NYTimes.com Article: Seymour Lubetzky, Librarian, Dies at 104
- Subject: [cg] NYTimes.com Article: Seymour Lubetzky, Librarian, Dies at 104
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- Date: Sun, 13 Apr 2003 22:03:08 -0400 (EDT)
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All researchers and workers, in either hard copy or through the Internet owe a great debt to the work of Seymour Lubetsky, who died at the age of 104 last week.
While the Times article doesn't connect his work to the Internet, his organizing work was seminal to our work on it as well.
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Seymour Lubetzky, Librarian, Dies at 104
April 13, 2003
By WOLFGANG SAXON
Seymour Lubetzky, who helped librarians channel the rising
tide of information with his ingenious transformation of
cataloging, died last Saturday in Los Angeles. He was 104.
Mr. Lubetzky worked for years at the Library of Congress,
where he started in the 1940's sorting out an overwhelming
backlog of books waiting to be entered into the library's
soaring inventory. In the 1960's he taught at the
University of California at Los Angeles, where he retired
in 1969 as a professor at the School of Library Service.
The Dewey Decimal Classification assigns numbers to books
to organize them on library shelves. But Mr. Lubetzky's
theories went beyond the numbers to provide descriptive
rules for identifying a book and condensing its nature into
a meaningful but concise catalog entry in a place where a
user might look for it.
"Classifying is one thing," said Elaine Svenonius, emeritus
professor of information studies at U.C.L.A. and co-editor
of a book on Mr. Lubetzky. "Describing a book for a catalog
is quite another."
Fluent in six languages, Mr. Lubetzky continued his work
after retirement as a consultant in the United States and
His contributions were crystallized in two books currently
in print, "Seymour Lubetzky: Writings on the Classical Art
of Cataloging," edited by Dr. Svenonius and Dorothy McGarry
(Libraries Unlimited, 2001); and "Future of Cataloging: The
Lubetzky Symposium, April 18, 1998; University of
California, Los Angeles" (American Library Association,
He was born Shmaryahu Lubetzky in Zelva, a village in what
is now Belarus, and taught in a private Hebrew school
system before coming to the United States in 1927. In 1932
he received a master's degree in German at the University
of California at Berkeley, where he also studied at the
library school, and became a cataloger at U.C.L.A.
He drew attention writing about prevailing library
practices in Library Quarterly and making a presentation at
the 1939 annual meeting of the American Library
Association, where he laid out his ideas for improvement.
In 1943, the Library of Congress hired him for six months
to review its badly clogged system of recording newly
received publications, an appointment that soon became
Mr. Lubetzky faced an arcane system encrusted with
redundancies, inconsistencies and irrelevancies. He set out
to start over with what became the library's "Rules for
Descriptive Cataloging" of 1949.
He was the theorist of his profession, and his rules
introduced a system of organizing information, applicable
in libraries as well as in private offices or on the
Internet. His rules made changes as simple and logical for
users as having the heading for a book by a U.C.L.A.
department list the university's name directly rather than
starting with the institution's location, California, and
then getting to its name, Barbara Tillett of the Library of
Mr. Lubetzky followed the 1949 rules with his "Cataloging
Rules and Principles" of 1953, endorsed by the
International Conference on Cataloguing Principles of 1961
in Paris. With some exceptions, they remain the basis of
the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, the system in use in
most libraries today.
Mr. Lubetzky left the Library of Congress in 1960 to join
the new School of Library Service at U.C.L.A. In 1969 he
published his masterwork, "Principles of Cataloging," which
condensed his thoughts on the subject and became a staple
for library schools.
Last year, just before his 104th birthday, the American
Library Association awarded him an honorary lifetime
membership, its highest honor.
Mr. Lubetzky is survived by two sons, David, of Washington,
and Richard, of Los Angeles; and a grandson. His wife of 47
years, Beatrice Charnas Lubetzky, died in 1981.
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