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                              Lubetzky, Seymour, 1898-2003.

from UCLA Information

It is with great sorrow that we announce the passing of Seymour Lubetzky, the distinguished former professor and the donor responsible for the Lubetzky fellowship. Mr. Lubetzky died of heart failure on April 5, a few weeks short of his 105th birthday. Services will be held 2:00 p.m. Sunday April 13th, at Hillside Memorial Park Chapel, 6001 Centinella Ave., Los Angeles. Letters and cards of condolence can be sent to The Lubetzky Family, c/o David Lubetzky, 1250 H St. NW, Suite #901, Washington, D.C. 20005.

Seymour Lubetzky, Librarian, Dies at 104
New York Times, April 13, 2003

Seymour Lubetzky, who helped librarians channel the rising tide of information with his ingenious transformation of cataloging, died last Saturday in Los Angeles. He was 104.

Mr. Lubetzky worked for years at the Library of Congress, where he started in the 1940's sorting out an overwhelming backlog of books waiting to be entered into the library's soaring inventory. In the 1960's he taught at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he retired in 1969 as a professor at the School of Library Service.

The Dewey Decimal Classification assigns numbers to books to organize them on library shelves. But Mr. Lubetzky's theories went beyond the numbers to provide descriptive rules for identifying a book and condensing its nature into a meaningful but concise catalog entry in a place where a user might look for it.

"Classifying is one thing," said Elaine Svenonius, emeritus professor of information studies at U.C.L.A. and co-editor of a book on Mr. Lubetzky. "Describing a book for a catalog is quite another."

Fluent in six languages, Mr. Lubetzky continued his work after retirement as a consultant in the United States and overseas.

His contributions were crystallized in two books currently in print, "Seymour Lubetzky: Writings on the Classical Art of Cataloging," edited by Dr. Svenonius and Dorothy McGarry (Libraries Unlimited, 2001); and "Future of Cataloging: The Lubetzky Symposium, April 18, 1998; University of California, Los Angeles" (American Library Association, 2000).

He was born Shmaryahu Lubetzky in Zelva, a village in what is now Belarus, and taught in a private Hebrew school system before coming to the United States in 1927. In 1932 he received a master's degree in German at the University of California at Berkeley, where he also studied at the library school, and became a cataloger at U.C.L.A.

He drew attention writing about prevailing library practices in Library Quarterly and making a presentation at the 1939 annual meeting of the American Library Association, where he laid out his ideas for improvement. In 1943, the Library of Congress hired him for six months to review its badly clogged system of recording newly received publications, an appointment that soon became permanent.

Mr. Lubetzky faced an arcane system encrusted with redundancies, inconsistencies and irrelevancies. He set out to start over with what became the library's "Rules for Descriptive Cataloging" of 1949.

He was the theorist of his profession, and his rules introduced a system of organizing information, applicable in libraries as well as in private offices or on the Internet. His rules made changes as simple and logical for users as having the heading for a book by a U.C.L.A. department list the university's name directly rather than starting with the institution's location, California, and then getting to its name, Barbara Tillett of the Library of Congress explained.

Mr. Lubetzky followed the 1949 rules with his "Cataloging Rules and Principles" of 1953, endorsed by the International Conference on Cataloguing Principles of 1961 in Paris. With some exceptions, they remain the basis of the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, the system in use in most libraries today.

Mr. Lubetzky left the Library of Congress in 1960 to join the new School of Library Service at U.C.L.A. In 1969 he published his masterwork, "Principles of Cataloging," which condensed his thoughts on the subject and became a staple for library schools.

Last year, just before his 104th birthday, the American Library Association awarded him an honorary lifetime membership, its highest honor.

Mr. Lubetzky is survived by two sons, David, of Washington, and Richard, of Los Angeles; and a grandson. His wife of 47 years, Beatrice Charnas Lubetzky, died in 1981.


Lubetzkyan Principles in Nebraska

Seymour Lubetzky has been called "one of the most important and beloved thinkers in cataloging theory of the century," (1) and "the finest mind of the twentieth century devoted to the discipline of cataloging," (2). He was born in 1898 in Zelwa, Belarus, became a teacher, immigrated to the United States, and received degrees from UCLA and Berkeley. He was a teacher at UCLA for much of his career, and is still alive now, in 2002. Two of his best-known works, Cataloging Rules and Principles and Code of Cataloging Rules, (3 & 4) are still providing insights into the future of cataloging in the beginning of the twenty-first century. In Nebraska, as we are a relatively small group of catalogers involved in holding the flame of our profession in a large and non-populous state, we should be inspired by and take advantage of Lubetzky’s sometimes revolutionary writings. His principles can be greatly useful even and especially when we take first steps in cataloging electronic resources, for example. Some of the most edifying and deeply satisfying activities that Nebraska catalogers can engage in are in the thoughtful application of Lubetzky’s philosophical yet practical methods of cataloging. All catalogers ought to read his Cataloging Rules and Principles, for a refreshing breath of air from a rather higher plane of cataloging theory. Librarians need to remember though, that the region from which he speaks is accessible to everyone, and not just an ideal, impossible to be reached.

