Cataloging Pepperdine Libraries’ Hidden Treasures

Guest Post by Hannah Cheng, Library Marketing Assistant

“Books are more than just information, they are artifacts.”

Cory Aitchison

Pepperdine Libraries’ Special Collections overflows with hidden treasures: twelfth-century manuscripts, records of Czech and Latin writing, antique illustrations, and medieval books with flowers pressed between the pages. Cory Aitchison, head of technical services and metadata in Pepperdine Libraries, and Melissa Nykanen, associate university librarian for Special Collections and University Archives, have been creating records for books in the Special Collections that have yet to be cataloged. Their goal is to catalog all of the rare books in the collection and make these resources readily available to the greater Pepperdine community, especially to those researching subjects like history, religion, architecture, and other related disciplines. 

Every week, Melissa prioritizes books to be cataloged, and Cory then searches for each book on WorldCat, the largest online database of cataloged books. If the book is not already listed on WorldCat, he creates a record and adds details about Pepperdine’s specific copy, including any inscriptions, signs of damage, bookplates, or objects tucked inside the book, to distinguish it from other volumes. A catalog record is a collection of metadata, which describes both the textual information in the book and its physical aspects, like its size, page count, and year of publication. Once a record has been created, library users can search for a book that meets specific parameters. For example, a professor who is curious about books on law published in London in the nineteenth century can easily search Pepperdine Libraries for matching records by entering keywords into the subject, date, and location search boxes. 

Throughout their endeavors, Melissa and Cory have encountered fascinating material like old diaries and journal entries in languages like Latin, German, and Czech. They estimate that the oldest printed book in Pepperdine’s collection is from the 1520s, while the oldest manuscript, or handwritten text, is probably from the twelfth century. Cataloging makes these profound works more useful to the Pepperdine community, as the library can now better support classroom learning and allow people to travel back in time and explore rare books firsthand in the Special Collections reading room.

When asked about a favorite, newly discovered book, Cory displayed a large, brown book with a plain cover lacking text or embellishments. While cataloging, he and Melissa found its pages were alive with illustrations of fountains, architecture, and various tools from the fifteenth century. Now that this work has been cataloged, it is accessible to Pepperdine researchers, scholars, faculty, and staff intrigued by construction or medieval history. Melissa and Cory’s efforts are not only proving true the old adage to never judge a book by its cover, but also honoring the creators of these works by preserving them for future appreciation. Five hundred years from now, we would be lucky to have librarians like Melissa and Cory provide the same diligence and respect to our community’s current publications, wherever they may end up.

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Cataloging Pepperdine Libraries’ Hidden Treasures