“Gebetsanliegen” in the Catalog: a Metadata Mystery


Online catalogs make it possible to find specific materials from anywhere in the world— but what happens when an item doesn’t have its full title in its catalog metadata? (How would you find The Great Gatsby, if the title was just “The” in the catalog? You might try searching for terms like “Great” and “Gatsby,” but the book would probably not be in the search results, if it were mis-catalogued with an abbreviated title.)

Last week, a researcher asked if the Burke Library held something very specific: the Gebetsanliegen der Canton-Blinden-Mission from 1921-22. (The Burke Library provides access to the collections of the former Missionary Research Library, a large repository of mission-related documents, files, and correspondence; this seemed like something likely to be part of our Special Collections.)

I tried to find this item in the CLIO Catalog, with various combinations of the terms in the title — like Gebetsanliegen Canton Blinden Mission, plus various configurations of hyphens — but with no success. I wrote to the rest of the Burke staff asking if my colleagues could help. Myong Jin, Collections Assistant at the Burke, pointed out that she was able to find it by searching simply for the word “Gebetsanliegen” (German for “prayer requests.”)

There it was! But it had a surprisingly sparse catalog record:

Screenshot of the CLIO Catalog record for "Gebetsanliegen," 1921-22, indicating its location among the Burke UTS Periodicals
Screenshot of the CLIO Catalog record for “Gebetsanliegen,” 1921-22, indicating its location among the Burke UTS Periodicals. Item record at: https://clio.columbia.edu/catalog/5255647


The title was simply displayed as “Gebetsanliegen.” No author, no place of publication. The words “Canton Blinden Mission” weren’t in the catalog record at all. All it had was the years 1921-22. (Searching the catalog, with additional words like “Canton Blinden Mission” — not present in the metadata — wouldn’t turn up this record. That’s why we couldn’t find it before.) Staff contacted the researcher, who confirmed this was likely the item she needed for research. The Burke staff was able to provide access to low-resolution reference scans.


Cover of a 1922 issue of "Gebetsanliegen der Canton-Blinden-Mission" housed at the Burke Library. Item record at: https://clio.columbia.edu/catalog/5255647
Cover of a 1922 issue of “Gebetsanliegen der Canton-Blinden-Mission” housed at the Burke Library. Item record at: https://clio.columbia.edu/catalog/5255647


Best of all, we were able to pass along details from the researcher to the cataloging staff, so the record can be updated with additional details to reflect this item’s full title and publication information. We reflected on the fact that there are probably lots more records like this, buried in the catalog, just waiting for the right researcher to find them and point them out. -CB


4 thoughts on ““Gebetsanliegen” in the Catalog: a Metadata Mystery

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