Tribute to Seymour Lubetzky Held During Midwinter in San Diego
The traditional Saturday evening ALCTS membership reception, held January 10, 2004 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel, was re-christened ALCTS Presidential Assembly and Reception and honored the memory of Seymour Lubetzky, who died at the age of 104 in April 2003. Lubetzky, the foremost cataloging theorist of the 20th century, immigrated to the United States in 1927. He received the graduate Certificate of Librarianship from UC Berkeley in 1934 and then began a long and brilliant career in cataloging. He worked at the UCLA library and was a bibliographical specialist in the Library of Congress, and returned to UCLA in 1960 as a professor in the newly established School of Library Science.
The Assembly was co-sponsored by ALCTS and the UCLA Information Studies Department. ALCTS President Brian E. C. Schottlaender first introduced Aimée Door (Dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies) and Virginia A. Walter (Chair of the UCLA Information Studies Department). After Door and Walter welcomed the attendees, four speakers shared their memories of Professor Lubetzky. Three sets of remarks are reproduced below; we regret that remarks by the fourth speaker, Michael Gorman (Dean of Libraries, California State University, Fresno) are unavailable for inclusion in this article.
Seymour Lubetzky the Man
Elaine Svenonius, Professor Emerita, UCLA Information Studies
I've been asked to speak about Seymour Lubetzky the man. I'd like to begin my tribute with a poem I wrote for Seymour's 100th birthday:
[This poem was published in The Future of Cataloging: Insights from the Lubetzky Symposium, edited by Tschera Harkness Connell and Robert L. Maxwell. Chicago: American Library Association, 2000, p. xvi.]
Seymour Lubetzky was an extraordinary person. I talked about him to the person who wrote his obituary for the LA Times and after listening his observation was "well, they don't make them like that any more." Indeed they don't. He lived well and in this can be taken as a role model.
I did not get to know Seymour the man until after I retired. I began talking to him at an informal School gathering about a difficult question -- the relationship between cross references and added entries in the cataloging code. He was intrigued and thinking about it gave it as his opinion that it was when catalogs changed from book to card format - and added entries began supplanting cross references - that technology began to encroach upon ideology. Such a good point, I suggested he write a paper and I could help him by doing background research and typing up his thoughts. That was the beginning of our friendship. I went nearly every week to his house.
We talked of many things. Often we'd begin talking about the stock market, as it would be closing when I arrived at his house. We talked of his early life and career. And as to technology vs. ideology, we must have talked about that a hundred times. He was constantly refining his thought, searching for just the right word. He had a phenomenal grasp of language. He was versed in six languages and was a real stickler for words. If I happened to use a word slightly off the mark, even in every day speech, he would pounce on it, and invariably he was right. He once said - and this is evidence of his poetic leanings -- that if there were a choice of synonyms, one should choose the one with the most overtones.
What Seymour believed and wrote about consumed him entirely. He was a passionate scholar. He said he thought about the book and the work even when he washed dishes at night (he made dinner for his son). Needless to say, given such care with language, such passion and such intellect, it took a long time to write that paper, which was delivered at his centennial celebration.
His great mind and his scholarly passion did not diminish with age. Shortly before his 103rd birthday he was celebrated by being given the ALA's highest award in recognition of his lifetime achievement. When we were driving to the ceremony, he asked if I thought he'd have to speak. Surely not, I said, a 'thank you' would be enough. But I was wrong, he was asked to say some words. Speaking off the cuff in perfect sentences and perfect paragraphs and delivering a perfect punch-line he gave a little lecture on cataloging. He was eloquent. Maurice Freedman, then the president of the ALA, was so impressed that he showed a video of Seymour's off the cuff speech at the next annual ALA meeting - so that over a thousand people saw and heard Seymour's last "lecture" on cataloging.
A truly great mind is often accompanied by a truly great heart; so it was with Seymour. He gave to over a hundred different charities; he was particularly drawn to charities that aimed to help children.
Also great minds frequently are accompanied by humility and lack of ego. When talking about his life he was modest. Some examples:
When he first came to this country, he was taking the train somewhere and his violin was stolen. Asked why he didn't eventually get another, he said well, in America one could hear music on the radio.
When he was asked by LC to review the Anglo-American cataloging rules, he moved his office to the stacks of the library and there read works about cataloging, especially the writings of his hero Panizzi, in order to understand the etiology of the rules. He often quoted Santyana's line about those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it.
When it came to his own career he attributed his successes to his three mentors (Jens Nyhom, Sydney Mitchell and Herman Henkle)
In his last days, Seymour was still was able to rise above himself. He no longer talked about cataloging but of larger matters. He was interested in the book's relationship not to the work, but to life. He was also intrigued by ancient philosophy and wished he might have been a fly on the wall to hear Plato and Socrates talk. So we talked about the Good and what it meant to live a good life.
I think he assessed his own life as good. In the fulfilling of the potentialities of a great heart and a great mind, to us certainly it seems his life was marvelous and one of rare integrity. And though it is past, we celebrate what it has been.
