Surviving Cataloging Class

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Tracy Wasserman.

Many LIS students dread cataloging/classification class, a required course in some library schools.   I found the class piqued my interest enough to take advanced cataloging/classification, a road travelled by few judging by the small class size.  This was against the advice of my academic advisor, who cautioned not to take advanced cataloging unless I wanted to be a cataloger.  Well, I thought, how would I know whether or not I wanted to be a cataloger if I didn’t take advanced cataloging? Turns out, I enjoyed the experience immensely. Maybe it was because my fellow students in the class consisted of other seemingly like-minded over achievers, who challenged me to bring my “A” game.  Maybe it was because I liked taking courses that felt to be about useful library practice, not abstract library theory.   Or maybe it was because I like putting numbers together, having a secret affinity for word and logic problems.  Whatever the reason, I survived with my wits intact and a new skill learned, and can pass on some survival pointers to the rest of you. First, I believe cataloging/classification is an integral part of the value of librarians to society, as there is more information to organize than ever before.  Consider the benefits of gaining this knowledge to the future of your career, as described in a recent post, “Going Old School” by Aidy So and Courtney Baron.  Librarians should all understand how to catalog and classify information, and be comfortable with this skill.  And understanding the value of cataloging goes a long way to staying motivated in cataloging class.  Here are resources to help:

  1. Use online cataloging tools:  Understanding MARC fields and the RDA cataloging code can be a lot easier with the online help tools published and maintained by the Library of Congress.  These include the MARC Standards homepageand the Cataloger’s Learning Workshop RDA training materials.  Also check out the Cataloger’s Reference Shelf, a one-stop shop of cataloging reference sites.  For cataloging “cheat sheets,” there’s the Cataloging Calculator and the Cataloging Cheat Sheets of the SLC (Special Libraries Cataloguing).  The OCLC Library Cooperative, of WorldCAT fame, provides support and training in bibliographic formats and standards, and many resources for learning the Dewey Decimal Classification system, including a WebDewey tutorial where you can “build” classification numbers online.
  2. Follow AutoCat and other cataloging listservs: You can follow the discussions of catalogers on cataloging listservs (via weekly digests or daily feeds to your email inbox), to get a feel for the triumphs and tribulations of the profession.  When the new RDA cataloging code was implemented by the Library of Congress in March of 2013, the AutoCat listserv posted tips, best practice and helpful advice from professional catalogers to those of us fledging catalogers brave enough to ask for advice on the listserv (alas, I was not one of these brave souls but I certainly admired the tenacity of my fellow confused colleagues).  You can also get cataloging news on these listservs, such as information on upcoming professional technical services conferences, available job opportunities in cataloging and related fields, technical service publication announcements, and cataloging online tutorials and webinars.
  3. Practice / Save your work:  Ask your professor for practice examples prior to any quizzes or exams, then discuss the answers in detail, saving all your work.  This last bit cannot be overstressed.  It is very disconcerting to build the correct Library of Congress Classification number for a practice fictitious title by locating the correct subject classification heading, subclass, country table and Cutter number, but not noting for future reference in solving similar examples how you navigated the tables to get the answer – or worse, having to explain your answer for possible credit ( as it is said no two catalogers will come up with the same “right” way to catalog a resource – see Shera’s Two Laws of Cataloging:  Law #1: No cataloger will accept the work of any other cataloger; and Law #2:  No cataloger will accept his/her own work six months after the cataloging).
  4. Embrace the humor:  You have to appreciate the unintentional cataloging humor to be found in some Library of Classification subject headings.  Are you an introvert?  LC has a subject heading for vocational guidance resources for you, even cataloged geographically:

*Introverts—Vocational guidance   (May Subd Geog)Here are other subject heading finds:*Boating with cats*Cattle – Housing – Odor Control*One-leg resting position*Plants – Effect of prayer on

For more cataloging humor, read Radical Cataloging: Essays at the Front edited by K.R. Roberto, or follow a cataloging blog, such as First Thus by James Weinheimber (check out Cataloging Matters Podcast #12 (Updated): A Conversation Between a Patron and the Library Catalog

So take heart, don’t give up, and gain inspiration from a recent article by INALJ Utah Head Editor, Heidi Greathouse, The Learning Curve on her experience as a new cataloging librarian.  And, If you fall in love with cataloging, help start up a new website forum showing library technical services. You CAN have fun with this!

Tracy Wasserman works as a legal assistant for a law firm in south Florida, and is finishing up her MSLS degree this spring.  She volunteers as head editor for the Florida page of INALJ (I Need a Library Job), for which she also tweets @inalj_Florida and blogs.  She enjoys volunteering in a local public library, as well as following library advocacy and social media trends.

8 replies

  1. I agree with the need to taking cataloging classes. I became a cataloger and one added benefit was that it helped me with reference. By working with each book, I realized that the book became an object as opposed to just being a source of information. Understanding this, helped catalog each book in relation to other books and how this particular book fit into the overall collection. With this knowledge, I knew what books we had and this in turn helped me better guide the patron to the right source.


  2. IF you are going to expect perfection in the work done, you better make sure the preparatory text is not full of sloppy mistakes. I had to re-write the notes because of so many sloppy errors that interfered with the precision needed for the task.


  3. Cataloging is a challenging subject for many of us. I found that asking the professor for help early and often (which is a solid strategy for any difficult class) helped immensely with my success. It also helped me get to know a great and under-appreciated professor better.


  4. Cataloging (“Organization of Information”) is required in my program, and I’m really glad. I was already part of a study group when we had Cataloging class together, and it really helped to work through some of the assignments as a group. Harold’s suggestion in the comment above about asking the professor for help early is also a good idea.


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