Challenges cataloguing the John Ryan Comic Collection

Challenges cataloguing the John Ryan Comic Collection
Sharpen those brain cells
20 January 2016

Those of you familiar with my previous blog posts know how much fun I’ve been having working on the John Ryan Comic Collection. What probably isn’t as apparent, is just how challenging it can be at times. Let me walk you through my two most memorable challenges thus far.

Just last week I catalogued Osiris, a science fiction fanzine edited by Del and Dennis Stocks. Looking at the shelf list, I saw there were 20 volumes. I thought all I’d have to do was catalogue the title using the earliest issue to hand, which is what we do for serials/magazines, then add all the issue numbers into the holdings. I was about to find out it wasn’t going to be that simple.

John Ryan Comic Collection shelf list

Excerpt from the John Ryan Comic Collection shelf list  1984, National Library of Australia 

I suspected it wasn’t going to be so straight forward when I went to put the issues in order, and found that two of the issues had “Mk. 2” on the cover, indicating to me that I was likely dealing with two series, even though it had only been entered as one on the shelf list. As the majority of the fanzines I deal with have ceased publication, I like to put the issues I have in hand, in order, and check online to see if I can find when they began and ended (their “life dates” in cataloguer-speak), before I set about upgrading or creating the catalogue record.

Cover of Osiris II

Cover of Osiris II, MS 6514, Box 46, Item 1014, Mk. 2, no. 4, whole no. 14, 6979819

I searched the Library’s catalogue to see if we might already have a record for other copies of this title that had previously been received via Legal Deposit with no luck. We definitely didn’t hold any issues in our general collections. I then searched the Libraries Australia database which covers the holdings of Australian, American, British and New Zealand libraries. I found a minimal level record in WorldCat (USA), which didn’t tell me anything helpful about the suspected two series problem, but I imported it into the Library's catalogue so I could upgrade it once I had tracked down the answer.

Minimal level record for Osiris

Minimal level record from Libraries Australia for Osiris

Fancyclopedia 3 is a wonderful online resources I use to assist me catalogue the John Ryan Comic Collection. While it did confirm that Osiris was a fanzine edited by Del and Dennis Stocks, it didn’t elaborate any further or mention a second series. The only place I found confirmation that Osiris existed in two series, was The Wright Collections’ work in progress list.

Having exhausted all online avenues, I then went back to the issues themselves, and started reading them. Much to my relief, I found a page in Mk. 2, no. 2, whole no. 12 telling me almost all I needed to know. Two series did indeed exist! Now I could get back to putting the issues in series order then number order, without having to second guess myself as to whether what I was doing was correct.

Excerpt from Osiris II

Excerpt from Osiris II, MS 6514, Box 46, Item 1014, Mk. 2, no. 2, whole no. 12, 6979819

The first series consisted of issues 1–10. The second series started with Mk. 2, no. 1, whole no. 11, therefore continuing the general numbering of the first series. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find an end date. Knowing what I now knew, it was easy putting series one into order. Series two wasn’t as easy to sort out due to lack of numbering on some issues. Using the numbered issues as a base, I then looked at the unnumbered issues in front of me.

I eventually identified issue 11 by its pagination:

Numbering of Osiris II

Excerpt from Osiris II, MS6514, Box 46, Item 1014, Mk. 2, no. 2, whole no. 11, 6979819

I used the postmarks on the backs of whole numbers 15, 18 and a special issue on Immanuel Velikovsky, to put them in chronological order. Thank goodness for Australia Post.

Postmarks

Postmarks on unnumbered issues of Osiris II

And I identified number eight from the first series, when I noticed the back page didn’t match the rest of the publication, and found it actually belonged to Mk. 2, no. 3, whole no. 13 and had been incorrectly attached to number eight (perhaps John Ryan’s little joke to test the investigative skills of a future cataloguer?).

Now for the cataloguing. Starting with the first series, I gave the minimal level record a massive overhaul. The fields I upgraded were title, publication details and description. The fields I added were:

  • an Australian authentication code and a special index term to indicate that the title was published in Australia

  • a Dewey Decimal classification number

  • serial life dates

  • subject headings

  • a genre heading to show the type of publication it is—in this case a fan magazine, as distinct from the particular subject it is about

  • entries for the names of both editors

  • an entry for the organisation associated with the publication

  • and an “institution specific” series heading showing that it was part of the Library’s John Ryan collection.

I also upgraded the record to conform with the specifications of our latest cataloguing standard, Resource Description and Access.

I also added a note explaining that after number ten, Osiris merged with Mithril to become Osiris II, and then I added a succeeding title field to link the two catalogue records together.

Full level record from Libraries Australia for Osiris

Full level record from Libraries Australia for Osiris

The record for the second series of Osiris I catalogued from scratch, as no other library had catalogued it to date. It differed from the record of the first series by its title, publication details and serial life dates. The Brisbane Fantasy and Science Fiction Association was no longer involved resulting in numbering peculiarities and two preceding title entries.

Full level record from Libraries Australa for Osiris II

Full level record from Libraries Australia for Osiris II

As I had catalogued Mithril last year, and there had been no mention of it merging with Osiris to become Osiris II, I added in the relevant history note and linking title entries. I also called up the general copies we hold in the stacks, to take another look at them and see what extra information I could garner from them. I’m so glad I did this, as in the editorial of number one, I found that Mithril began life as Miscellaneous Intelligence, so in went another linking title entry and a tweak of the history note.

