The History of DONUM and the ANS Library Cataloging Systems

(1957) West wing of the library at the ANS headquarters building on Audubon Terrace. Image shows the west wing after the completion of the second stage of renovations, which included the covering of the skylight.

DONUM: Database ONumismatic Materials

The history of the ANS Library can be traced back through the history of the Society as a whole. From the first acquisition in 1858, the Library collection has grown exponentially into the important resource that it is today. In more than 150 years, the ANS Library has been through three major moves and been under the care of 21 head librarians. It is with the generous support of dedicated donors and the numismatic community as a whole that the ANS Library continues to thrive and offerimportant resources to those who have kept it alive.

The very name of the library comes from one such donor. On December 2, 2002, the ANS dedicated the new library (then located at 140 William Street) to the memory of Harry W. Bass, Jr., former President and Councilor of the ANS. At the time of the dedication, the library had completed a major project that was made possible by a donation from the Bass Foundation, namely, the digitization of the card catalog. This was just one of many important projects that he helped to fund, from rare book acquisitions to computerization to binding.

As the driving force behind the Society’s automation initiatives, Harry Bass helped to pave the way for future initiatives, which have continued to follow the same ambitious line of thought. The catalog DONUM was one such project, which has helped to facilitate searches and retrieval of items in the collections. In early 2010, a contest was held to name the new catalog, and DONUM was selected from among more than 60 entries, in large part because it embodied the free nature of the ANS library catalog (donum is Latin for “gift”). The short length of the word makes it easy to remember, and of course it also acts as an acronym for its purpose: the Database ONumismatic Materials.

DONUM was officially born on April 19, 2010, but it owes its success to the many different manifestations of the ANS library cataloging system over time. The history of this cataloging system can be traced back to a report from March 16, 1880, when ANS Librarian Richard Hoe Lawrence stressed the need for a catalog of the collections. Three years after this report was generated, the first catalog of books in the ANS collection was published in 1883 as a 31-page index. The first half of the 20th century saw the implementation of a card catalog with several updated published versions. In the latter half of the twentieth century, with the advent of the computer, card catalogs were gradually been replaced by the online public access catalog (OPAC). The card catalog of the ANS Library was largely converted to digital between the years 1997-1999. This was an important step towards making searching easier and more efficient but—perhaps more importantly—it also made access to the catalog available to anyone who had an internet connection.

Michael Bates digitizing the collection on the ANS’s first computer in the 1980s

The ANS Library’s online public-access catalog has been an important resource since its inception at the end of the 20th century. The catalog is an excellent resource not only for locating relevant works among the collections, but also for locating articles of interest among the library’s many periodicals and conference proceedings, a feature made possible by the continued practice of indexing (creating a separate record for each relevant article). However, advances in the ever-changing world of technology have made it possible to update our online catalog system to a more modern system with more accurate searching and browsing features. Moreover, the catalog allows search results to be sorted by author, title, or date, and changes now appear immediately (before there was at least a month’s delay before newly cataloged items appeared in the public catalog). Because the library contains books in a variety of languages, many with accents and characters not in the Latin alphabet, DONUM is more capable of accurately displaying these foreign characters, accents, and scripts. From the administrative side, library staff also greatly benefit from DONUM, as it makes it easy to follow standard and consistent library cataloging practices.