17 February 2015

the curator and the cataloger

Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, painted by Rembrandt, and one of the great Dutch paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Walter Liedtke, Curator of European Paintings, was tragically killed in the Metro North commuter train accident in early February. My good friend, Daniel Starr, Associate Chief Librarian at the Watson Library at the Met, wrote the following tribute to Liedtke, which I post here with his permission. The tribute was sent on February 5 to the list of the Art Libraries Society of North America.


Last fall I received one of those e-mails catalogers hate to get:

“I see that when one searches Watsonline keyword ‘ter Brugghen,’ you get some recent lit, but not (anywhere in the list) the classic monograph by Nicolson. However, if you go with the Anglicized ‘Terbrugghen,’ you get his book and some of the other key works on the artist drop out. The results should be the same using either form. This would apply also to ‘ter Borch,’ etc. Thanks!”

Over the years I’ve learned that it pays to be flexible about cataloging whenever possible since it usually doesn’t pay to get into long discussions about rules with the unilluminated. So I was willing to make some changes, especially since this message came from Walter Liedtke, our distinguished colleague, who died so tragically in the MTA crash Tuesday.  I added some keywords to our records to address his concern. It was easy to do and didn’t break any rules. Since it was Walter I thought I’d go one step further and explain what was happening:

“I have adjusted our cataloging records to make the improvements you suggest. A keyword search for ‘ter Brugghen’ will now include the Nicolson book (http://tinyurl.com/mlthewj) as well as some of the other titles that were missing. Because Nicolson used the form ‘Terbrugghen’ in his title there is no way for me to make this work appear earlier in the results than number 15 since the ranking is by an algorithm I can’t control.

If you’d like the technical explanation for why the problem arose it is because American libraries use ‘Terbrugghen, Hendrik, 1588?-1629’ as the preferred form of his name based on Princeton’s formulation of the heading in the National Authority File. The different forms matter less in a subject search because all variations will be brought together under the preferred form: http://tinyurl.com/lvj9el7. If someone searches the subject ‘ter Brugghen’ they will be directed to a hyperlink that takes them to the ‘Terbrugghen’ form of the name: http://tinyurl.com/nfsxmw2. Thank you for making these suggestions. It is gratifying to know scholars still use Watsonline and care about these things.”

I never thought I’d get a response, but one arrived quickly:

“[T]hanks so much for this full explanation. I wonder what the ‘National Authority File’ does with Van Dyck. As you'll see in my Dutch and Flemish catalogues, and any scholarly American publication of the past 30 years or so, these artists are all alphabetized as in Europe, so Borch, Dyck, Gogh, Goyen, et al. Anyway, the important thing is that the search reveals what we have. “

This exchange was going much better than I thought possible. Maybe I should have stopped here but I went on:

“When Princeton decided to use ‘Terbrugghen’ instead of ‘Ter Brugghen’ in 1988 they based their decision on how the name appeared in two general Dutch languages encyclopedias in spite of the fact that the book on Dutch painting they were cataloging used the latter form:

1.      Holländische Malerei in neuem Licht, 1986: t.p. (Hendrick ter Brugghen) p. 65 (Hendrick Jansz ter Brugghen, Den Haag (?) 1588-1629 Utrecht)
2.      Grote Winkler Prins, 1974: v. 18, p. 348 (Terbrugghen, Hendrik, 1588 (?)-Nov. 9, 1629)
3.      E.N.S.I.E.: v. 10, p. 1160 (Terbrugghen, Hendrik (1587/1588-1629), Ned. schilder)

Rest assured that whenever the prefix (van, ter, van der etc.) is written separately for a Dutch name the artist is alphabetized by the form following the prefix and there is a reference from one form to the other--except for Van Dyck. Because he died in London the Library of Congress consulted English language sources and decided he was ‘Van Dyck, Anthony’ not ‘Dyck, Anthonie van’ just the way they would treat the American name ‘Van Buren, Martin.’

These are some of the compromises we have to live with because we are part of a national network of libraries.”

Walter’s response showed what a good teacher he was: he always had something useful and interesting to add.

“Actually it's worse overseas. Today Flemish names use the prefix and when compound run it together, so that my colleague in Brussels is (in a bibliography) Vander Auwera, Joost, not Auwera, Joost van der. This is perhaps one of the diseases they caught from the Spanish. Ter, by the way, is a contraction of ‘te der,’ meaning ‘at the.’ Henrick ter Brugghen = Henry at the Bridges.”

We will miss him.


Daniel Starr
Associate Chief Librarian
Thomas J. Watson Library
The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Watsonline is the online catalog of the Met. Sometimes we wish that our authority records interacted seamlessly with our bibliographic records, that is, gave a combined result of "ter brugghen" and "terbrugghen." On the other hand, some argue that it is better to let the catalog user know what is happening, as here you are notified that "Ter Brugghen" will be found under "Terbrugghen."