Mithril cover

Mithril, MS 6514, Box 45, Item 962, No. 1, May 1972, 1813344

Reading over this now, it all seemed pretty straight forward, but in reality, the whole process took hours of intense uninterrupted concentration and culminated in a visit to the National Library’s Paperplate cafe for an extra-large black tea and the biggest piece of cake I could find. (Warning: cataloguing can make you fat!)

My other memorable challenge concerned Michael Jolly’s fanzine. It was nowhere near as intense as my Osiris challenge, but it still involved extra effort.

At first glance, all I had to identify it, was by its caption title. There were no dates or other publication features. While cataloguing rules do allow for this type of occurrence, I only allow myself to use this as a last resort, eg. [Place of publication not identified] : [publisher not identified], [19--?].

MJFZ Excerpt

Excerpt from Michael Jolly's fanzine, MS 6514, Box 44, Item 955, No. 2, 6971788

I did my usual searches, but no other library had attempted to catalogue it, nor could I find any information online. So I read it. In the middle of a paragraph on page four, I found Michael’s address, and then further on, he spoke about the recent (at the time) passing of Brian Jones from The Rolling Stones, which put the date of publication at 1969.

Excerpt from MJFZ

Excerpt from Michael Jolly's fanzine, MS 6514, Box 44, Item 955, No. 2, 6971788

I’ve been working with the John Ryan Comic Collection since June 2014—I’ve become used to how particular publications are formatted. Knowing Michael Jolly was Australian, I began to suspect that his fanzine could be a contribution to Australian and New Zealand Amateur Press Association (ANZAPA), which was a compilation of short stories, zines and other articles submitted by various authors, especially as it contained a few pages of mailing comments, yet no mention of the publication. I got my ANZAPA index out, looked Michael Jolly up, and there he was! At the time the index was published, Michael had contributed two Michael Jolly’s fanzines to ANZAPA. The first was published in ANZAPA six, and the second in ANZAPA seven. I checked our holdings of these particular issues, and found that they were indeed published in 1969. If I had catalogued this item at the beginning of my time with the John Ryan Comic Collection, I never would have recognised and made this ANZAPA connection.

ANZAPA index excerpt

Excerpt from ANZAPA 64 : The Australian and New Zealand Amateur Publishing Association: tenth anniversary mailing, October 1978 (N 052 AUS)

My resulting catalogue record for Michael Jolley’s fanzine ended up looking like this:

Full level record from Libraries Australia for Michael Jolly's fanzine

Full level record from Libraries Australia for Michael Jolly's fanzine

I’ve been a cataloguer for 19 years (ten of those have been spent at the National Library of Australia). I really enjoy a cataloguing challenge, so I find my work with the John Ryan Comic Collection extremely rewarding. There’s nothing like hunting down answers, following through suspicions, and eventually coming across the solution—it can be really exciting after having put in so much effort.

I always have accessibility in mind while cataloguing, which is why I go the extra mile to get answers so as to be able to create the most useful catalogue record possible. I hope my work helps a future researcher or fan discover material they have been searching for, that hasn’t been previously accessible.

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Hi Alison - I'm John Ryan's daughter so as you would imagine, I was delighted to read this blog post. My Dad was highly organised and very meticulous so he would be thrilled to know that the NLA is undertaking such painstaking management of his collection. From time to time as I sort through papers at home I still come across some stray correspondence between my Dad and other comic artists and collectors from across the world. Just yesterday I opened a book by Vane Lindsay and tucked inside was a illustrated dedication to my Dad. Though it is some years since my Dad passed and I was too young to be involved in the dispersal of his collection, I'm the best contact for the family if you ever wish to do so. Best email address (that I'm prepared to publish on this blog at least) is fiona at tiffinbitesized dot com dot au. Thanks again for all of your hard work!
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It’s wonderful to hear from you, Fiona! It means a lot to me that you, your Mum, friends and admirers of your Dad are appreciative of the effort I’ve been putting into cataloguing his comic collection. I loved hearing you describe him as a highly organised and meticulous man, as that’s exactly how I am when it comes to cataloguing his collection. Access to the John Ryan Comic Collection is so important, especially when a lot of the titles are so rare (not to mention cool and interesting!) Thank you very much for your kind words.
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I have really appreciated this little blog that links people regarding cataloging the John Ryan collection and Australian comics in general. It links the people and family and passions behind the scenes. It also encourages me to consider donating material and early comics. Alison it is likely that you have been accessing the resource of James Zanotto and http://ausreprints.net This has been a rare and valuable visual resource too and would love both this site and John's collection to join forces to bridge the various gaps.
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Thanks very much for your appreciative comment Bigfoot. I am delighted that you've enjoyed my blog posts, and I share your passion about the importance of this material and its creators. I have definitely found James Zanotto's site very helpful in my cataloguing. It is a wonderful resource. The Library would certainly be very happy for James to add links to our catalogue records from his site to provide some further information about the titles. For example, you can link to all of the records in the John Ryan collection at http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Search/Home?lookfor=%22john+ryan+comic+collection%22&type=all&limit[]=&submit=Find . You can also link to the catalogue records for particular comic or zine titles (and we have many more than just those in the Ryan collection), by searching the Library's catalogue for a title, and then using the "Cite this" link at the top of the record to get the catalogue persistent identifier URL. For example, if you search for the title "Kokey Koala and his magic button" the Cite this link provided is http://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn90191.
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