Unfortunately, as evidence that even though librarians have continued to try to implement Lubetzky’s enlightened teaching, but have not always succeeded, Michael Gorman, Dean of Library Services, California State University at Fresno recently argued that the Lubetzkyan principles that are at the heart of the Paris Principles were not fully implemented into the Anglo-American tradition until the publication of the Second Edition. (5)

The following elegant quote from Lubetzky gives a good feel for the intelligence behind his principles: "Whoever embarks on a study of the development of our cataloging rules, from their spectacular trial before a royal commission and their brilliant defense by Panizzi in 1849 to the appearance of the A.L.A. Cataloging Rules for Author and Title Entries in 1949, a round century later, cannot fail to be impressed with the broad knowledge, keen thinking, and fruitful imagination which the founders of the rules have brought to the profession of cataloging. At the same time, one could hardly view with equanimity the continuous proliferation of the rules, their growing complexity, and the obscurement of the objectives and design of the code as a whole. One is impelled to ask: Are all these rules necessary? Are all the complexities inevitable? Is there an underlying design which gives our code unity and purpose?" (6) Nebraska catalogers, in solidarity with Lubetzky, can truthfully say that these are the very kinds of questions we are still asking ourselves.

(1) Tschera Connell Harkness and Robert L. Maxwell, The Future of Cataloging: Insights From the Lubetzky Symposium (Chicago: American Library Association, 2000).

(2) Elaine Svenonius and Dorothy McGarry, eds., Seymour Lubetzky: Writings on the Classical Art of Cataloging (Littleton, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 2001).

(3) Seymour Lubetzky, Cataloging Rules and Principles: A Critique of the A.L.A. Rules for Entry and a Proposed Design for Their Revision (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1953).

(4) Seymour Lubetzky, Code of Cataloging Rules: Bibliographic Entry and Description: A Partial and Tentative Draft for a New Edition of Bibliographic Cataloging Rules, Prepared for the Catalog Code Revision Committee (Chicago: American Library Association, 1958).

Seymour Lubetzky, Code of Cataloging Rules: Author and Title Entry: An Unfinished Draft for a New Edition of Cataloging Rules, Prepared for the Catalog Code Revision Committee (Chicago: American Library Association, 1960).

(5) LC Cataloging Newsline, vol. 6, no. 6, May 1998.

(6) Lubetzky, Cataloging Rules and Principles, p.1.


Writings on the Classical Art of Cataloging
Compiled and Edited by

Elaine Svenonius and Dorothy McGarry

Every discipline is beholden to those who have advanced and revolutionized it. Seymour Lubetzky is the finest mind of the twentieth century devoted to the discipline of cataloging. Now, for the first time, his works are being published as a collection which includes. complete reproductions of Lubetzky's three most influential and monumental works, Cataloging Rules and Principles, Code of Cataloging Rules, and Principles of Cataloging, as well as periodical articles. This long?needed volume makes Lubetzky's writings accessible and provides a framework and reference for all students, practitioners and theoreticians of cataloging.

Seymour Lubetzky stands with Antonio Panes and Charles Cutter as one of the most significant influences in the field of cataloging. Born in 1898, Lubetzky devoted a century's worth of time to writing and teaching. He developed a rationalized approach to catalog code design, one that is even more relevant today as current cataloging principles are revisited and revised for a digital environment.

Containing nearly all of his works, this single volume spans "Professor" Lubetzky's 60 years of writing. The 25 selections are presented in their original form and in chronological order so that the development of Lubetzky*s thought can be followed from his first writings on cataloging problems in the late thirties and early forties to writings in the following decades that consolidate and reiterate his philosophical and methodological stances. Each of his works is preceded by an introduction from editors to establish its context and highlight its main points. The volume begins with a comprehensive introduction by the editors describing the major events and turning points in Lubetzky's career, and concludes with a complete bibliographic listing of Lubetzky's writings.

An absolute must for anyone involved in cataloging, this book will provide the theoretical frameworks and guidelines to organize material in print and digital form. Lubetzky's writings are the best source for understanding our present cataloging system and are invaluable to students and faculty of library and information science, cataloging professionals, and librarians. This volume is an excellent textbook and authoritative reference as it defines today's principles of cataloging and code design. Make this book part of your collection.

Elaine Svenonius is a Professor Emeritus, Department of Information Studies, UCLA. Dorothy McGarry is Emerita, UCLA Library, UCLA.

Publication Date: August 2001 ca.475p. 6x9 cloth

$67.50 ($81.00 outside North America)

ISBN 1-56308-932-7

To place an order, please contact Libraries Unlimited of (800) 237-6124. You may also send email to, or order online at Reviewers, please contact Debby Mattil at extension 209 or at For a copy of the book cover or Marketing materials, contact Kristina Sheppard, ext. 207,

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