Seymour Lubetzky's Legacy for Cataloging Rules
Barbara B. Tillett, Chief, Cataloging Policy and Support Office, Library of Congress
First of all, thanks to Brian Schottlaender for inviting me to participate in this memorial to Seymour Lubetzky.
I personally have a huge appreciation for Seymour Lubetzky's work and am greatly indebted to his legacy for cataloging rules. His clear thinking and writing are constantly on my mind in my various roles within the Library of Congress as Chief of Cataloging Policy, within the Joint Steering Committee for Revision of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, within IFLA as the Chair of the Division on Bibliographic Control, and very recently as organizer of the IFLA series of regional meetings on a Statement of International Cataloguing Principles. Everywhere I turn, I find myself walking in the path that he clearly marked for us, and I hope to do justice to his vision of where that path would lead - towards truly international cataloging standards and principle-based cataloging rules that produce catalogs to help our users - not just finding lists or individual bibliographic records to identify what exists, but a catalog that explains and displays the relationships of various editions, translations, and formats for created works.
On the occasion of Seymour Lubetzky's 100th birthday, I attended the symposium that was held in his honor, where Mr. Lubetzky's paper on "The Vicissitudes of Ideology and Technology" was delivered by Elaine Svenonius. As he often reminded us at such gatherings of librarians, Anglo-American cataloging started with Panizzi "when he appeared in London at the British Museum and brought a new vision and meaning to the concepts of the book, the library, and the catalog ..." Lubetzky was a scholar, as Elaine has described, and he studied Panizzi's famous debates of the 1840s before the Royal Commission for the British Museum. Lubetzky found Mr. Panizzi to be an articulate defender of the British Museum's catalog and his cataloging rules, and also a defender for the cost of cataloging to produce what Panizzi valued as a catalog - not only a finding list or inventory of the collections of a library, but also a place to discover and collocate the various editions, translations, and different formats of a work that were available to users. Clearly Lubetzky also valued such a catalog.
My own dissertation at UCLA built on the fundamental importance of bibliographic relationships. They are a key factor distinguishing library catalogs from other tools - yes, we could use Google to find individual resources, and we might get a scattering of different editions and translations, but it will be hit or miss unless there is a cataloger to include the linking devices that enable the identification of related expressions and manifestations that will then collocate in displays.
Also at his 100th birthday celebration, Lubetzky reminded us of another milestone in the history of cataloging when in 1901 the Library of Congress announced "it was making its printed catalog cards available to all libraries at a cost to cover merely that of the paper and the distribution of the cards." That initiative had enormous impact to not only reduce the cost of cataloging for individual libraries but to create a national cataloging standard, and in turn that national standard became the basis through Lubetzky for an international standard. Only a few decades after the Library of Congress moved to share its catalog cards, Mr. Lubetzky was working at the Library of Congress and had everything to do with turning that national standard into a more principled set of cataloging rules and providing the solid basis of international agreement. Mr. Lubetzky's seminal writings include work on the 1946 Studies of Descriptive Cataloging and likewise his 1953 Cataloging Rules and Principles - which is famous for his asking the question "Is this rule necessary?" It helped experts at the middle of the last century re-think the approach to cataloging codes.
He went on to draft basic principles and then defended them and worked closely with his international colleagues in IFLA to develop a Statement of Principles in 1961 in Paris, resulting in the famous "Paris Principles." The "Paris Principles" are still today the underlying principles behind nearly all of the cataloging codes used throughout the world. This past August IFLA held another meeting of cataloging rule makers - this time for cataloging codes used in Europe. We had 54 representatives from 32 countries at the August 2003 meeting in Frankfurt, and just last month they approved a draft Statement of International Cataloging Principles. That new statement is intended to expand and build upon the Paris Principles that Mr. Lubetzky greatly influenced. Mr. Lubetzky himself described the Paris Principles as the means for moving cataloging from a "cottage industry to an international one." The international sharing of cataloging information continues to drive our efforts today as we see our world more and more accessible through Internet technology.
Mr. Lubetzky saw us move from card catalogs to online catalogs and into the Internet world, and he kept reminding us that technology is just a means to an end. Today more than ever, we must keep the objectives of cataloging at the forefront of our work, not only to help users find, identify, select, and obtain library resources of all kinds (which is what the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records reiterated), but also very importantly to enable the collocation of bibliographic records for related resources. Again we see the Lubetzky legacy and return to fundamental principles and objectives of catalogs.
I feel he would be pleased that we are following some of his good advice about informing catalogers of why they are cataloging. For decades he was an articulate spokesperson for including the underlying principles of cataloging in cataloging codes - to inform the cataloger of the "Why" behind the rules. The rules explain when, what, and how to do cataloging, but catalogers should also know 'why' - this builds cataloging judgment and hopefully prevents the rules themselves from wandering into case law.
Mr. Lubetzky laid the groundwork for what is going on right now towards new cataloging codes. There is work on a new edition of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules - an AACR3 that will include a full introduction to explain to catalogers why they are cataloging and to help build a cataloger's judgment.
Our current plans for AACR3 include a substantial introduction that states the principles of cataloging upon which the cataloging code is based, the objectives of library catalogs, user tasks that the catalog is intended to address, and basic cataloging concepts for now and into the future.
