Berwick Sayers on annotation 2

Berwick Sayers by Juliet K Pannett

The second and last part of Berwick Sayers masterly work  Annotation in Catalogues (1948). Sayers was, like Casanova, a prince among librarians and also a man with many other interests - he wrote poetry, music, fiction and a book on the black composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. He also wrote a travel book Over some Alpine Passes. Memories of 1908. His life was commemorated in a work published a year after his death The Sayers memorial volume : essays in librarianship in memory of William Charles Berwick (1961.) He also wrote much on librarianship, including some dryish titles like: Report on the hours, salaries, training, and conditions of service of assistants in British municipal libraries (1911.)

He wrote a comprehensive history of Croydon and his life was spent there, mostly at Croydon Library. Croydon is a large London outer suburb of some importance - one time residents include: Flower Fairies creator Cicely Mary Barker, singer Desmond Dekker, Raymond Chandler, Emily Blunt, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, A. Conan Doyle, Amy Winehouse, Kate Moss, Tracey Emin, D.H. Lawrence, Alfred Russell Wallace, Brit-pack artist Sam Taylor-Wood, Katie Melua, Kirstie MacColl, Roy Hodgson, billionaire Philip Green, Noel Fielding (Mighty Boosh) Victorian sexologist Havelock Ellis, Jeff Beck and Emile Zola.

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Berwick Sayers on Annotation I

A  pamphlet for librarians that is still relevant in the days of the web. People still need to know how to annotate information in catalogues. As Berwick Sayers says, annotation is elucidation - but he is down on the annotator who adds information needlessly. A real offender is a cataloguer who in noting the plot of a novel gives away the whole story.  Internet booksellers  break B-S's rules every day. For example, if the information is obviously there already do not annotate-- we do not need to know that Wood's British Trees is 'a handbook to trees growing in Great Britain' or Harrison's The Boys of Wynport College is a 'a schoolboy story.'

He also points out a fault of which many cataloguer is now guilty - giving irrelevant details about the author: for example, if a man writes a book on The Fertilisation of Soils it is of no consequence to the reader to know that "the author was Chancellor of the Exchequer." There are of course different rules for sellers; a librarian is not trying to get someone to buy the book. B-S's rules however apply to the world of Wikipedia where they are often broken - giving opinions, recommendations, irrelevance, shallow research and, conversely, faults that '..arise from too great a devotion to this work. The introduction into catalogues of fine writing or elaborate language is an abuse greatly to be deprecated.'

In the case of undesirable books B-S notes that drawing attention to them by 'danger notes' is self-defeating - "to say that a book is 'not written for girls' schools' must really be frightfully tantalising to any normally built schoolgirl."  To be continued with info on the life and writings of the great librarian-- a book on card indexes, mountaineering, songs, poems and a history of his borough Croydon..

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