“Going Old School” Part 1: Taking a Cataloging and Classification Course

Cataloging Post

B/W Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

We all hear it nowadays. The LIS profession is becoming more and more tech-centric, therefore, curricula and resources have become more devoted to the evolving digital information age. Courses are being offered in networking administration, web design, and digital libraries and even mobile application development. Library students are conquering digital technology and harnessing some amazing skills, like learning to code. They’re also having to consider whether to jump wholeheartedly on the digital band wagon or be left behind in the prehistoric age of card catalogs and dusty book jackets.

But wait! Hold steady for just a moment before taking the dive. Think twice before completely avoiding library courses that have been fundamental to the library profession.

In Part 1 of the series, “Going Old School”, we invite you to take a moment and weigh the benefits of signing up for one of two well-known library courses: Cataloging and Classification*. Part 2 of this series will discuss the considerations of signing up for an Indexing and Abstracting class (available later this month).

For some of us these courses are still mandatory, for others, they are electives in the LIS curriculum. If it’s not a requirement and you’re debating whether or not to invest the time and money to take this course, consider the following before overlooking that Cataloging and Classification class being offered next semester…

Not your ABCs: RDA, AACR2, and FRBR

No matter where you work as a library professional, you’ll need to understand the following acronyms: RDA, AACR2, and FRBR. Resource Description and Access is the newest bibliographic standard that explains how and what to include in a bibliographic record. The Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, 2nd Edition is its predecessor. FRBR, known as the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, are a set of guidelines that helped shape RDA. Many libraries have not yet transferred to RDA so library students must have working knowledge of both AACR2 and RDA. Say for a moment, you don’t care. Okay, I’ll give you that. Now what if I tell you that RDA makes it easier (although this is up for debate) to record and store digital media? Something we use most everyday. What if I tell you both standards and guidelines are playing an interesting role in the integration of data on the web? And we all know where data on the web is going, right?

Experience Required?

Some library employers prefer that you’ve taken a cataloging course when considering an intro-level position in a cataloging or technical services department. Even if you don’t plan to go into cataloging full-time, generalist library positions or professional positions at smaller institutions may require some cataloging work. You may be surprised to hear that knowledge of cataloging and metadata extends beyond the library walls to fields such as visual resources management, digital asset management, knowledge management, archives, taxonomy, and many more!

Cataloging courses allow you to gain experience with the technical tools that the pros are using (without the need of a subscription!) What other time you will have a chance to tinker with OCLC Connexion, WebDewey, and the Library of Congress’s Cataloging Desktop?

Navigate Your Collection

Want to better navigate your library’s collection and resources? Then taking a Cataloging and Classification course will put in touch with many different systems and an understanding for how they are structured. You’ll get an opportunity to learn more about the Library of Congress classification system, the Dewey Decimal Classification system, as well as others, many of which can be found in academic, special, public and school libraries…get this…around the world!

The Back-End Matters

Ever found a library record, but had a hard time deciphering the actual bibliographic record in MARC, aka MAchine-Reading Cataloging? Or better yet, what the heck is MARC? Well, a cataloging and classification course breaks down the definition of MARC, record fields, subfields, subject headings, authority headings and how they all work together to construct pretty awesome bibliographic records.

Did you know that MARC also requires an encoding language to make it function properly? Similar to HTML, a markup language that allows content to be viewed online, various encoding languages allow MARC records to not only be viewed online, but also to be easily transferable among various integrated library systems. Want to have an idea of what the back-end of a catalog record looks like? It might be to your benefit the next time you have to discuss a technical issue to your library IT department. Understanding the system infrastructure and speaking the lingo go a long way.

D-I-Y Learning Tools and Resources

Now, We’re not downplaying taking courses related to computers and digital technology. Quite the opposite, in fact. What I am saying, is that when weighing your options for courses to take during your LIS career, consider what I’d like to call “Going Old School” and give equal consideration when looking at that snazzy new tech course that teaches you to create mobile apps, as well as, the course, that might seem “passé” but really can be a goldmine of relevant information and skill sets.

What if you weren’t able to take this course but wanted to? Graduation is around the corner, you’ve already graduated, or the class isn’t going to be offered for another year and half. It does happen. If that’s the case, we’ve provided some resources at the bottom of this post so you can get started on your own course of self-learning.

