by Marilyn L. Kercher
MC Journal: The Journal of Academic Media Librarianship, v1 no.1, Spring 1993:29-49.


Cataloging videotapes is interesting and fun, but because of some peculiarities of the format and of the videotape publishing industry, cataloging videotapes can also be labor-intensive and time-consuming. Playback equipment is necessary to view the chief source of cataloging information, the title screens. Vital bibliographic elements such as when the work was produced, and who or what is responsible for the creation of the work can be difficult to determine if playback equipment is not readily accessible. This paper investigates one solution to the problem of not having playback equipment available in a cataloging department.


The Ohio State University Libraries (OSUL) consist of 23 physically separate location libraries on the main campus in Columbus, Ohio. The Cataloging Dept. is centralized in one location, the Main Library. The equipment needed to view videotapes is in other library locations far from the Cataloging Dept. To solve the problem of viewing videotapess for cataloging data, one suggestion was to have the staff at the site of the locations which housed the videotape collections, and who had access to VCR's, become responsible for gathering the bibliographic data. This data could then be communicated to the Cataloging Dept. so that catalog records could be constructed. The number of staff available at these sites varies from location to location. Realistically, it seemed unlikely that the librarian in charge would have time to gather bibliographic information for videotapes. In some locations, it might also be difficult for the paraprofessional staff to have the time to view videotapes. That left the most plentiful source of labor in the libraries, student assistants.

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The employment of student workers in American college and university libraries has been widespread since the 19th century. How students are used in libraries, however, has varied. At one level students may be regarded only as expediters of library processes, while at another level students may be "selected, trained, supervised, and evaluated according to an organized program that purports to develop student potential in library work" (White 1985, 93- 97). Over the years, and under varying budgetary and staffing conditions, each institution has had to define how students can be used most effectively in the processing of materials in technical services.

Many students at OSUL begin working in the libraries in their freshman year and may stay until completion of one or more academic degrees. As a result of their working at OSUL over the course of several years, some students become quite skilled and knowledgeable about library tasks and procedures. OSUL has trained students to process and input catalog records for theses, to edit and input records for certain kinds of foreign language materials, and to help with authority work in the online headings maintenance section. It seemed reasonable to explore the possibility of training students to gather bibliographic data for videotapes.


Gathering bibliographic data from videotapes, however, is not as straightforward as photocopying the title page, a preface, and a table of contents. Even experienced catalogers can find their first attempts at cataloging videotapes to be disconcertingly complicated. What are the problems in gathering bibliographic data for cataloging videotapes that needed to be considered?

There are cataloging problems unique to audiovisual materials which require thought and attention. Unlike

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monographic printed materials, there may be multiple sources of bibliographic and content data for a videotapes, e.g., the title screens, the label, the packaging, and accompanying textual material.

AACR2 lists the chief source of information for videotapes as the title frames, followed by the container when it is an integral part of the piece (i.e., the cassette). "If the information is not available from the chief source, take it from the following sources (in this order of preference): accompanying textual material..., [the] container (if not an integral part of the piece), [and] other sources" (AACR2 1988 rev., 183) While external sources, such as accompanying textual material and a physically separate container, can also serve as a chief source, AACR2 mandates that this occur only if information is not available from the chief source itself. "Not available" means that the information does not exist on the chief source, not that access to the chief source is inconvenient because playback equipment is outside the cataloging agency (Frost 1989, 108).

Multiple sources of bibliographic data for videotapes often contain different information for the same element of description (Intner 1987, 130). That the chief source of information is the title frames, reflects an effort to avoid conflicting data that result from the publishing practices of commercially produced videotapes. The packaging materialsand the labels double as marketing devices on which titles may vary and lists of participants may be expanded or deleted according to the whims of the distributor or the artist responsible for the design of the packaging. Dates on the box may reflect when the artwork was done rather than when the work was published or created. Therefore, choosing the title frames of videotapes as the chief source of information of data to be used in the bibliographic description is meant to reduce the confusion associated with determining valid data elements, but it doesn't solve all the problems.

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Many works on videotape are a collaborative effort and present complex statements of responsibility. Vidotapes containing movies, in particular, often display a list of interrelated and subsidiary production and distribution companies. From the title screens of one movie on a videotape (Olson 1991, 31):