As I noted in an earlier post, the strategic plan I developed to improve the quality of the Yale Club Library Collection is already taking longer than I thought it would. Looking back, I should have anticipated the implausibility of my timeline when my smart and generous committee members called the project “ambitious.”
I was thinking of the project a little bit like an archivist approaches a collection she plans to process using the principles of “More Product, Less Process” (or MPLP, as my archivist friends call it). Archival collections can take a notoriously long time to process, which can lead huge backlogs of material that is not processed, and therefore not available for research. This 2004 article by Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meisner proposed a minimal processing approach that could allow collections to move more swiftly from a backlog into a catalog: cut out the finicky details and record key information. My “aggressive” deaccession plan was meant to be similarly pragmatic in its approach to collection evaluation.
The first part of the project went fairly smoothly – I started by reviewing our mystery collection, which is a fairly recent collection that had been weeded in the last five years. The 700s collection (that’s the Arts and Recreation section in the Dewey Classification System), however, has been a very different experience.
I was, certainly, waylaid by a couple of colds in the last two months (exacerbated, I am sure, but the amount of dust that the collections in our old building have tendency to accumulate). But, the project is also taking longer because the 700s collection is often older and used much less than the mystery collection – in part because the books are located in some of the more difficult to reach shelves in the library and in part because the fifteen books on bridge and ten yachting guidebooks from the 1960s no longer hold the appeal to the membership that they once did. Pushing through the research for each book, and making decisions about what to rebind, what to discard, and what to repair has taken more time.
The journey through the 700s, however, has been much richer than the first section of my project, for nearly the same reasons that it has taken so much longer: the items in the collection are older, dustier, and more unusual than the items in the mystery collection – and more interesting things may have remained on the shelves because they are less accessible.
A few days ago, I pulled a particularly tattered little volume from the shelves: Some of These Days, it was titled. Someone named Sophie Tucker was the author. It was an autobiography. Now, we do have a biography section in the Club library, but at some point, a librarian made the decision to separate important people (“Presidents, Kings, etc.”) in the B[iography] section, and “comparatively unimportant people” into the subject section (as it turns out, mostly 792.092 – the Dewey biography classification). The logic is good, but the application was uneven. In fifty years, no one may care about Anthony Quinn , but they will probably care about President Warren G. Harding for much longer. I suppose. We will have to review the situation when we finally move into the Biography section appraisal.
Until then, I am drifting away from my MPLP dreams and accepting my bite-sized research projects on people like Sophie Tucker, whose name I did not know, but whose most famous moniker – “The Last of the Red-Hot Mamas” – I did. Sophie Tucker was an early twentieth-century entertainer – she moved from vaudeville, to radio, to film. When Judy Rosen reviewed a 2013 release of Tucker’s early recordings she observed that if people remember Tucker at all today, it is generally as “big-hatted, big-bellied oldie but-goody.” But Tucker was bawdy and funny and confident at a time when women were expected to be none of those things. Her autobiography, Some of These Days, (Doubleday, Doran and Co., 1945) is staying in the collection despite its tattered state. It’s moving out of circulating and into our special collections, though, because when Rob Berenson met Ms. Tucker in 1946 and asked her to sign her newly published autobiography for him, she was already a legend: