on the further cataloging adventures of a non-cataloging librarian…

Warning to the Unsuspecting or Feint-of-Heart Librarian Reader: If you are a librarians’ librarian and/or you are a cataloging purist, the post and saga that follow may cause you great distress. Proceed at your own risk.

It's like Cataloging Palooza!

It’s like Cataloging Palooza!

The Cataloging Mind

When last we met, I was embarking on my deep dive into the pruning of the 900 section of my collection. Let’s put the cards out on the table. I am NOT one of the great cataloging minds of our profession. Carol Dweck, of growth mindset fame, would probably like me to add the word “yet” to that statement, but let’s just be honest about things. I really don’t aspire to be one of the world’s great cataloging minds so, yeah, the “yet” is probably never gonna happen.

That being said, I want and need my collection to be cataloged cleanly enough so that the young human beings that we serve can, indeed, actually find the great stuff available to them in the print collection.

I came to librarianship, you see, as an elementary classroom teacher. I was teaching 2nd grade in a Hawaii public school, needed credits to reach the next salary class, and got recruited into library school by my school librarian. I fully expected to end up working in an elementary library with a small collection so all I wanted to know during all those cataloging classes was, “Wait, I can buy my books cataloged right?” What can I say, other than that I was, clearly, a stupid, stupid younger man! Hahaha!

Cataloging Pragmatism

Fast forward 15 years into my library career and I am now dealing with a collection in need of some cataloging TLC. One of the things that I DO remember from Dr. Larry Osborne’s cataloging class is to make my cataloging decisions with care and with a long view in mind. “Is this classification scheme likely to still be useful and sustainable 10 years from now?”

The more time I’ve spent toiling away with my Dewey manuals, the more I’ve come to realize that every problem I solve with a classification decision gives rise to a different set of challenges. One of the classification decisions made previous to my arrival was that we do not have a reference section. Not having a reference section has presented me with some interesting decision points. What, for example, does one do with a set of books like:


Perhaps the most popular cumulative index volume of all time!

Honestly, I miss having a well developed reference section but limitations of linear shelf space, time, and budget really don’t make rebuilding one a viable option so I had to look for other options. When moved from reference, the set had been recataloged to reflect the content of each part of the set so each volume was in a different place on the shelf (including the Cumulative Index). After encountering quite a few similar sets I settled upon building my numbers to put “reference-like” sets at the beginning of the appropriate number, in our case for WWII>>home front, then keeping the set together on the shelf by fudging the alphabetical letters in my call number. In effect, books that generally give a broader overview of the topic are clustered together earlier in the range followed by books with more specific, focused treatments of the topics. One of the more entertaining discoveries in this process was to find out that this particular Cumulative Index has actually circulated…THREE TIMES! To different students!!! How does that even work?!?!? Hahaha!!!

Because I Like It That Way

A last cataloging change (for now, at least), as been to add the year of publication to our spine labels. I’m not completely insane so I don’t plan to go through the entire collection to relabel everything, but any non-fiction book that I recatalog and any new books we process will have the publication year added to the spine label. Spine labels in my previous library were printed this way and I came to love the convenience of being able to note a book’s age without having to turn to a title page or verso.

Before and after

Spine label formats before and after.

Are you a cataloging maven, diva, or prince? Any kind words of advice? Am I heading down a supremely bad path without realizing it? What are your best cataloging and classification tips for making your collection more user friendly and improving access points? What do you do to make your cataloging processes sustainable for the long run?

I’d appreciate any advice you have to offer. Please take a moment and comment below because I really could use all the good advice I can get!

Thank you and Happy Chinese New Year to all!


10 thoughts on “on the further cataloging adventures of a non-cataloging librarian…

  1. Thanks for your post, and just a few comments:
    *Love that year of publication idea! Will have to consider that one (my successor will, that is).
    *We have integrated the biographies/memoirs into their appropriate Dewey areas, with clear yellow labels over the spine labels to differentiate them.
    *We continue to have a separate area for most (but not all) graphic novels, with GN to begin their spine labels, then F for fiction, or their Dewey number for nonfiction.
    *Our young adult fiction is labeled YAF and marked with clear green labels. Other fiction is nearby and open to all.
    *We often make up our own rules, according to our own taste!
    I love cataloging, and just had to get some comments in before retiring this year.
    Cheers, all!

