From the catalogs of babes











If for some reason you might be crazy enough to want to apply for my previous position, despite all you’ve read about it on this blog, here you go.

(Relocation not provided, sorry.)

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{May 21, 2010}   anyone can catalog.

I think anyone can be a cataloger. You heard me. Sure, I think some people are certainly more inclined to be better at it than others. But I don’t think you have to be a professional librarian to be a cataloger. I think professional librarians actually waste their time on cataloging, when they should be working at a higher (dare I say “professional”?) level. My least favorite thing to do all day is sit at my desk and catalog books, a process I find to be not much above mindless data entry.

But some people are okay with that, as a day-to-day job. If all a person wants to do is download MARC records and fiddle with punctuation all day, then my advice is take a class or two in cataloging, either through an MLS program or independently (I’ve found The MARC of Quality really useful, personally), to learn that stuff, and then go about your business. Sure, it’ll help to have some paraprofessional experience, especially if all you want to do as a professional librarian is the same things you did as a paraprofessional.

But if paraprofessionals and professionals are doing the same things, where can we draw the line as to what “professional” cataloging entails? Many ‘professional’ catalogers have decried the ‘deprofessionalization’ of cataloging, and that professionals should be the ones doing the cataloging work.

I disagree.

If you move beyond the basics, if you want to do things like evaluate current cataloging standards in comparison to patron usage, improve metadata, organization, and information retrieval, and generally improve information access, then I think that’s where the professional line truly begins. That’s what makes the difference between paraprofessional and professional. That’s the line between “job” and “career.”  And it’s time catalogers and librarians took this professionalism by the horns, or we risk losing it altogether. Professional catalogers aren’t the ones who use AACR2r the best or can list subject headings at the drop of a hat. Professional catalogers are the ones who are evaluating their user bases, assessing how well those users are being served by the library’s cataloging, and pushing for improvements to narrow the gap between the two. Professional level catalogers shouldn’t be the ones spending their workdays on tasks like entering all the variant titles and spellings into 246 fields—they should be the ones designing new software to automate that process. They shouldn’t be the ones creating authorized forms of names and subjects submitting them to large, bureaucratic entities—they should be creating the tools to make that arduous submission process obsolete.

Many current MLS level cataloging classes spend the semester teaching punctuation and MARC tags when they could be teaching the actual professional aspects of cataloging—training people to design and create the ever-evolving standards, rather than simply applying them. Maybe you’re thinking that this is just my personal experience clouding my view, especially since my master’s program was one specifically focused more on the practical application of knowledge rather than some of the theory and academia-based programs. And maybe that’s true. But I’ve talked to lots of people—librarians, students, and faculty—at a lot of different institutions, and have heard very similar comments from all. And as the availability of quality cataloging courses and faculty continues to dwindle, I fear it will only get worse, not better. Until that begins to change, MLS programs will continue to churn out cataloging drones, rather than the innovative thinkers the profession really needs. So if a professional degree program isn’t providing it, where can the interested, engaged, passionate and professionally-inclined librarians go to learn what it really means to be a professional? Somebody tell me, because goodness knows I for one would like to be there.



{May 18, 2010}   I am not a librarian.

I am not a librarian.

You heard me. I’m not a “librarian.” I never have been.

Officially, my job title is “Catalog Coordinator.” It’s a title I despise, for several reasons. Some of them petty—I went to graduate school and got my MLIS, and now I want to be a librarian, damnit! Some of them logical—try telling anyone outside of libraries (and sometimes even within the field) you’re a “catalog coordinator” and they want to know how you decide on product photo placement for this year’s Lillian Vernon. Heck, even “cataloging coordinator” might be a little bit more accurately descriptive (and grammatically correct) to reflect what’s actually in my job description: things like cataloging materials in all formats; developing and creating library cataloging standards; oversee local technical processing; oversee cataloging across 4 campus branches, including standardization, education and training.

I know there are lots of titles for this type of job in use, some of them without the word “librarian” in them, even: Cataloger, Cataloging Supervisor, Metadata Manager, Technical Services Coordinator, and everything in between. And, sure, some of those titles encompass different duties and are not all equivalent (for instance, “Head of Technical Services” covers plenty more than just cataloging, and would be an inappropriate title for what I do. Although “Technical Services Librarian” might, depending whether or not it included all aspects of technical services).

So sometimes I wonder: if we librarians are supposed to be all about vocabulary control, why can’t we control this? Our titles are just as outdated as our subject headings. I’ve already gone off about the terms “OPAC” and “catalog” and changing them to more appropriately descriptive titles, why not our job titles as well?

For many, “librarian” conjures up a stereotypical image of the woman with the glasses and hair in a bun, shushing library patrons and stamping due dates in books. You and I know better—we know that librarians are so much more. We lament it all the time and try to find ways to explain to people what we do, that we do more than shush people and read books all day. That yes, we do need graduate-level educations to do our job. So maybe we need an updated ‘subject heading’ for what it is exactly that we do nowadays.

