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The Reluctant Cataloger

Saturday morning I’m headed in to do a little training in cataloging. My friend Zoe laughed her guts out when I told her I’m the de facto chief cataloger at my library. She said that in small institutions such as ours, the oldest librarian in the library usually has that role these days. Guilty as charged.

I love cataloging. No, I absolutely love it. The minutia. The conflicting rules. The endless attention to detail. The spine label printing. Ok, so I don’t love cataloging–I put up with it, since you can now graduate from library school without a grounding in the equivalent to programming in our profession, the structured language of bibliographic information. Note: when I was in library school, I took cataloging AND programming (PASCAL). Kids these days… But I do love transforming a shelf zombie into a discoverable, usable book, by my own hands or even better, by others, and we have a lot of zombies.

On other fronts, I haven’t written in several weeks because we went on vacation and I don’t like to advertise that in advance. I’m concerned people will steal our 32″ 6-year-old TV or our 15-year-old couch. Or kidnap our cats, who became so despondent at our absence they pooped in several inappropriate places, ensuring that my first two hours at home were not chillaxing with our unread mail and writing leisurely blog posts but crawling behind furniture with towels and warm Oxiclean to dab away the doo.  A very hard crash landing.

We spent our vacation with things and people both familiar and comfortable: friends, Hearst Castle, the Madonna Inn, a favorite hotel in Cambria, a favorite resort in Guerneville, more friends. It was the kind of vacation where the days are very full and yet slip away like quicksilver, where hours are spent adventuring and other hours are spent quietly reading entire books from page 1 to the end.

Like most people in higher ed, right now I am staring down the beginning of the semester, roaring toward us like an unstoppable freight train. But I am cupping our vacation in my hands, feeling its wings beating against my fingers, remembering.

 

 

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13 Comments

  1. Are you serious about being a reluctant cataloger? Because, aside from myself, I’ve never heard any other cataloger refer to themselves in that manner. The administrator of our System put me onto your blog. I’m glad I found it. : )

    Saturday, August 18, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Permalink
  2. Diane Hillmann wrote:

    Back in my administrator days, when things got really icky, I retreated into my office for some ‘recreational cataloging’. It was for me some combination of going back to my roots and meditation with my eyes open. Now I knit instead, but it has the same effect …

    Saturday, August 18, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Permalink
  3. Well, I’m not a REAL cataloger (I keep saying, to no effect). I’m a generalist who had the good fortune to take cataloging and tech services Back In The Day… I use those skills every day now (and have leaned on them for several migrations, etc.). Bless Kathryn Henderson at UIUC GSLIS and her strict cataloging ways! (And her hubby, who taught Tech Services.)

    Saturday, August 18, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Permalink
  4. This is exactly why I personally painted the chalkboard in our Seminar Room with Ideapaint. It was my summer art project. Very comforting.

    Saturday, August 18, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink
  5. At least you’re not a self-taught lumpen cataloger, like myself. Search engines can’t do much with bad data — garbage in, garbage out. I cringe every time I look at our author data, we have both “Kurt Vonnegut” and “Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.”, not to mention what happens to “John Du Prez”.

    At Verity, the consultants routinely reserved half the effort for data cleanup.

    I just can’t imagine leading people through the library if you don’t deeply understand the map. The map is the catalog, and the way you really learn to read one is to write one.

    Oh, and vacations are awesome. We were in Santa Fe. It was so good. But…Cambria and Guerneville are not very close. Next time you drive that much, I recommend the audiobook of Summerland. Michael Chabon reads it and does voices for everyone.

    Saturday, August 18, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink
  6. We have something in libraries called “authority control” that isn’t cheap but ensures that there is but one Kurt Vonnegut. Well, most of the time.

    We made vacation plans very late and ended up doing Santa Cruz/SLO/Cambria/Guerneville due to room availability at places we knew (we like “faux cabins” for the most part). You’re right, there was a mammoth, and highly irritating, drive from Cambria to Guerneville. But it’s all good. We hadn’t been to Highlands Resort for at least six years, and I’m already thinking it would be a great writing retreat for me.

    Saturday, August 18, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Permalink
  7. Yeah, an authority list would be lovely. I’ve suggested buying real library data and I may do that again, but for now, we have what the publisher send us, which tends toward the haphazard. Is the subtitle in the subtitle field, on the title, or both? Hey, let’s list the 50th anniversary edition as the 50th edition!

    For fun, check out the author “Lambert M. Surhone”. Authority lists don’t clean up that kind of bibliographic compost, sadly.

    As Kurt said, so it goes.

    Saturday, August 18, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Permalink
  8. Lois Fundis wrote:

    I started out as a cataloger, and loved it! The minutiae, as you said, and the hope of getting it *right* in a way that would make it easiest for that book to find/be found by its readers. The bad part was that I kept *reading* the books. Eventually our library director decided I should be the Reference Librarian (the flip side of cataloging, helping readers find/be found by the books). Sometimes I miss cataloging though, and find myself making suggestions to our cataloging staff that reflect that.

    Saturday, August 18, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Permalink
  9. I have a similar problem your director identified: my reluctance has a lot to do with the other things I need to be doing. So it’s piled on top of my administrative duties: management, supervision, strategic direction, networking… cataloging. For very small libraries, absorbing a non-administrative service comes with the territory–but it’s my goal to grow us past that point. I would like to think someday I’ll look back and say “Remember when I had to do the cataloging, hah hah hah..?”

    Plus, quite frankly, I am a mark-it-and-park-it gal. There’s a point of disappearing value in cataloging. It’s more important than non-librarians realize and less important than many librarians believe.

    Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink
  10. Cath Sheard wrote:

    Ah yes! Cats do have their sneaky little ways of making us pay…
    Glad you had a good time.

    Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Permalink
  11. Jennifer Stephens wrote:

    I am a law firm librarian, and am mostly in reference, but get to do cataloging as materials wander in to our tech services department. I love the challenge of trying to figure out where an item should fit, and make it accessible to all who query the OPAC.

    Monday, August 20, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink
  12. Lauren wrote:

    You’re right about modern library schools not requiring cataloging as a graduation requirement. I was surprised that so many of my fellow students dreaded it and avoided the class altogether. Personally, I enjoyed it immensely and went on to take the advanced cataloging course as well as the regular one at San Jose State. It is a relief to know that you can still work with people and also be a cataloger for a library because I was starting to think the two were mutually exclusive. I love working with people, but would enjoy having those moments of the day where I just enter MARC records, deciding which category to use, and creating their own unique dewey decimal number. Thanks for the insight!

    Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Permalink
  13. Lauren wrote:

    You’re right about modern library schools not requiring cataloging as a graduation requirement. I was surprised that so many of my fellow students dreaded it and avoided the class altogether. Personally, I enjoyed it immensely and went on to take the advanced cataloging course as well as the regular one at San Jose State. It is a relief to know that you can still work with people and also be a cataloger for a library because I was starting to think the two were mutually exclusive. I love working with people, but would enjoy having those moments of the day where I just enter MARC records, deciding which category to use, and creating their own unique dewey decimal number. Thanks for the insight!

    Tuesday, October 30, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

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