Cataloguing is one of those things that I used to assume every librarian could do… I used to think that being a librarian meant cataloguing! In actual fact some librarians can travel through their whole careers without ever having to catalogue a book, ever! Cataloguers now are rather few and far between as outsourcing increased and shelf-ready became the norm (a cost and time saving method to increase efficiency I suppose). As a librarian you’re at least expected to understand the catalogue – in terms of retrieving information about where to find material – but it doesn’t really matter whether you know the difference between a 100 and a 700 MARC field for instance. It probably doesn’t even matter if you don’t know what a MARC record is.
For those that have wanted to know what it is I’ve explained it like the HTML/visual views you get when you’re writing a new blog post. It’s the stuff that happens in the background to make what you see look nice. It’s like a language that interprets information into a standard format, just like all those bizarre computer languages with their funny brackets and tags. With cataloguing though it’s all about making sure your full stops, colons and semi-colons are in the right place in the right field. A standard MARC record looks a little like this (or at least it does if you use Talis as your library management software).
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Each tag (the numbers) relates to a descriptor e.g. authors, titles, editions, publication, physical descriptions – size, illustrations, page numbers, year etc. Clearly there is a lot to learn! But I’m starting. The picture above is actually the first catalogue record I’ve ever done… all by myself (under supervision of course). Is it good? For anyone searching the library catalogue it looks a little something like this.
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So why am I doing this? Well it’s for my personal professional development. I want to learn about cataloguing, always have really and so I used my Chartership as an excuse to get started. The great thing about this is that I’m learning by spending some time in our special collections department. I’m working on a small project to catalogue a recently acquired Radar Collection. These books are old… hence them joining our archive and so it’s great fun having a nosey at what the collection is about. So far I’ve been looking at old mathematics texts but I’m sure a few (more interesting) gems will turn up.
My interest in special collections I think really stems back to a tour I had of Manchester Met when I applied for a traineeship there many moons ago. They were working on digitizing some of their collection to make it more visible and easier to access. We got to poke around in a few of the old storage cupboards to wow us before the interviews. It was great fun but I never really thought about going into archive work. I think it’s pretty tough to get into, especially when it’s something as awesome as the National Fairground Archive but I like the romanticism of being a ‘gatekeeper of knowledge’.
When you’re looking at work in special collections I think the lines between librarians, researchers, archivists and historians start to blur and I think this is what scared me away from it in the first place but it still amazes me. Maybe one day I could be a treasure hunter in the Natural History Museum, I’d like that a lot. Have a look at the Museum of Life… now that’s what I’m talking about! Working there would be incredible!
And yet for now I’m happy with my little box of dusty old books and learning how to be an old school librarian, but who knows… next stop THE WORLD.