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Diary of a bibliophile: Roger Holden on cataloguing the Institute Library

One day near the end of April last year I pulled ninety books from the shelves, arranged them on a Library trolley, and pushed the wobbly load through the doors of the Mary Wright Room. Thus began the cataloguing of the entire Library of the Institute of Psychoanalysis.

The first book to cross my desk was Stephen Aaron’s Stage Fright: Its Role in Acting. Once I worked out how to use my Moleskine journal as a paperweight to hold the pages open, I entered the publishing details and subject headings into the MARC (MAchine-Readable Cataloguing) record for the book.

In nine months, much progress has been made. The ninety books I am cataloguing today include Anthony Storr’s insights on Churchill’s recurrent bouts of depression and a small (but lovely) German-English dictionary of psychoanalysis by Alix Strachey. In a few weeks I will reshelve a work on destructiveness by Felicity de Zulueta, and the main collection will also have been catalogued.

Throughout the project, our mandate from the Library Committee has been to hone the library into a more precise research tool. To do this I have extracted from each book between three and five subject headings for which a reader may search. With somewhat less than six minutes to catalogue each book, this has required some quick reading - which, I must confess, has frequently led to bouts of self-diagnosis in a solitary room - but the result has been worth it. Currently, a search for ‘projective identification’ yields over 80 hits for titles covering topics as diverse as dissociation and aesthetics.

Another aspect of this process has been to create room for new titles, helping to make available the latest clinical thinking to analysts. Space in the Library is necessarily limited, so this has required culling items that were off-topic or in hopeless physical condition. The simple exercise of handling each book one by one has allowed us to do this. Since last spring, nearly twenty thousand books have passed through my hands, and this has made it possible, perhaps for the first time, to see what we really have in the Library.

And what do we have? Both more and less than the existing rudimentary catalogue at first indicated. Some books had been lost or stolen, yet their ghostly MARC records remained. Other books that actually did exist on our shelves had nevertheless not been catalogued, and so resources were effectively hidden from members. Much of my work has therefore involved the addition, cleaning-up, or removal of data.

Some books also appear to never have been read. Publishers’ review slips (addressed to the Institute at its former New Cavendish Street address) not infrequently flutter from crisp pages printed fifty years ago. In fact, the trolley has amassed an almost heartbreaking collection of these documents, which have an aesthetic charm in themselves, showing considerable care in their design and choice of heavy, watermarked paper.

Then there are the rediscovered treasures to protect. To open a book bequeathed by Ernest Jones and find the handwritten notes he made as a medical student inside, is an exciting experience for a lifelong bibliophile. At the moment we have put these tomes to one side. Some are being considered by the book dealers Bernard Quaritch for auction in order to raise funds for various Institute conservation and display projects, but the vast majority will be reintegrated in the main collection after being assessed for conservation purposes.

As a researcher and writer, I have been engaged in many fascinating projects. Libraries have been integral to this work, and so it is satisfying to give something back. Helping to organise the institutional storehouse of memories atop the Institute itself at 112A Shirland Road has been a career highlight. I therefore wish to thank the IOPA and its administrative team (with whom I have very much enjoyed working) for inviting me to join in their great work.

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