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.
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!
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:
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.
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!