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Quick & Clean Cataloging Project

RBML’s pioneering cataloging project uncovers hidden collections and trains the next generation of rare book catalogers.

The Quick and Clean Cataloging Project of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign began with a 2006-2009 grant from the Mellon Foundation. Under that grant the project undertook a significant retrospective conversion and cataloging project that dramatically improved access to our extraordinary collections. At the beginning of the project in the summer of 2006, the library identified 70,000 uncataloged rare—and in some cases unique—items in our collections and cataloged them all in just four years. After 2009, the project continued on thanks to funding from the Frederick and Margaret L. Worden Endowment. Under the Worden Endowment, the project has cataloged and made accessible over 20 individual “named” collections of various sizes, including the Modern Poetry Collection (over 2,000 titles), the Nineteenth-century English Pantomime Plays Collection (200 titles), Italian Plays (over 600 titles), the Gerhard Mayer Collection of Rainer Maria Rilke (over 2,000 titles), the Sherburn Collection of Eighteenth-Century English Pamphlets (over 200 titles), and the Herbert Van Thal Collection of Yellowbacks (nearly 300 titles).

Currently, the project is being kept alive thanks to a 2015 Council on Library and Information Resources grant. Under this three-year grant, titled “Cataloging Cavagna: Italian Imprints from the Sixteenth through the Nineteenth Centuries”, the project will focus on the remaining uncataloged portion of Count Antonio Cavagna di Sangiuliani’s incredible collection, which the University Library purchased in 1921. Additionally, the project will seek to reunite Cavagna’s Collection by locating the thousands of titles originally part of his library that were distributed to various departmental libraries over the years.

We are quite pleased to have brought the “hidden collections” at the University of Illinois Rare Book & Manuscript Library to light, making detailed bibliographic information about many previously inaccessible books available to students and scholars, not only at our own institution, but around the world.

Best of all, we have found a way to provide excellent bibliographic records for rare books, doing the work in-house and at reasonable cost. Our project catalogers come mainly from the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, and they receive careful training and valuable experience as part of the Quick & Clean Cataloging Project. We adhere to very high standards, yet also process the books expeditiously, making the project an incredibly economical one. Based on our statistics, we have determined that the cost of making these previously “hidden” items accessible through the project is less than $12.00 per title. Few libraries can claim to catalog even new acquisitions—much less rare books, many of them entirely unique—at such low overhead and at such a high standard.