The legendary “apple cake” record story


You can find links to thousands (maybe millions) of recipes using the WorldCat Cookbook Finder. And it’s the work of many, many catalogers over 50 years that makes that possible, of course. The metadata entered into WorldCat is what powers the Cookbook Finder and many other library services.

But can you find an actual recipe within those 394 million bibliographic records?

For one (or more?) brief times during OCLC’s history, yes you could.

And today? Well … read on to find out!

It all began in 1974 …

Details are vague. Memories are hazy. And while some may claim to be the first cataloger to create a WorldCat MARC record with the details of an apple cake recipe—and others may deny it!—there is no proof one way or the other. No one knows the motivation behind creating the record other than the sense of humor of the cataloging community.

What we do know is this. At some time in 1974, someone did just that. The record had this in the notes field:

505-field-apple-cakeAs you might imagine, some catalogers took exception to using metadata fields for actual information. Some argued that the record should remain; others that it would only invite additional shenanigans. Eventually, the record was removed … but not before nearly 200 locations chose to list their libraries as holding the item.

But wait! There’s more!

apple cake bakingOver the next few years, the record was added and deleted at least once more. By some accounts, it came and went with alarming frequency as the two sides of argument struggled for apple cake supremacy.

One step along the way was when the recipe was added to The OCLC Employees’ Cookbook in 1990 by OCLC’s Ron Gardner, who retired earlier this year.

And to celebrate the 25th anniversary of WorldCat in 1996, librarians from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Clifford E. Barbour Library actually prepared an in realia copy of the OCLC apple cake.

But what about the record itself? What was the final conclusion of the cataloging community?

In the early 1990s, it seemed as if the recipe would have to remain within the confines of the library material itself, not the WorldCat bibliographic data.

Or would it …

Where do you stand on the Great WorldCat Apple Cake Record discussion? Click To Tweet

The apple cake record is alive!

A record with the aptly named title of “apple-cake” was added for an archival material item by Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, USA, in September 2015. And the recipe itself is described in the 505 field.

worldcat cake record

Another apple cake record, this one numbered 826,054,444, was added by the US Army Corps of Engineers Library in Alexandria, Virginia, USA. This record also has the recipe in the notes field.

So for now, the “keep the recipe in WorldCat” team has the upper hand.

Whatever the final disposition of the record, however, one thing is for sure: it’s a tasty cake.