I have never published a family history of my own, but I have cataloged hundreds of them! I am a student in my final semester of a Master of Library Science program. To finish my degree I am completing an internship at a local genealogy library where I am cataloging their collection. After cataloging countless self-published genealogies, ranging from folders of loose papers to gorgeous multi-volume hardcover sets with embossed details, I compiled 10 things a cataloger would appreciate in a self-published family history.
Librarians are responsible for creating bibliographic records for materials, which will help patrons locate them in the library catalog. Every time you type in a search and find what you are looking for it’s because someone cataloged it well! This might mean looking for a record that has already been created by a trusted source, or it could mean creating a brand new record. Many self-published genealogies that have come across my desk are lacking information that is typically included in a bibliographic record. The more information, the better the record will be and the more users will find your book! So to fix this problem, I have 10 suggestions for your next genealogy book.
You might be thinking “but my genealogy will never end up at the library.” Au contraire! Many books in our collection were donated from estates, either according to a will or by a family member. These don’t just include books the owner wrote, but books that were relevant to their research. Even if you don’t donate your book, someone else probably will! Of course, libraries in your area with a robust genealogy collection will be very appreciative if you kindly send a copy to them. Get in touch with the library before doing so.
There are several things you can do to help your friendly cataloger to make a high quality record for your book:
- Include a title page. A title page is where catalogers look first for information like a title and author. This should be in addition to the cover, but you may choose to make them identical.
- Make the title descriptive. Official subject headings are generally not very good at describing genealogies, so you can help people locate your book in a library catalog by including one or two of the most important surnames and/or places in your title or subtitle.
- Put publication information on the back of the title page. This is called the “imprint.” If you are self-publishing, list yourself as the publisher with your city and state as the location.
- You do not need to identify the printing company. Nor indicate the tools you used to prepare the material for print, such as a software program. No need to clutter up the page with this information, it’s not part of the catalog record.
- Please please please include a date. This is an essential component of a bibliographic record. It can distinguish between editions of books or books with the same title. Please include a publication date for your material!
- If you reprint or revise your work, state it. You can add this information with the imprint by giving this a new “edition” number. You should also include the date of initial publication along with the date of the new publication.
- Include page numbers, a table of contents, and an index. If possible, these are very helpful, not only to users, but can also assist with identifying subject headings. Catalogers also must include a physical description of the book in order to distinguish between books that appear similar on paper. Page numbers are part of that, and will save a lot of time counting!
- Choose a sturdy binding. This doesn’t necessarily affect cataloging, but I have seen too many genealogies in poor shape to leave it out of this list. Avoid 3-ring binders, plastic combs, and staple + tape bindings especially. Remember, you want this to hold up for decades of use! Many cheap at-home bindings on the market were not designed for longevity. Certainly hard cover binding will hold up best. If you don’t want to pay for a professionally bound book, I recommend a prong fastener and a sturdy pressboard cover. Those seem to have held up well in the library as long as quality paper is used and the binding is fastened tightly.
- Consider purchasing an ISBN. Research this option to decide if it is right for you. Although expensive, adding an ISBN improves consistency between bibliographic records by making it easier to locate and link to a high quality record. When I catalog a new book this is the first number I search to see if a record already exists. Outside of libraries, it can also make it easier for people to locate copies to purchase. If you plan on selling many copies of your book or donating many to libraries, this might be a worthwhile option.
- Apply for a Library of Congress Catalog Card Number (LCCN). Whether or not you purchase an ISBN, this is another way to improve the quality of catalog records. This is a unique number that catalogers can search for to find a bibliographic record that has already been created for your work. That will probably lead to a higher quality record overall. The program is free, but be sure to read the guidelines on the Library of Congress website. Look for the Preassigned Control Number program. (This is not the same as the Cataloging in Publication program, which has much more strict eligibility guidelines!)
Have you ever published a family history? Do you have other suggestions for future authors? Let me know in the comments!