Saturday, March 27, 2010

What I do

I guess I assume that when I say "I'm a library cataloger," everyone knows what that means. Then I remember, "Oh, yeah, six years ago when I was teaching college English, I didn't even know the occupation existed, let alone what a cataloger did." I make sure that every item in the library can be looked up in the catalog, so a patron can see a full bibliographic record that describes that item in detail. Remember the old card catalog cards that us Boomers grew up with? Basically, I make sure the information that used to be on those cards but is now accessed via computer (title, author, publication date, page numbers, subject headings, etc.) is correct and retrievable. [The image below is from OCLC (Online Computer Library Center)]

I catalog all of our library's non-fiction books, juvenile and teen books, and DVD's, so this also means handling every such item, checking for the cataloging info. For books, this is fairly straightforward, though I do have to flip through each book checking to see if things like indexes, bibliographical references, or plates ("primarily illustrative" pages which are not numbered--usually the glossy photo pages in the middle of many non-fiction books) are present. For DVD's, this means I have to sort out the cast members and other important credits, plot summaries, MPAA ratings, aspect ratio, and so on. Most of this is available via the disc container, but I often check IMDb or even pop the disc in a portable DVD player (for example, if there is conflicting information about the language tracks or subtitles on the disc).

Below is the bottom panel of the back of the container for Psycho. What I have to pay attention to: the studio and/or production companies credited, the stars, the producers, the writers, the directors, the spoken languages, the subtitle languages, the aspect ratio (whether it's full-screen or letterboxed widescreen), the sound format (Dolby Digital 5.1, or stereo, or mono, etc.). I also must note the special features, the original release year of the film, and the release year of the disc.

For most of the items I do, I get the basic cataloging info from a number of sources, usually copying and editing records from the Library of Congress or other libraries. Below is a record I worked on for a book called Reality Hunger; I have to make sure that the first few lines, coded with letters and numbers, correspond to various aspects of the book (pub date, format, presence of illustrations or index, etc.). Lines from 100 and below consist of fairly straightforward information.

After the bib record is complete, I have to attach item records to represent each individual copy. Below is the way that record looks to the patron searching our catalog:

Every so often, I have to do an original record for some godforsaken book or DVD that no other library in the world owns. Though we catalogers love to complain about doing this, truth to tell, it actually can be challenging and fun. I recently had to create an original for a DVD that was donated to our collection. It wasn't even a movie, it was a compilation of features about a sculptor named Fredrick Hart. That record, below, was created from scratch by me, based on having the disc in front of me (though it had less information on the container than most DVD's) and on scouring the net to confirm some of the information:

That took a good half-hour of work which was frustrating but kind of fun, for an item that will probably never get checked out of the small suburban library for which I work--it was a donation which was in good shape, so we kept it. Below is one day's worth of DVD cataloging I did recently, mostly oddities and older titles that were re-ordered or donated:

The rating labels and the call numbers on the non-fiction DVD's are also put on by me; I'm not just a cataloger, but a processor as well ;-) More about this endlessly fascinating topic (it really is to me, though I know it's not to you) as the mood hits me--and as I find fun things to pictures of.


  1. :)

    Today I did an original OCLC record for a DVD that McDonalds sponsored, produced by the NFL for the Steelers last Super Bowl. It's such a rush to make sure everything is in order...

    (and by rush, I mean of adrenaline, not a rush to get it done, though, that is often the case as well...)

    Thanks for a great post that lucidly describes what we do on a daily basis.


  2. Thanks. The cataloger before me here hated doing originals. She must not have gotten that rush that you and I get!

  3. This is a really cool post, Mike. The actual, physical process of the work we do shapes our reality in so many ways, and yet we rarely understand, much less see, what other people *do* all day. It would be helpful to know! Maybe everyone should have to write a blog (and illustrate it with photos) showing what they do on a day-to-day basis...

  4. Thanks, Rosemary. I'd love to have done this when I was up in reference, but that would have meant taking pictures of the "interesting patrons" and that might have been problematic!

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