Vignette: Alice Flowerdew, Robert Bloomfield, and VIAF #Fail

It is stunning to me that Alice Flowerdew does not have a record in VIAF.org, the Virtual International Authority File. I started searching for Flowerdew while spot-checking our person authority records completed by new student editors (they’re amazing!) at the University of Colorado Boulder. “Flowerdew (A)” appears on page 161 of the catalog and has 3 entries, lines 19-21:

  • Poems 1803
  • 2d Ed 1804
  • 3d Ed 1811

“Poems” is Stainforth’s abbreviation for Flowerdew’s full book title, Poems, on moral and religious subjects. The 1803 edition was published and printed in London by C. Stower and sold by sold by H.D. Symonds; Mrs. Gurney; E. Vidler, London; Hanwell and Parker, Oxford; and Bacon, Norwich. Stainforth also collected the 1804 and 1811 editions.

There are several digital editions of the book available in Google Books, HathiTrust, and the Internet Archive. There is even a TEI-encoded edition in the UC Davis British Women Romantic Poets Project, found here. We also have a Worldcat Record that tells us which libraries hold physical copies of the book. There are a few. (Oooh – Stanford has one, and that’s only 14 miles away!)

The Google Books edition is especially worth checking out as it *appears* that at one time it belonged to Robert Bloomfield! I could be completely wrong about that since all I have to work with is a Google Books scan. But look at the title page, which says “R Bloomfield” and “from [?] Author”. I would really like to see the original.

Screenshot 2017-11-17 15.51.26.png

Having worked on The Letters of Robert Bloomfield and His Circle as an encoder and editor, I did not recall seeing Flowerdew’s name associated with him in the letters. Yet I did find a poem today in The Remains of Robert Bloomfield (1824) that links Bloomfield and Flowerdew as well as their respective books. In the Appendix, there is a poem by T. Park, Esq., called “Impromptu” with an introductory note: “On seeing ‘Flowerdew’s Poems’ upon the same shelf with the ‘Farmer Boy’ at Bloomfield’s Cottage.” The short poem follows. (Every other line is indented, but WordPress doesn’t like that, so please imagine it.)

THOUGH scant be the poet’s domain,
Most ample, I know, is his mind;
The applauses of all he can gain,
His applauses to none are confined:
Hence even his book-stored retreat
This liberal thought seems to yield–
That the dew on the flower may be sweet,
Though it match not the bloom of a field. 

The poem recounts that the poet’s “domain” is “scant” — his small home and perhaps small impact on the world — yet, he uses this small space to applaud as much as he can. It implies, I think, that he gives Flowerdew’s Poems high praise by shelving it near his own volume, though “it match not” the excellence of The Farmer’s Boy. It could be that the volume scanned by Google Books is the same volume that was on Bloomfield’s shelf at the cottage, and that Bloomfield shelved his copy of The Farmer’s Boy, which was renowned, adjacent to or nearby Flowerdew’s Poems. But why is this interesting, besides being a neat archival find or hunch, since I could be wrong about the inscription.

To come full circle, I return to my surprise that Flowerdew doesn’t have a VIAF record. With several digital editions of her books available and entries in Hymnary.org, the Noncomformist Women Writers 1650-1850, for example, and mentions (though brief) in Romanticism and Women Poets (eds. Linkin and Behrendt) and Anna Laetitia Barbauld: Voice of the Enlightenment (William McCarthy), for example, she is far from unknown. Yet her person has lost its advantageous position on the shelf and in one of the most important repositories for library catalog data — VIAF.org — that determines person authority records, or catalog records used to prove the existence of authors. To have a record in VIAF, an author must be cataloged in a major library, like the Library of Congress, that would give them an Authority record.  VIAF gathers all the titles and names cataloged by this long list of contributing libraries and aggregates them so that they are searchable under “one roof” and you can discover entries for the same person or title in several different libraries at once because they are cataloged using the same system. In short, if you have a VIAF record, you exist in major library catalogs today. Flowerdew was also once cataloged by Francis Stainforth, owner of the largest private library of women’s writing collected in the nineteenth century, and shelved prominently by Bloomfield, but is no longer well recognized by our library cataloging system as a person, though her titles have been cataloged.

The ability for a title to achieve digital preservation and the person to be neglected is especially troublesome for underrepresented, understudied, and oppressed groups of authors including women.

UPDATE, as of November 2017

My co-editor, Deborah Hollis, and I invited our colleague Associate Professor Anna Ferris to join our project team. Anna is a metadata catalog librarian at CU Boulder. Best of all, she is certified by NACO, the Name Authority Cooperative Program, to submit Authority records to the Library of Congress and therefore to VIAF. Using our research and her own, Anna submitted Flowerdew’s record to LOC and VIAF in late November. The file was published in December. We will continue to collaborate with Anna to publish Authority records for Stainforth catalog authors who don’t yet have one.

Here is Flowerdew’s Name Authority file permalink:

http://id.loc.gov/authorities/names/no2017154400.

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