A (very) brief history of rare book cataloguing in Spain

 In the beginning there was…

With the creation of the Cuerpo Facultativo de Archiveros, Bibliotecarios y Arqueólogos [High Council of Civil Archivists, Librarians and Archeologists] in 1858, appeared as well the first serious regulatory attempts regarding printed books cataloguing. However, it was not until 1901 that the Instrucciones para la redacción de catálogos en las bibliotecas públicas del Estado [Instructions for the composition of catalogues in the public libraries], considered as the first cataloguing code, were published.

In the aforementioned instructions, only incunabula were considered as early printed books  —the usual practice in those times— and their treatment included elements which would be typical of early printed books cataloguing: a transcription of the title page (reproducing its typographical distribution), a reproduction of the beginning of the text and colophon, accuracy with the original when showing data regarding the imprint, bibliographical notes, font, number of lines or columns, signatures and types of gatherings, format or binding. These guidelines were in force with some changes until 1957.

17th century printed book available at the BNE OPAC and Biblioteca Digital Hispánica

16th century printed book available at the BNE OPAC and Biblioteca Digital Hispánica

In 1957, the Instrucciones para la catalogación de incunables [Instructions for cataloguing incunabula] were published, separating them from the rest of the books. In these instructions, description was divided into four parts: main bibliographical description (with heading, title and imprint), collation (with elements related to the physical description), description of the text and an indication of catalogues and inventories of the available copies. Since then, a new category was established —rare books, whose features were similar to incunabula.

However, it is in 1985, thanks to the Reglas de Catalogación [Cataloguing Rules], when a “publications printed before 1801” category was created and it was established that publications belonging to this category would be described following the same rules as the rest of the printed books, but with some rules being specific to early printed ones.

These innovations were related to a change in the international paradigm, the creation of the ISBD(A), at the same time as the emergence of studies related to Analytical Bibliography. In Spain, it was thanks to Professor Jaime Moll and his article “Problemas bibliográficos del libro en el Siglo de Oro” [“Book’s bibliographical problems during the Golden Age”] (Boletín de la Real Academia Española, 1979), which gave rise to a significant change in the bibliographical investigation and in early printed books cataloguing.


ISBD(A), the best possible choice

Logo BNEIn 1983, the Centro Nacional del Tesoro Documental y Bibliográfico [National Centre for the Documental and Bibliographic Treasure], dependent on the National Library, was in charge of the automatization of the Catálogo Colectivo del Patrimonio Bibliográfico Español [Bibliographical Heritage Joint Catalogue] —which had started to work in 1952— and the ISBD(A), published three years ago, was adopted for the printed books belonging to the hand press period.

The ISBD cataloguing standard had become the base of the cataloguing codes in numerous countries —among them, Spain—. In the 1999 edition of the Reglas de Catalogación, still in force, the ISBD(A) was already explicitly quoted for these type of publications. However, despite it was generally adopted, it was severely criticized —with criticism focusing on issues related to the recording of the order of the title page’s elements, the adequacy of the text’s punctuation with the one dictated by the ISBD, the complexity of the identification and transcription of some statements of responsibility , the relegation of important information which is part of the collation, such as signatures, to note area, or the excessive number of notes for describing all the elements which have no place in the bibliographic record itself.

Nevertheless, everybody agreed that it was a compromise solution, necessary to integrate early printed books’ records in the libraries’ general catalogues. They also accepted that it would always be essential to examine the copy in order to solve certain identification problems. Even though nowadays we can defend the same idea, this problem is solved in most of the cases thanks to digitization.

Although the solutions to the aforementioned problems were not always satisfactory, it has been the unanimously used rule in Spain so far. Against the criticisms, we should recall one of the reasons that were argued at that time: the ISBD(A)’s purpose is describing the early printed book in an automated environment, and it should not be confused with typobibliographical description, which is subjected to another type of requirements.

The revision of the ISBD led to the publication in 2007 of the Preliminary Consolidated Edition and in 2011 of the definitive Consolidated Edition, both of them being translated into Spanish in the same years. Despite the expectation that it generated, the truth is that, regarding early printed books, it has not been an important improvement or led to significant changes in Spanish rare books cataloguing policy.

The complexity of this kind of resource had already led to the adoption of certain cataloguing patterns depending on the different collections. Then, some of the changes which were new to other resources’ cataloguing were already being used in a systematic way in early printed books’ one —for instance, bigger flexibility when assigning the number of authors or collaborators within the statement of responsibility or as a part of added entries, or the number of works belonging to a list of contents. In this issues and in others, the cataloguer’s criterion and the work itself and its authors’ interest have always predominate, so numerical limitations being used with modern monographies have not been strictly put into practice.


17th century printed book available at the BNE OPAC and Biblioteca Digital Hispánica

17th century printed book available at the BNE OPAC and Biblioteca Digital Hispánica

RDA: a step forward?

Nowadays the Spanish librarians’ community, while cataloguing still according to ISBD and the Cataloguing Rules, is focused on considering a possible step forward into RDA. In this sense, the National Library of Spain —being aware that other libraries are waiting for a sound decision on this matter— is working on a comparative study between ISBD, RDA and the current Cataloguing Rules, taking into account a possible future change in the cataloguing model regarding general guidelines as well as different special materials —among them, early printed books and manuscripts—. This study, which is not yet finished, has already shown that there must be some changes which are needed in order to be adapted in a satisfactory way to older monographic resources —agreeing with other specialized international groups’ observations.

Outside the National Library of Spain, among the big Spanish patrimonial libraries, the Library of Catalonia, as well as the Complutense University of Madrid, the University of Barcelona and the University of Seville, have already stated that they will change to RDA in 2016. Other institutions keeping an important bibliographical heritage, such as the Royal Library and other university libraries, have not taken sides yet. The Bibliographical Heritage Joint Catalogue, which brings together an important part of the Spanish early printed books, is not either working on the issue. In consequence, for the time being there is no agreement about what will be the cataloguing model for early printed books in the future.

Adelaida Caro Martín & Pilar Egoscozabal Carrasco / Biblioteca Nacional de España


Cite this blog post
IFLA Rare Books & Special Collections Section (2016, January 10). A (very) brief history of rare book cataloguing in Spain. Rare & Special: News from the Rare Books and Special Collections Section of IFLA. Retrieved May 29, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/pvjx

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1 Response

  1. rc cars says:

    Interesting post that got me questioning things. Happy New Year!

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