Taking a cataloging and classification course may not make you an expert in this area of librarianship, but it’ll give you an overview of all the different components that make up this part of the library profession. You’ll also have the added benefit of not looking dumbfounded the next time it is mentioned at a conference or even in a job interview. So what is your experience with cataloging and classification? Have you taken this course? Considered it? Any sage advice from those who have taken the course or work in this profession are highly encouraged.


Aidy & Courtney

*Aidy is currently in the midst of her Cataloging and Classification course at Florida State University. Learning as she goes, she’s no expert, but is slowly coming around to the fact that cataloging can indeed be fun. Find her on Twitter @msbooksy.

*Courtney powered through the intro course last year and is currently taking an advanced elective in descriptive cataloging. She is especially interested in cataloging and metadata for visual resources. Cataloging makes her feel like she’s actually learning something in library school! Find her on Twitter @futartlibrarian.


16 replies

  1. Very nice article, but I think you are, if anything, understating your case! As an IT manager, I wonder what kind of coding students are hoping to do that doesn’t involve records created according to one of these standards, somewhere along the way. Love it or hate it (in most cases, hate it), there is a lot of MARC in library systems and anything related to ILSes or OPACs or discovery layers or collections in general will benefit from grokking it. Also, I find that you need to have taken cataloging in order to understand how different records for the same item could be nonidentical but still both technically “correct” according to local style and needs.

    Very few people new to the profession will end up being full-time catalogers but I find it disappointing that some schools are letting people graduate without it (though I realize some tracks are for people not intended to work in traditional libraries). I not only took cataloging but volunteered somewhere as a student that had me doing hard-core foreign-language “retrospective serials conversion” (i.e. cataloging mounds of forgotten pre-war journals) and while I’ll never do *that*, per se, again, having dug deep into cataloging is really valuable both in practice and in credibility when it comes to working with ILSes.


  2. Thank you Emily! If the importance of taking this course was understated then that gives more reason for LIS students to think twice before dismissing it from their course of study. I agree, that there is a lot to benefit from if given the opportunity to take the course even if one does not end up as a cataloger. Thanks again for your comment and for emphasizing additional points on why this course is quite crucial to the job prospects of future LIS grads.


  3. This is great. I’ll be honest that I thought cataloging was the most boring class I ever took – it’s also the class I use the most.

    If anything people should take more cataloging classes because you need to understand (as a new professional) how information is organized, managed, and leveraged. Even if you only understand these systems and see flaws – you’re still learning how to better organize information.


    • Thanks Alex! Yes, the key is to get an introduction to cataloging and build a knowledge base from there. It’s definitely one of the most applicable courses in my LIS studies.


  4. I’ll admit, the main road block for me is that it is only offered one more time before I graduate, and it is at the same time as 2 other classes that are require/important for my track (Info Needs; Instruction). I can’t take 3 classes at the same time, so I’m not sure what to do about it.


    • Hi Shawn! I encountered the same dilemma as well. I usually take 2 classes a semester, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take an indexing course and cataloging course. So, I’m taking 3 classes (the other class is Info Architecture) and working full time. It’s not easy, nor impossible, you just have to manage your time well, keep track of due dates and ALWAYS stay in communication with your professors.


    • Hey Shawn, my comment below is a little long, so in a nutshell – try taking cataloging as an independent study or field placement. I did so without any prior cataloging background, and it’s been great! Cataloging is definitely one of those things that is best to learn by doing.


  5. Cataloging is definitely an important subject that everyone should be familiar with! It’s at the heart of how we find information, and having a better understanding of it will be beneficial no matter what your role. As you allude here, Aidy and Courtney, it’s essential to see how closely related “old-fashioned” cataloging and the next wave of semantic web standards and digital media management are.

    In my program, cataloging is taught as a summer elective, and archives students typically never take it. But – surprise! – archival materials need to be cataloged too! I’m working with the university archives cataloger as a for-credit field experience this term, and it is perhaps the single best thing I’ve done in library school. I create MARC records for manuscript collections from finding aids and do mostly original cataloging – plus a little copy cataloging – of local books. It’s helped me write better finding aids, start to get a grip on LC classifications, and improved my ability to help researchers at the reference desk. More importantly, it’s helped me understand how subjective the classification of information really is.

    As my supervisor says daily, “The only way to learn how to catalog…is to catalog!” So if you can’t take a class (or even if you can), consider doing an independent study or field placement with a real live cataloger 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s