The New York Times recently mentioned “metacurating” the web: users controlling and vetting streams of information tailored to their personal interests. “Metacurator” might not be so far-fetched as a job title in the future.  Even if we don’t drop the “librarian” bit (and I can certainly see reasons to keep it), perhaps we can still clarify. What does “cataloging librarian” really mean to people? Even within the profession, I find that people have a narrow understanding of the job. Heck, I don’t even understand professional designations myself sometimes—I still can’t figure out the difference between ‘cataloging’ and ‘access services.’ If cataloging ain’t about access, I don’t know what is. Personally, I always tried to convince my boss (with zero success) to change my title to something more descriptive regarding what it is I actually do: I was gunning for “discovery librarian” or maybe “findability librarian.” But no dice.

In the scheme of things, does it really matter what my job title is? Probably not. And so perhaps I’m just being a petulant child about being a “librarian.” But that’s what I want to be, that’s what I went to school for, what I trained to do, what I’ve been devoted to accomplishing, and it seems like it will never happen.



{April 13, 2010}   catalogers get my vote

So it’s that time of year again…time for ALA elections. I can’t say I’m overly active in most of the organizations I belong to (although the new local SLA happy hours certainly get my attention…). But I’ve always believed that voting for officers and leadership roles is not only my duty as a member, but also one of the main ways I can be represented in that organization. Even on my more cynical days, when I feel like voting is an inadequate method of representation, I still hold sway that I have no right to complain if I didn’t cast my vote at election time. So every year I dutifully cast my electronic ALA ballot.

But every year there are something like 30 openings for members-at-large (not to mention all the candidates for offices like president and treasurer and whatnot). If I was really dutiful, I would take my time and thoroughly read each and every single one of those bios and elections statements and carefully select who I felt would best represent me in the organization. But who has time for that?

So here’s my strategy: I open up each bio page and search for words like “catalog,” “cataloger” or “cataloging.” If I find one, I read over that person’s bio. With rare exception, I usually end up voting for them. While it may not be the ideal way to select my representatives, it’s a compromise that I can live with, and it makes sense to me that I myself, as a cataloger, would want to elect other people who understand (and, theoretically, advocate for) cataloging to the ALA board. Out of  about 117 candidates this year for Counciliors-at-Large, members could vote for 34. After I ran my search, I voted for 7.

7 out of 117 had some reference to cataloging in their bio or background. That’s about 6%. I wonder if that’s an accurate representation of the profession–are 6% of librarians catalogers? What about 6% of ALA members? I’d be interested to find out.

I mention this because recently I’ve had ongoing thoughts regarding catalogers and their escalation to leadership roles, if any. I have a sneaking suspicion that only a tiny fraction of library leadership comes from a cataloging background. The stereotypical ‘antisocial in-the-basement’ cataloger is not perceived as a personality type that lends itself to leadership roles. And if most catalogers enjoy their day-to-day cataloging duties, they probably aren’t interested in moving up to management. Most of the librarians I’ve talked to who have moved up to management (catalogers and others) regret that they spend more time on administrivia and less time “in the trenches” doing the direct work that drew them to librarianship in the first place.

So I’ve been wondering: how many catalogers actually move up to management or administration? I’m not talking here about heads of metadata or technical services. I’m talking about roles that oversee larger and more diverse library functions, beyond just cataloging-related tasks. How many library directors have a  background in cataloging? If we wonder why cataloging and its related services are often overlooked and/or undervalued, I wonder if this plays a large role in why? If management and administration aren’t familiar with cataloging (I’m talking about more than just one crash course in library school 20 years ago), how can they see the value in it? And if they can’t see the value in it, how can cataloging gain the support it needs to serve and improve the library?



So I finally joined ARLIS, which I know seems strange that it took me this long to join the organization devoted to arts libraries. It’s not that I didn’t want to join before, because I did. It honestly sometimes just comes down to a matter of money. I started joining professional organizations when I was a student, and I personally find them very beneficial. It’s cheap to join as a student, but the membership fees often drastically increase after graduation. I don’t fault the organizations for this, and I don’t think any of their individual fees are outrageous, but by the time you’re joining 3 or 4 organizations, it can get pretty pricey.

I’ve tried to cull the herd and cut some of my memberships, but I find it very difficult. I don’t want to leave ALA, as I feel it’s the “core” organization of the field. With ALA comes ALCTS and LITA. I’m hesitant to leave SLA (although the debate about the realignment and name change may just drive me away), not only because the specialty library focus ties in so closely with our library and what we do, but also because they invested in me when I was a student, and I still feel I owe it to the chapter and the organization to make good on that investment. I was considering dropping SAA, since I don’t currently work as closely with archival materials as I used to, but then they published my paper in their journal, and I’d feel bad leaving so soon after that. So I’ve got those three, plus their subdivisions and local counterparts, plus now ARLIS, and I still think ASIS&T would be worth the membership if I could afford it. By this point, we’re talking hundreds, if not $1,000+ per year for professional organization memberships alone.

