FCIL Newsletter, October 1995

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FCIL Newsletter / October 1995

Cataloging in a World of Changing Boundaries

by Aaron Wolfe Kuperman
Library of Congress

Countries change names, boundaries, and legal systems. Separate jurisdictions may unite, and unified jurisdictions can split. While such changes are rare in the United States, they are common when working with non-United States materials. To varying degrees, cataloging systems used by law libraries tolerably reflect such changes. Usually these tools work in ways that are acceptable to law librarians, though in the case of the evolving supernational, not-quite-yet a jurisdiction in Europe, the system isn't working well, and probably couldn't work well without the benefit of hindsight.

Descriptive Cataloging

Descriptive cataloging rules, largely codified in AACR2, focus on the work in hand. If the title page says it was issued by a specific named agency, that is usually the determinative factor from a descriptive cataloging perspective. Thus, changes in names of countries or agencies that are reflected in the published works get reflected in the descriptive portions of the cataloging records. The evolution of an agency or jurisdiction is usually reflected in the name authority records.

A descriptive cataloger will not usually attempt to distinguish between "Zimbabwe" or "Rhodesia" other than on the basis of what the book in hand says. Descriptive rules somewhat distinguish between a "jurisdiction" and a "corporate body." In oversimplified terms, a jurisdiction is a geographic area that issues laws, whereas a corporate body is a group of people that is capable of authorship.

From the perspective of the Library of Congress (as of the summer of 1995), the European Union is not a jurisdiction (yet). The Library of Congress is going to be very reluctant to recognize the European Union as the government of Europe before the Europeans (or at least the United States government) reach that conclusion.

Neither the European Union nor the European Communities are considered to be corporate bodies. From a descriptive cataloging perspective, so far, they are seen almost as amorphous collections of organizations and projects. Thus works by the European Union are entered under an organization that is part of the EU (e.g., the European Economic Community) or by specific bureaucracies (e.g., the European Parliament). The practical descriptive difference is that LC has a name heading for "European Parliament," rather than "European Union. Parliament."

The Maastricht Treaty is entered as "Treaty of European Union (1992)" rather than as an author-title heading under the name of the union. An interesting, and anachronistic analogy, is that LC enters the United States's Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation as works authored by the "United States" (even though those documents created the United States), rather than as international agreements of 13 sovereign states or as the work of the "Continental Congress." Presumably, if at some point the European Union evolves into a jurisdiction, the headings for the Maastricht Treaty will be anachronistically (but rationally) entered under European Union.

Subject Cataloging

Subject cataloging rules have a strict policy of entering countries under the current name. When a country changes its name, LC subject policy dictates changing all the records to the current form. A collection of statutes from Southern Rhodesia will have a descriptive heading based on the name when the book was published, but the subject heading will be "Zimbabwe." If boundary changes have been minor, and the change of name was not accompanied by more radical changes, this works out well, even if it sounds anachronistic.

Where there have been radical changes, however, problems can result. In some cases, LC has recognized some jurisdictions as being "extinct," so that one finds headings for the Byzantine Empire or the ancient Roman Empire. However, the Ottoman Empire is not distinguished from the modern republic of Turkey, the Austro-Hungarian Empire is Austria, and the medieval Venetian republic (a widespread empire) is not easily distinguished from the modern Italian city.

A book on the legal status of Jews in Jerusalem in the sixteenth century gets the same subject heading as a book on the legal status of Jews in modern Turkey (though the class and total array of headings will distinguish the books). Until recently, the (late) Soviet Union was not distinguished from Czarist Russia resulting in such headings as "Soviet Union -- Commerce -- Byzantine Empire" and "Soviet Union -- Kings and rulers." In part due to lobbying by catalogers (and others) working with materials from parts of the world with historically unstable boundaries, and in part since LC really hates to be ridiculous, there appears to be a growing trend to regard changed countries as creating new entities and treating the predecessor as being an extinct jurisdiction. Thus LC now distinguishes in subject treatment between Czarist Russia, the Soviet Union, and the contemporary Russian state.

Since the descriptive rules don't recognize (as of the summer of 1995) the "European Union" or the "European Communities" as either jurisdictions or corporate bodies, the subject catalogers have established them as topical (concept) rather than geographic headings, and have been using "European Union countries" or "European Economic Community countries" when a geographic heading or subdivision is needed. This posed few problems prior to 1992.

