Andersen Horticultural Library
The Andersen Horticultural Library has a huge collection of nursery catalogs. How best to represent these on University Library systems?
I met recently with Richard Isaacson, Librarian at the Andersen Horticultural Library (AHL). A highlight of that collection are the seed/nursery catalogs: about 44,000 items representing approximately 5000 companies. There is interest in getting these materials better represented than they currently are. Some of this is political (i.e., higher visibility for the collection means better prospects for its care and feeding) as well as intellectual (providing better research access and more utility to researchers). There is also the issue of Richard's inevitable retirement.
Some of the companies represented in the collection are defunct, some still operate; there is an emphasis on the Upper Midwest region, but coverage is nationwide. This collection is one of the strongest in North America. In the time period since the AHL was opened c. 1970, it is apparently without peer. The collection is extremly dynamic, as very few complete runs exist. Richard is continuously adding current catalogs and attempting to fill gaps in historical coverage. He is aided in the second task by an active eBay® community and by libraries who seek to get rid of their holdings in this area due to varying factors.
The collection is currently represented in myriad ways:
- A card catalog, kept up-to-date by volunteers, represents the collection to an item level. Cards are created on typewriters.
- At least 13 individual records for individual seed and nursery catalogs in MNCAT. The origin and purpose of these extremely terse records are unknown.
- A collection-level record on MNCAT (System No. 001872870) link
- An Access database that lists each item, with the following fields represented on the entry form:
- RCODE (nursery name)
- ACTIVE (box checked if currently operating)
- CATALOG TYPE ([r]etail or [w]holesale)
- CAT YEAR (yyyy, also sometimes contains a designation as to season)
- CAT TITLE
- CM (size in centimeters)
- P (pages)
- COLOR PL (quantity of color plates)
- PICTURED (specific images of interest, by subject) (two fields)
- BW PL (number of black-and-white plates)
- PRESERVATION (box checked if care needed)
- NURSERY HIST (box checked if history of organization described in item)
- RATING (radio buttons 1 through 5, indicating Isaacson's assessment of research value)
In addition, there is a fee-based service that the AHL provides that provides current nursery information both in electronic and print formats. This is not directly applicable to this discussion due to the fact that historic publications are not captured in this system.
However, the current nursery publications (which are constantly coming in) do point to an issue that must be considered when thinking about how to better describe this collection: acquisition of these publications is no simple task, even when compared to the general state of serials acquisitions. As these are commercial publications, many of the firms are reluctant to "give away" copies freely to an organization who does not expect to buy anything from them. The explanation of just why the AHL wants them and what will happen to them must be repeated with every new vendor or ownership change. Add in the fact that many vendors automatically purge "deadbeat" names from catalog distribution lists after 3 years, and standard problems of denoting seasons, uneven publication schedules, and the scope of the effort becomes clear.
Two models of creating electronic access appear to be the most likely. The first is the serials model, in which each organization is treated as a publisher. This would allow Richard (and any other AHL personnel) to take advantage of the notification procedures in order to be informed if certain publications were not received in an expected fashion. It would also provide an intuitive system for describing the materials, as most can be thought of as serials. The logic that the serials community has developed to document title changes would serve well in an industry in which mergers, splits and bankruptcies are not uncommon.
The other model would be that of special collections. In this case, the multiple publications that some nurseries put out (catalogs, addendums, price sheets, etc.) could easily be subsumed under a finding-aid model.
The collection is current housed in standard archival Hollinger boxes. However, within each box, there is often not further organization by folder or by dividers. No matter how the collection is described, such a system is not ideal.
Overall, any new system must have a goal of documenting as much "local knowledge" as possible, in terms of drawing on the knowledge that Richard and his staff have that is not currently documented.