Hello! I’m Barb Scoby from the Cataloging Maintenance Center and the Illinois Heartland Library System Edwardsville hub. I have worked for IHLS for a little over a year, and during this time, many interesting items have come across my desk. From a die-cast model of a car honoring Ronald Reagan to a rubber stamper attached to a block of wood, the items I receive are unique. So, what happens when I encounter an item that is unknown to me or when the details about the item are not immediately apparent? I put on my detective hat and search for clues, of course.
First, I contact the library that sent the item. Unfortunately, most of the mystery items I catalog are donations to the library, and the library staff have very little information to give me.
My next step is to take a picture of the item and do an image search online. This can be helpful in figuring out what an item or its function is, but it doesn’t always help in the discovery of specific information, such as dates and creators.
This is the point where I turn to the wisdom of the crowd. I show friends, family members, co-workers, and some random people pictures of the item and ask if they know anything about it. One of my friends is an artist and also has experience appraising tableware. Her knowledge has been most helpful in my searches.
Thanks to these tools, resources, and techniques, I've cracked the case on many mystery items. Here are a few that I've been able to uncover:
- Dixon Public Library spoons. Two sterling silver spoons with the Dixon Public Library building etched into the bowl, but no other information was present. My friend was able to decipher the maker’s mark on one of the spoons and give approximate dates of manufacture between 1901 and 1923. Additional searching on my part uncovered that souvenir spoons were a popular gift between the 1850s and 1920s.
- A rectangular thick sheet of paper with a raised image of the Dixon Public Library. I wasn’t sure if this was an art piece that would be hung on the wall or if it was a template. Thanks again to my friend; I learned that this was an art piece that was created through the process of embossing.
- A piece of orange cardboard with two identical images placed side by side. An image search found a picture of the exact item I had in my hand. It turns out that the item is called a stereoview card or stereograph card and shows a three-dimensional image when viewed through a stereoscope.
Does your library need help cataloging mystery items like these? My colleagues at the Cataloging Maintenance Center and I are ready to investigate. I invite you to send me a new mystery item, so I can put on my detective hat once again.
The Cataloging Maintenance Center (CMC) provides statewide cataloging support for Illinois libraries, including free original and copy cataloging of eligible special collections, consultation on metadata projects, database cleanup for LLSAPs, cataloging training, and more. Funding for the CMC is provided through the Illinois State Library and the Secretary of State and administered by Illinois Heartland Library System. Learn more about the CMC at www.illinoisheartland.org/cmc.