Article Summary for Lecture #6—Wajenberg

In “A Cataloguer’s View of Authorship” Arnold Wajenberg addresses problems associated with defining authorship within cataloguing systems and attempts to formulate a more appropriate working definition of the term as a classification heading. As the title implies, Wajenberg writes—somewhat hesitantly—from inside the cataloguing profession and, as such, he is “concerned, not with the existential universe, but only with the bibliographic universe.” His ideal definition of authorship, therefore, is one that emphasizes simplicity in function over widespread inclusivity. Wajenberg defines an author of a work simply as one “identified” as such within the work, or within a secondary source. This “definition by attribution,” asserts Wajenberg, helps resolve many ambiguities associated with traditional methods of assigning authorship. (24-25)

Wajenberg provides a discussion of earlier attempts to define the term “author,” pointing out limitations and inconsistencies associated with each. He begins with Cutter’s 1904 definition of an author as the person—or “bodies of men”— “who writes a book” (narrowly) or “is the cause of the book’s existence” (broadly) and notes that variations of this definition have made their way into every cataloguing code since. Writing in 1969, Lubetzky attempted to add clarity to the author classification by defining the term as “simply the person who produces a work.” But, according to Wajenberg, the term “produces” is itself ambiguous and, therefore, a cause of frustration among cataloguers. Wajenberg ascribes to the ideas of Michael Carpenter who, in his book Corporate Authorship, argues that issues related to “multiple and diffuse authorship” render futile attempts to connect an author(s) to the original production of a work. Translated, collaborative, and even computer-generated works confound efforts to link those works with the names that, according to Wajenberg, are “bibliographically significant.” (21-23)

It is due to these problems that Wajenberg suggests his revised definition of authorship. However, he is careful to note limitations of this definition, which, as one might guess, are centered on the matter of identification. While bibliographic objects generally reveal author information, there are often reasons to question the certainty of this information. If one defines authorship by attribution, then one has to attribute accurately. Wajenberg cites as examples the problem of correctly linking early works, such as the Homeric epics, with their true author(s), as well as the many incorrect attributions among English plays. These types of problems are not insurmountable, contends Wajenberg, but can be handled with a little effort and “a measure of scholarly ability.” Often cataloguers must explore secondary sources in order to gain insight into, and corroborate claims of, authorship surrounding a work. Himself a cataloguer, Wajenberg believes that this level of cataloguing activity should be expected among his peers. (24-26)

Personally, I find Wajenberg’s definition acceptable. While, at first glance, it appears overly simplistic, its real utility resides in the fact that it unburdens cataloguers of tasks associated with determining the various roles/activities of those involved with the creation of a work. Problems related to cases of multiple/diffuse authors, under application of this definition, are no longer a concern of the cataloguer. If a work attributes authorship to a person/entity, then the name of that person/entity should be assigned to the cataloguing record. And although, as Wajenberg admits, there are certainly cases where attribution will not be clear-cut, there are methods to be followed that can compensate for this. Overall, Wajenberg presents a simple but effective model for defining authorship within bibliographic records systems.

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