it is that it may not be feasible (or even desirable) to utilize LCSH in any real and useful way. As a means to satisfy the basics - mainly that poetry is itself the subject - it certainly serves a purpose. But I wonder, has anyone else before me ever looked for serious subject cataloging or indexing in poetry? Obviously, the answer is yes. One example that I found was an author named Hazel K. Bell who wrote an article in the Journal of Scholarly Publishing in April 2007 entitled, "Subject Indexes to Poetry: Historical: (See Patriotism.)" In this article, Ms. Bell laments the limited use of the author/first line format of index. She has, however, found a serious attempt at subject indexing in poetry in a work called The Pageant of English Poetry which was compiled by R.M. Leonard and printed by Oxford University Press in 1924. Spurred on by this finding, I sought to locate a copy of this book, only to find that it was not available in my library system. Sadly I was therefore limited to the excerpt given by Ms. Bell in her article.

What I took away from this article was a renewed belief that the effort to give subject headings to poetry may be a losing battle. After all, so much of poetry is linked to imagery, imagination and interpretation! The subject headings that I may assign to any given poem are subjective in that they are based on my interpretation or feelings from the poem itself. I suppose that you could try and guess at the author's intended imagery and themes, but again, that would be detracting from the poems ability to create a new sense of voice and place within the reader/listener/audience. So where does this leave me?

Well, as I found in my earlier posts, the Internet has given the world some arguably useful tools for locating and interpreting poetry. While I personally do not find that my ideal manner of poetry reading is done in front of a computer screen, these resources could be seen as a means to an end in that they ultimately should point the searcher in the direction of at least one "real book."

For "fun," I decided to look up the bibliographic record of my Norton Anthology in OCLC. Here is the record:
>010 96031984
>040 DLC $c DLC $d UKM $d BAKER $d BTCTA $d LVB $d YDXCP $d OCLCG
>015 GB97-30666
>019 36839841
>020 039396924X (pbk.)
>020 9780393969245 (pbk.)
>050 00 PR1174 $b .N6 1997
>082 00 821.008 $2 20
>090 $b
>049 MFKA
>245 04 The Norton anthology of poetry / $c [edited by] Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter, Jon Stallworthy.
>250 Shorter 4th ed.
>260 New York : $b Norton, $c c1997.
>300 xli, 1215 p. ; $c 24 cm.
>504 Includes bibliographical references (p. 1122) and index.
>650 0 English poetry.
>650 0 American poetry.
>650 6 Poésie anglaise $v Anthologies.
>650 6 Poésie américaine $v Anthologies.
>700 1 Ferguson, Margaret W., $d 1948-
>700 1 Salter, Mary Jo.
>700 1 Stallworthy, Jon.

So for those of you non-library students (and if there are any of you out there still reading this, good for you), this is a MARC record of the specific work that I have been using for my poetry references. In a MARC record, the subject lines, where the LCSH come into play, are in the 6xx fields. In this case, the 650 fields. Anyway, in this case, the coverage is pretty basic: English poetry and American poetry. Interestingly, this record decided to include French subject translations. Not that this really enhances the record too much since they are exact translations of the English, but they do add the "Anthologies" subfield to the end. Why do the English versions not include this? I do not know.

If I were the cataloger of this book, what would I do differently? Would I include more information in the Note (5xx) fields? Would I want more detailed subject headings? Or are these adequate? Would I add a contents note? On one hand, it seems so barren to have these simple subjects, but on the other hand, given the widely varying tones and styles found throughout this anthology, such an attempt might end up being too long and likely contradictory in certain instances. So... what about the contents note? This table of contents is VERY long, but it is essentially a list of contributing poets. Perhaps, if I was feeling ambitious, I would add this. It would certainly be useful to a researcher who was wondering what poets were featured in this particular work.

Finally, I apologize for the more "technical" nature of this final entry. It is my attempt to synthesize the information of previous entries and to come to a conclusion of my own with regards to the placement of poetry vs. LCSH. What I have learned is that modern day poetry searching has become very Internet reliant. Obviously people who lived in a pre-Internet world had to rely on other resources to locate specific poems, and I would like to think that these resources were likely real people or even (gasp) librarians. Sadly, I do not know that many people (outside of English majors) would be able to name the poet or author of a poem given just a brief snippet line from memory. For this reason, it is encouraging to see that the Internet has provided a means to lead the searching mind to the appropriate end, and in some cases to an appropriate book or collection.

The limited vocabulary of LCSH is not designed to completely and accurately categorize poems or groups of poems, but it is a means of cataloging the specific book or work in which they dwell. However, that doesn't mean that it isn't fun to bring them together every once in a while... So for my grand finale, I will take on the Shakespeare Sonnet which gave my blog its name.

Sonnet #18
by William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? (Summer)
Thou art more lovely and more temperate: (Atmospheric temperature)
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, (Atmospheric circulation; Plants, flowering of; Spring)
And summer's lease hath all to short a date; (Summer; Seasons)
Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines, (Global warming; Atmospheric temperature; Sun; Light sources)
And often is his gold complexion dimmed; (Solar eclipses)
And every fair from fair sometimes declines, (Aging; Gerontology)
By chance or nature's changing course untrimmed; (See above)
But thy eternal summer shall not fade, (Immortality)
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st; (See above)
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade, (See above)
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st: (Aging)
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, (Eternity)
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. (Life support systems (Critical care))

Thanks for reading!!!

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