Catholic Pamphlets and the Catholic Portal: An evolution in librarianship

cover pageThis blog posting outlines, describes, and demonstrates how a set of Catholic pamphlets were digitized, indexed, and made accessible through the Catholic Portal. In the end it advocates an evolution in librarianship.

A few years ago, a fledgling Catholic pamphlets digitization process was embarked upon. [1] In summary, a number of different library departments were brought together, a workflow was discussed, timelines were constructed, and in the end approximately one third of the collection was digitized. The MARC records pointing to the physical manifestations of the pamphlets were enhanced with URLs pointing to their digital surrogates and made accessible through the library catalog. [2] These records were also denoted as being destined for the Catholic Portal by adding a value of CRRA to a local note. Consequently, each of the Catholic Pamphlet records also made their way to the Portal. [3]

Because the pamphlets have been digitized, and because the digitized versions of the pamphlets can be transformed into plain text files using optical character recognition, it is possible to provide enhanced services against this collection, namely, text mining services. Text mining is a digital humanities application rooted in the counting and tabulation of words. By counting and tabulating the words (and phrases) in one or more texts, it is possible to “read” the texts and gain a quick & dirty understanding of their content. Probably the oldest form of text mining is the concordance, and each of the digitized pamphlets in the Portal is associated with a concordance interface.

For example, the reader can search the Portal for something like “is the pope always right”, and the result ought to return a pointer to a pamphlet named Is the Pope always right? of papal infallibility. [4] Upon closer examination, the reader can download a PDF version of the pamphlet as well as use a concordance against it. [5, 6] Through the use of the concordance the reader can see that the words church, bill, charlie, father, and catholic are the most frequently used, and by searching the concordance for the phrase “pope is”, the reader gets a single sentence fragment in the result, “…ctrine does not declare that the Pope is the subject of divine inspiration by wh…” And upon further investigation, the reader can see this phrase is used about 80% of the way through the pamphlet.

The process of digitizing library materials is very much like the workflows of medieval scriptoriums, and the process is well understood. Description and access to digital versions of original materials is well-accommodated by the exploitation of MARC records. The next step for the profession to move beyond find & get and towards use & understand. Many people can find many things, with relative ease. The next step for librarianship is to provide services against the things readers find so they can more easily learn & comprehend. Save the time of the reader. The integration of the University of Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Libraries’s Catholic Pamphlets Collection into the Catholic Portal is one possible example of how this evolutionary process can be implemented.


[1] digitization process –

[2] library catalog –

[3] Catholic Portal –

[4] “Of Papal Infallibility” –

[5] PDF version –

[6] concordance interface –