Cataloging Blickling's book collection

Man sits on the top of a ladder reading a book
Published : 02 Mar 2015 Last update : 27 Apr 2017

Meet the man cataloging the biggest library collection in the National Trust, here at Blickling. As John Gandy runs his hand along the bookshelves in the Long Gallery, in readiness to pick the next volume in his mammoth task, he can only guess what to expect next.

As he discusses cataloguing the estimated 13,000 to 14,000 books which make up the National Trust's largest library, it is clear that some books are very different from others.  John has been creating the Blickling library catalogue for five years already. He expects the project to take another 8 to 13 years in total.
 

Tales of the unexpected

"You just don't know what to expect.  A straightforward, complete book in English might only take 30 minutes to catalogue.  At the other end of the scale might be a 14th century handwritten manuscript in Latin with no details of the author, title or date.  That's not uncommon - people who kept libraries knew what was in them, they wouldn't feel the need to include such information because they already knew it:  Something like that could take a couple of days."
 

Sharing our treasures

Cataloguing is not simply a case of gathering the book's title and who wrote it - there is a wealth of detail required in many cases such as pagination, type of paper, provenance, who has owned it and type and style of binding.  That detail will also go as far as considering what is NOT in the book, perhaps a page torn out or an engraving which is missing.  Those details end up on a couple of databases which are publicly available.  The idea, says John, is to "enable people researching particular subjects to find from afar any books in which they might have an interest".
 
But does John ever become bored by his seemingly endless job?
" Do doctors get bored of helping sick people; do accountants get bored of looking at numbers on a page? I find books fascinating as objects and this collection here at Blickling is absolutely magnificent, it is one of the finest country house libraries in existence."
- John Gandy | Librarian
While John spends much of the off­ season in a quiet, fairly chilly library getting on with the cataloguing for the vast majority of the time, when the season is in full swing he spends a great deal of his hours speaking to the public about the books and the history of the collection itself.  The vast majority of the collection originally belonged to one man, Lincolnshire scholar Sir Richard Ellys. bEllys lived from 1682 to 1742 and on his death left the collection to his cousin, the 1st Earl of Buckinghamshire, who lived at Blickling.
 
The results of John's work can be found at copac.ac.uk and nationaltrustcollections.org.uk.
 
Reproduced with the kind permission of Just Regional