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Craig Preservation Lab

Inverse Relationships in Libraryland

One definition of inverse, from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is:

adjective in·verse \(ˌ)in-ˈvərs, ˈin-ˌ\
–used to describe two things that are related in such a way that as one becomes larger the other becomes smaller

I first observed the phenomenon of inverse relationships in libraryland while working on a project to reformat and catalog over 10,000 nineteenth-century pamphlets of the Italian Risorgimento.

And I found it somewhat perverse!

I noticed there is often an inverse relationship between the thickness of a book and the time it takes to catalog (and/or the length of the catalog record). Many of the pamphlets were ephemeral, lacking information such as publication place or date, and their subject content was not always conveyed well by one or two subject headings. Numerous explanatory note fields were added.

Now take a nice big textbook  — such as Samuelson’s Economics : an introductory analysis. Author, title, edition, publication statement, description, bibliography note, one subject. Done!

Samuelson's Economics
Samuelson’s Economics

Since that time working on the Risorgimento pamphlets, I have often encountered the law of inverse relationships at work in the library. Once when starting a new job in an art library, the uncataloged books awaiting my arrival had grown to crisis proportions, filling every available shelf in our workspace. So, applying the law of inverse relationships, I cataloged all the thick books first!

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