Library Blog

Cataloging: What people think I do vs. what I actually do.

People using a public library

For most library patrons, the people they meet at the circulation desk or reference desk are the only library staff they see. These frontline library staff deal with the day-to-day operations of the forward-facing library. However, there are other library staff members that most people rarely see because they work behind the scenes making sure there are materials on the shelves and research databases for library patrons to use.  

Patrons don’t know about these important library staff members, but they are essential for access to information. And no, they also don’t get to read all day!

One of those behind-the-scenes staff is called the cataloger.  The cataloger organizes the collection and strives to keep it organized. This enables library patrons to locate materials on the shelf or online easily and efficiently.  Some people might think that this is an easy or mechanical process, but cataloging is highly intellectual work that requires specialized librarian training, an understanding of how legal materials are published and updated, and how they are used.  In the RWU Law Library, the cataloger holds the title of Cataloging, Metadata, and Archives Librarian. 

As the cataloger of this library, I (Kathleen MacAndrew) study books and research databases that the library acquires and provide a useful online record that correctly describes the item purchased. The records for all materials in the RWU Library require “access points” to enable searching in the library’s online catalog. Book records require a call number based on the Library of Congress Classification System that is placed on a label on the book’s spine to indicate where it will be shelved in the library.   

The call number is determined by the subject matter within the book. This leads to the next type of access point that should be found in a record…subject headings. These special headings help the library patron find all the items the library has on a particular subject. An example would be Constitutional Law. By applying the appropriate subject heading, I enable patrons to easily find all the call numbers and locations (e.g. reserve, stacks, online) for constitutional law resources in the library.

Other access points found in catalog records make it possible to search using other criteria: title, authors, editors, etc.  All these access points can be searched at once with a keyword search! Because of this, I try to think of different ways that patrons might look for an item.  I add helpful notes about the item, such as the table of contents information and alternate forms of the main title to ensure all possible access points are available to the patron.

Cataloging begins by locating a record from a bibliographic database called OCLC. I edit the record and export it to the library’s online catalog. After the record is exported, I barcode the book and create an item record that provides the location in the library where the item can be found.  This item record also includes the circulation status, copy number, and volume information or notes to help identify the exact item for updates, etc.  For print items, the next step is to add a label with the call number and place that label carefully so that it does not obstruct information the patron might need, such as a volume number or sections covered in a multivolume set.  Electronic resources records include the URL and information about any access restrictions.  

Cataloging is exacting and detailed work, but it is rewarding work. By providing helpful and accurate information in the library’s catalog, I enable library patrons to locate the items they need for study and research.  When people meet me and learn what I do, they often ask whether I get summers off.  The answer is no.  The Beagle added: Books and databases are always being added to the collection and Kathleen’s expertise makes it possible for patrons to find and use the materials they need!

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