Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cataloging the Quarter

So a new quarter is begun and I'm taking my first elective (531) and my final core requirement (580). I'm happy to report that thus far I am not feeling too overwhelmed by work or concepts, but rather I'm actually rather exhilarated and excited. I know freaking out about MARC and Charles Ammi Cutter (already mentioned here as inherently awesome) marks me as a special type of nerd, but I really don't care. It's so exciting for me to finally get the "why" for so much of the work I do on a daily basis or work that I've done before.

My history with cataloging is complex and piecemeal. While I had managed to develop and understanding of library catalog records from playing around in OPACs as a patron and a page, I didn't actually get into the meat of things until my first summer at the Music Library. The cataloging librarian, who is utterly amazing at her job, had severe problems with her wrists and hands. I believe the damage was done during some crazy retro-con project. In order to protect her wrists from further damage, and to allow her to continue to play oboe (and she is a very talented player), students were assigned all of the heavy typing work. I got a crash course in MARC and heading searching and was sent on my way. I would search for all appropriate subjects/performers (I did a ton of scores and CDs, as most of the books we bought were copy cataloged) and print them. She would work her magic and order them into a MARC template, which I would then type up and upload. I knew enough to pay attention to exactly what was written, but that's it. I knew enough to do the job and to do it well, but obviously when you have a ridiculous backlog of scores to retro-con, you're not going to take the time to make sure your student has a strong conceptual grasp of the fundamentals of cataloging. Especially when she'll be gone in three months.

This "sorta understanding" of the catalog followed me through the rest of my library jobs, but didn't really call upon them until my current position (in the Archives I worked primarily with finding aids). Again, I relied on my understanding of the bibliographic record as an advanced catalog searcher to get the work done. This was expanded when I trained to produce LHRs for our collection, but I was still working under the notion of "it has to be like this to validate", not 'it has to be like this because of X principle". It wasn't until I was assigned authority work that I finally sat down to learn what my coworker meant when she said "245 field". I read a few LC pubs and essentially threw myself into the work, asking innumerable questions and leaving things for others to look at when I could. Eventually things started to slide into place.

A cataloging exercise this past week finally helped to cement together my day to day notions and the larger picture of cataloging. I find it thrilling to finally look at something that you know has to work a particular way and to finally grasp WHY it works that way and to see how that rationale stretches all the way back to the nineteenth century (okay, maybe I'm the only one who is excited by Victorian era cataloging writing). I still have miles to go before I can sit down and catalog something from scratch, but I feel that the potential is there, that it's no longer as mystical and obscure a process as I once thought.

Right now a paper on this very subject is calling, so more later.

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