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Subject: Seymour Lubetzky, Librarian

Los Angeles
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Date Posted: April 13, 2003 1:47:37 EDT

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.

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