Charles Ammi Cutter believed that cataloguing was an art, not a science. In the fourth edition of his Rules for a Dictionary Catalog (1904), published posthumously, he wrote:
‘The convenience of the public is always to be set before the ease of the cataloger. In most cases they coincide. A plain rule without exceptions is not only easy for us to carry out, but easy for the public to understand and work by. But strict consistency in a rule and uniformity in its application sometimes lead to practices which clash with the public’s habitual way of looking at things. When these habits are general and deeply rooted, it is unwise for the cataloger to ignore them, even if they demand a sacrifice of system and simplicity.’
Today, the clarity and common sense that Cutter brought to cataloguing and classification is menaced by technological determinism, idiosyncratic vocabularies, ill-conceived philosophies, and poorly-applied, questionable methodologies. My blog, Cutter’s Last Stand, argues for the continuing relevance of the great nineteenth-century cataloguing and classification theorists to contemporary practice.