Under one theory, the EU replaced the EC, and therefore the headings for "European Union" (in various forms) should have replaced all the "European Economic Community" or "European Community" headings in the subject authority file. One problem with this theory is that the European Economic Community still exists and is still publishing (to a cataloger, the best evidence of continued existence). At this time, membership in the European Union requires membership in the European Economic Community.

The Library of Congress subject authority records tell catalogers to use "European Union countries" for works on such countries after 1992, and to use "European Economic Community countries" for works on 1958-1992. However, no instruction is given for works on one group of countries in a different time period (e.g., a book on the antitrust law of the EU countries in the nineteenth century), or what to do with a book on European Communities written after 1992. For a book on "community law" written in 1995, most law subject catalogers would probably use a "community" heading reflecting the author's usage, though most non-law catalogers would probably use a "union" heading for a book on the non-legal aspects of the EC today. If authors shift to using "union" rather than "title," this problem will become moot.

An added twist is what to do if a book is discussing the law of several EU countries, but the author doesn't say so explicitly. Many authors are limiting their books to the countries of the EU regardless of the subject. A comparative study of the law of murder in England, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, and Greece has nothing to do with EU law at this time (murder for hire not being governed by community law), but the selection of countries is irrational unless EU membership is considered. In many cases, the author chooses a list of countries to survey that is identical with the list of EU members. In such situations the rules are unclear whether to use "Europe" or the narrower term for the EU countries. A competing theory is that if the area of law is as yet unaffected by EU law, the heading "Europe" should be used regardless of the list of countries surveyed unless the book specifically says it is limited to EU countries.


Classification is a bit trickier. Changing online headings is increasingly easy, but reclassing a large number of books is prohibitive since it involves moving and relabeling the books. Once a schedule is made, it is in many ways fixed. A (fortunately rejected) draft of the "K" schedule from the mid-20th century would have arranged third-world countries by the colonial power (thus Vietnam, Senegal, and Algeria would have been together, while Nigeria, India, and Hong Kong would have been kept together). The Dewey Decimal schedules still reflect the world as it was in the late nineteenth century. The final "K" schedule arranges most countries by continent (whose boundaries are fixed -- unless we get a book on the law of Gondwanaland). For most countries subarrangement is alphabetical by English spelling (which is irrational but easy for most users and doesn't insult anyone). A cross reference can handle most changes (e.g., Southern Rhodesia, see Zimbabwe). Newly extinct jurisdictions (e.g., East Germany) and older extinct jurisdictions (e.g., The Republic of Venice) are no problem. Even the breakup of the Soviet Union wasn't too much of a problem.

Europe is a problem. As issued, KJC was for the comparative or uniform law of Europe, and a range of numbers in KJE was to be for the law of the European Communities. The original instructions for KJE said that works on "legislative cooperation ... and harmonization" of the law of members states went to KJE as well as supranational community law. The rule was probably easy to apply when the "community" was very limited in numbers of members and scope of activities.

Over time, KJE de facto grew to include works that were in any way studying or tied to the Community or Union. As the European Communities grew in importance, KJC might have shrunk to the point when it would only get books discussing non-EU members (e.g., in practice a cataloger looks for a reference to non-EU country, otherwise putting the book in KJE). Increasingly, all books on law of EU countries discuss the impact of the EU. In English (at least), "European law" now usually means EU law.

Another theory is that KJE should only get materials on areas governed by community law, so that a study of criminal law in EU countries should go to KJC, unless the book was clearly a study aimed at extending the reach of community law to the area studies. This latter theory would result in books on a subject (e.g., European law not preempted by community law) staying together (a goal of classification), but requires catalogers to know what is governed by community law. Also, it might not work in the long run since EU influence is increasing.

Perhaps the best analogy would be to the United States in the 1780s under the Articles of Confederation. Any librarian in 1785 trying to write a classification schedule for American law would have found it similarly frustrating. Past practice would dictate treating each state as independent, and "Congressional" law as a very limited, localized form of public international law. But the mood of the country (or rather of the thirteen member states) would suggest that the "United States" was rapidly evolving into a jurisdiction and "Virginia" law would soon merely be a subset of American law. Fortunately the Continental Congress did not aspire to own the world's leading library, though if they had commissioned a classification of law in 1785, based on LC's experience, it probably wouldn't have been finished before the Civil War, so the issue would have been moot (suggesting that for catalogers, patience is the prudent approach in times of political change).

[This is an expression of the author's opinion and not an expression of Library of Congress policy.]

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