Also currently within IFLA we are building on Lubetzky's principles and there is work underway to create the IFLA Statement of International Cataloguing Principles, and his legacy will live on through the realization of AACR3 and through the development of IFLA's International Cataloging Code.
We owe a great deal to Mr. Lubetzky, and I count myself immensely fortunate to have known him. Thank you.
Remarks on how far ahead of current practice Lubetzky's thinking was
Martha Yee, Cataloging Supervisor, UCLA Film and Television Archive
Probably one of the most common searches of library catalogs is that for a known work of which the author and title are known. Lubetzky warned us, again and again, of the problems that arise for library users due to change and variation of work identifiers, both authors (corporate and personal) and titles. Given that fact, you would think that a well-designed catalog based on Lubetzky's principles would:
Surprisingly, we still do not have catalog software that can do any one of those three things. I will take the Library of Congress's online catalog as an example, but I want to make perfectly clear that no other catalog software is any better. We are all in the position of having to choose among undesirable alternatives when it comes to selecting online catalog software, due to the fact that the software is designed by people who have apparently never heard of Lubetzky.
When you go to the Library of Congress' online catalog at catalog.loc.gov , you are first asked to choose between a "Basic Search" and a "Guided Search." Additional information tells you that the "Basic Search" includes a search by "Title or Author/Creator," while a "Guided Search" allows you to "construct keyword searches." Since we want to search using both title and author/creator, it appears that neither one of these searches will work for us.
Now we insiders know that in fact, if you want to use both an author and a title in a search, you can construct a keyword search to do so. This fact is not self-evident to anyone but us, however, as we know from experience at UCLA, where there was a faculty rebellion over the loss of the old "name-title" search in our last online catalog, despite the fact that the default search on the initial screen of our current online catalog was always a keyword search, and if someone typed in author terms and title terms and hit enter, the result would be the rough equivalent of the old name-title search, with somewhat less precision. Faculty could not recognize that "keyword" was the same as "name-title," and since UCLA faculty are pretty smart, I suspect that means most other catalog users can not recognize that either.
However, if we use our inside knowledge and put our author words and our title words into a keyword search in the LC catalog, we can get some results. Are we getting all the expressions of the work we desire, though? Consider the case of a user who wants to look through all available editions of Tom Sawyer; perhaps this user wants to get an idea of the bibliographic history of this important work of American literature, or perhaps he or she wants to select an edition to read or purchase, but does not know what editions are out there. This user has a vague memory that librarians use an author's real name in the catalog. (We used to do this long ago, and it is a rare user that makes it a habit to keep up with the latest cataloging rules.) Consequently, this user is going to search for "Tom Sawyer" using the name "Samuel Clemens."
When we do our keyword search for "Samuel Clemens and Tom Sawyer", we get seven results, the first of which is a motion picture, despite the facts that motion pictures did not even exist in the time of Samuel Clemens, and his work was a novel, not a motion picture. Nowhere is there any indication that there are many more editions of Tom Sawyer under the name Mark Twain. The sad fact is that whenever you do a keyword search in current online catalog software, your search will not be matched against authority records. I should say here that SIRSI is a possible exception, since it gives libraries the option of a keyword search that searches authority records, an option that unfortunately many libraries do not exercise.
Perhaps this user is smart enough to realize that it doesn't make sense for the Library of Congress to have only seven editions, related works, etc., of Tom Sawyer, and he or she will retry their search using "Mark Twain." When we do this, we get 231 results. The first 25 to display do not include a single edition of Tom Sawyer. In other words, sound recordings, motion pictures, adaptations for children and works about Tom Sawyer are listed higgledy-piggledy with editions of the work, and there are so many of the former that none of the latter display on the first screen.
Call me Cassandra, but the fact that we can't carry out the objectives of the catalog so eloquently described and urged upon us by Lubetzky does not bode well for our future as a profession. The rest of the world has become enamored of Google. Google cannot carry out the objectives of the catalog either. But if our choice is between online public access catalogs that are expensive but cannot carry out the objectives of the catalog, and Google that is cheap and cannot carry out the objectives of the catalog, I know what the choice is likely to be. And when we try to argue for the continuing existence of our profession on the basis of our expertise in the organization of information, what scholar in the humanities is going to stand up for us, after spending a career trying to navigate the chaos we have created in our catalogs for searchers of known prolific works?
Okay, now for the good news. Barbara Tillett, Elaine Svenonius and friends, by way of the FRBR initiative, have actually managed to get systems people excited about Lubetzky's principles again in the form of FRBR. I never thought I would live to see the day that OCLC would announce that they were going to try to link all authority-controlled headings in bibliographic records to authority records, and "FRBR-ize" OCLC. I don't think this would have happened without the initiative and talent for "marketing" of Tillett et al. OCLC won't have an easy time of it, due to the de-professionalization of cataloging that has been taking place since Lubetzky's day, but sometimes providing the infrastructure for something desirable will cause other changes to occur (such as the re-professionalization of cataloging) in order to support the end result (the display of works, related works and work about works in a usable array in response to a user's search using any variant of the author's name and any variant of the title).