    • This is probably a whole post for another time, but graphic novels are proving to be a real challenge for us. We have a GN shelf, but we service 3rd-12th in a single space. Our non-fiction is shelved all together, but fiction is divided into M FIC for our 3rd through 6th/7th grades and FIC for our older readers. We’ve taken to putting our “mature GN” into FIC or the appropriate Dewey range and adding a GRAPHIC NOVEL subject heading, but it’s not a clean solution by any stretch of the imagination.

      • I shelve Graphic Novels separately too in my grade 5-8 library. For all gr. 7-8 titles in my library I put a red sticker on the spine label and they have their own shelves. Same goes for Graphic Novels….gr. 7-8 titles have a red sticker on the spine label and shelved separately, along with other gr. 7-8 fiction. All other GN titles on a separate shelf near the ‘regular’ titles. Not sure if this makes any sense, but it’s a long way to say that I separate my Graphic Novels in the same way as I separate gr. 7-8 fiction from other fiction.

  2. David…Overall I like your approach and your attitude. I always go for accessibility and visibility. We have often done what you do with sets of books in a series, putting them at the beginning of our reference shelves (which were aggressively weeded in the last year) . We also found it easier to have all of History Behind the Headlines volumes together for example. Some of the WW II sets in our general collection were also re-cataloged so they appear all together on the shelf and not scattered. When I got my school I pulled out all the integrated biographies and created a biography section again and have not regretted it. We have always created special collections that have a colored spine label on them for certain courses like our Holocaust and Hiroshima course.

    I like your idea of putting the dates on the spine label and might copy that! I would add that as we finally completed an inventory here this past year, I have also been looking at catalog records for a number of books and adding more information to the notes field or subject headings when I find chapters or other information that I know would be useful for common research topics. While the hope is that students will use the card catalog more, it at least helps us uncover more resources for them when they say there is nothing they can find.

    Good luck!

    • Hi Karen! On many of the books I’ve touched through this process, I’ve added contents notes–particularly, “Includes primary sources” or keywords to topics that I know will be researched going forward. During one of my recent classes, it occurred to me that some of my high schoolers didn’t understand that the Destiny catalog wasn’t search searching the full text of all the books in the library! This is something that makes PERFECT SENSE given that our students have grown up doing full-text searching, but it made me much more prone to go back and take the time to be sure that contents notes were as descriptive as was reasonable.

  3. Hi, David! I’m currently an MLIS student and working in a grades 4-9 library, so your cataloging questions were especially interesting! I love your idea of putting dates on spines, especially in the science section. I think I’ll begin there. As I’ve worked in my library this year, I came across a section of YA paperbacks with the Mc and Mac prefixes shelved together. I was baffled and wondered if I had missed something in alphabetizing, put I hear that those two were shelved together in the past. Have you heard of that system? Does anyone still do that?


  4. Great post, David. My philosophy for cataloging is to follow Dewey to the degree that it makes sense for your library then put things where your users will more likely find them if necessary. I think many of us make it up as we go along. Mahalo!

  5. Hi David. My philosophy is to do what makes sense for your patrons. For example, I catalog original graphic novels (Nimona, Lumberjanes, etc.) at 741.5, but I catalog the graphic novel versions of regular novels (ex: graphic novel of Sea of Monsters) in Fiction with the original (which means I have to fudge on the call number too). I have integrated biographies into the appropriate subject area and only use 920 for collective biographies; I put travel guides about a country in the country’s number, not in 914 or wherever it is that travel guides are supposed to go. I have a separate section for audio books (Playaways), but I’m thinking of integrating those into the regular collection too.

  6. I have a graphic novel section as well. I have begun using the Graphic Novel spine labels available from Demco. It makes sense for us based on how popular they are in my middle school. More to come on my upcoming post about genrefication. Thanks Dave!

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