But I finally ponied up the dough to join ARLIS, since I’ve been wanting to attend one of their conferences for a while and though 2010 might be a good year to do so. And I’m really glad I joined–it really does seem to cover the niche area I want to work in. I got several friendly and welcoming emails, including one that alluded to a local discussion group specifically for catalogers in the arts! I know must know how excited that made me–how awesome to find a group of people like me, and even better, their next meeting was coming right up, so I was chomping at the bit to attend.

I wish I hadn’t gotten so worked up. Don’t get me wrong–it was a nice meeting, with a lot of nice people, and well-educated catalogers, which was a nice step up from some meetings I’ve been to. Unfortunately, I missed the introductions, so I’m not sure exactly which and what kinds of libraries everyone was representing, which was dissapointing becuase I feel that’s so intrinsic to cataloging work–what type of library are you, who do you serve as your patrons, what types of materials do you collect? I know quite a few attendees came from art museum libraries, which are going to have very different research needs than art schools. What I didn’t understand was how no one else seemed to understand that.

I felt a very strong presumption in the room about Cataloging Rules and How Things Should Be Done, and not very much about users at all. Most of the agenda covered what I consider to be very niggly little bits of cataloging propriety: is the entry in this 1XX field correct, is “$vCatalogs” being used correctly in this record, should this piece of ephemera be described as “1 sheet, folded” or “1 folded sheet”? I know I’m probably going to get flayed for this, but really, people: who the hell cares? Software, if designed properly, makes all those issues irrelevant. Google’s search algorithms will find your folded sheet either way, and probably even if you call it “folded paper,” too.

I was shocked at the apparent prejudice–while discussing whether or not a “cheat sheet” for cataloging exhibition brochures was correct (see above re: niggly minutiae), many people were asking “why would anyone bother to collect those things anyway?” and similar narrow-minded comments. Perhaps that institution has the largest art ephemera collection in the world. Perhaps those materials are in great demand in that geographic area. Perhaps the brochures are used as examples for graphic design classes or instruction in art exhibition design. Who knows? None of those catalogers, because they didn’t even bother to ask before ripping into not just the proper application of MARC and AACR2r on the cheat sheet, but also the reason for the collection itself.

There was so much narrow focus on minutia that it seemed like the considerations of library users didn’t even exist. One woman from an art museum brought up a dispute with a classification number assigned by the Library of Congress to a book about 4 artists. LC classed it in ND237.O5, evidently specifically under Georgia O’Keeffe, but she felt LC was incorrect and a broader classification would be more appropriate. After spending a lot of time hemming and hawing and discussing why LC had classed it that way, based on the rule of three and classing on the first listed subject heading, and how it was biased for LC to class it only under O’Keeffe since she was the most famous, and how this woman had seen the exhibition herself and it was beautiful, and how the book might be classed under women artists, and why the book shouldn’t be classed under women artists because it’s not specifically feminist enough, about how the book might be classed under American painting, but the book wasn’t all painting, there was one piece of sculpture included… it was all I could do to bite my tongue to keep from shouting: “If you don’t like it, just change it!”  (Someone alert the classification police, because we do it here all the time. I changed the classification numbers on no less than 10 titles this morning alone.) Especially since the women’s primary complaint was that her museum curator would “not understand why the book was classed there” and would be unable to find it! I think books should go where your users will find them, most especially in arts libraries, where established research repeatedly shows a preference for browsing access over searching.

As if that wasn’t enough for me to bite through my tongue, another cataloger actually said that “classification is nothing more than an address” and “not to fret over the call number.” I wish I knew which library she worked for. I’m sure this is a fine model for more research-oriented libraries like perhaps the Getty or LACMA. But as a group of not just catalogers, but catalogers serving arts libraries, I was appalled at the lack of understanding of patrons’ information-seeking behavior. These people are so busy counting the knotholes in the trees, not only do they not see the forest–they’ve forgotten the forest even exists.

It was my first meeting, and as a newbie and relative unknown, I wasn’t quite ready to vocalize my thoughts and make waves. (You might not guess it from my outspoken rants on this blog, but I’m actually fairly introverted and shy.) I’m still glad I went–I saw a few more potential rogues in the woods, and the meeting really opened my eyes in a lot of ways to just how entrenched we are in our methods of cataloging, how much momentum the history of cataloging carries, how hard it just might be to switch to a user-based model of cataloging. It’s going to be an uphill struggle, that’s for sure.

And now that I know what the general tenor of the group is like, I feel better about starting to broach the idea to the group slowly, perhaps with an announcement at the next meeting in February about my forthcoming book chapter about cataloging for art school users. It also makes me wonder if maybe the time isn’t right to pitch a session on user-based arts cataloging to ARLIS…but one thing at a time. Sometimes I have the problem of seeing just a little too much forest and not enough trees!



et cetera