Guide to the Research Collections



Although a precise definition of a "guide to resources" is difficult, such a work is essentially the description-- not the listing--of special collections and subject strengths in one or more libraries. Using a narrative style, a guide to resources describes holdings in such terms as their nature and extent, language and geographic spread, degree of comprehensiveness, unique materials (e.g., first editions and manuscripts), nonbook items present, special emphases or areas of note within the total field being reviewed, and supporting and related materials in other parts of the collection.

It might be well to discriminate at this point between a guide to resources (as defined above) and works that provide information about resources in other ways. The latter group includes handbooks, checklists, bibliographies, calendars, library surveys, union lists, union catalogs, and printed book catalogs (presently enjoying a renaissance as a result of the application of the techniques of photographic reproduction and the computer to library files). All of these provide information on resources, but focus on specific titles rather than the description of subject collections or other groups of materials.

Each guide to resources varies in the degree to which it resembles the theoretical definition and in the arrangement of its information. Karl Brown, for reasons stated in the Introduction to his Guide, found it advantageous to present his material following the classes in the classification schedule devised by John Shaw Billings for the New York Public Library. Although basically a subject arrangement which moves from biography (A), through history (B-I), to geography (K-L), and then to art (M), literature (N), science (O-Q), philology (R), social sciences (S-T), technology (V), medicine (W), law (X), philosophy (Y), and finally religion (Z), this scheme was of course a unique one, reflecting both Billings' ideas and the special characteristics of the library's collections, especially in terms of the "star classes" established to provide for certain subjects (bibliography, *G and libraries, *H), or forms of material (newspapers, *A; periodicals, *D; phonograph records, *L; and microfilms, *Z), or collections chiefly of material in languages not known to the average student (Orientalia, *O; Slavonic, *Q; and Jewish, *P), or groups requiring special administration (rare books, *K), or publications coming from special sources (public documents, *S and museums, *F). Even these two general categories did not include all of the library's material, as they did not make provision for the Manuscripts and Archives Division, the Spencer Collection, and certain other collections.

Brown calls the reader's attention to the fact that the Guide, "with the scheme of classification as a basis, is developed by consideration of the following points for each class or sub-class, as division occurs:

The Brown volume remained a standard bibliographic tool, although it lost some currency with the passing of time. In the years which followed, the library made few basic changes in its collecting policies, but gave new emphasis to certain fields such as the performing arts, and continued to increase its resources (from about 2,500,000 to more than 4,000,000 volumes). It received several new special collections, including the Arents Collection of Books Relating to Tobacco, the Arents Collection of Books in Parts, and the Berg Collection of English and American Literature. The library naturally continued to disseminate information about its resources through publications such as the Bulletin, its annual report, individual monographs and pamphlets, and later the series of divisional catalogs issued by G. K. Hall.4 But none of these significantly updated the Brown volume, and circumstances prevented the compilation of the 1940-45 supplement promised in the Guide. The preparation of the revised Guide was delayed until the fall of 1965, when "The Guide to the Research Collections Project" began operations. At that point some basic decisions on the nature of the project were considered: Would it serve as a supplement to Brown covering the last twenty-five years, or would it be a completely new edition? Would it follow Brown's approach and manner of presentation? What was the most appropriate and efficient methodology for the job at hand? The final decision called for a new edition, rather than a supplement to the 1 Guide, thus making it unnecessary for a user to refer to Brown except for special features. A complete rechecking of all Brown's information did not seem feasible, however, so as much of it as possible was utilized in the new Guide, with revision when necessary for size, scope, and notable additions, and with an effort to make the statements even more useful to the reader seeking information.

Another major decision was to arrange the new volume according to general subjects, rather than follow the Billings Classification Schedule. Several considerations led to this decision, one of the most important being that since July of 1956, about one-half of the library's accessions have been shelved in fixed order location, rather than according to the Billings Classification Schedule.5 Also, some holdings are separated from others merely by accident of provenance--e.g., although they may deal with English literature, they may have been acquired for the Berg Collection, or they may have a nonbook form. Thus the person interested in English literature will find the Research Libraries' rich resources described in one section of the Guide, even though the sources may be shelved in the general stacks, the Berg Collection, the Rare Book Division, the Spencer Collection, the Manuscripts and Archives Division, or even in the Performing Arts Research Center at Lincoln Center.