I Can’t Replace my Cataloguer with another Cataloguer?!

I dread the day one of my senior cataloguers will approach me telling me they are retiring. I often joke that no one can retire until I do, with a date close to (shudder) 2040. Unfortunately, that means that a handful of my staff will have to work into their 90s and 100s.

If you haven’t had to face a retirement or a new hire in the past few years, your cataloguing department most likely runs like a well-oiled machine. You have senior cataloguers and mid-career cataloguers who know their subjects, they are intimately familiar with cataloguing rules and the quality of the records they produce is excellent. Moreover, you don’t have to worry about errors in cataloguing or access issues because they are trained cataloguers who know their field. Because of the reliability of your staff, you can oversee the procedures to improve access, decrease backlogs and, on the whole, focus on the improvement of cataloguing and the library catalogue at your library.

But, what happens when one of your cataloguers retires?

The best case scenario is that you get to hire a new cataloguer, and preferably one with some experience. But, in reality, budget cuts, lack of available candidates and a management team or board that doesn’t understand the value of the cataloguing staff may put you in a situation where you are hiring a non-cataloguer to catalogue. For the most part, the bottom dollar is what ultimately dictates the decision.

What do you do?

This is an extreme, worse case scenario. Whenever possible, fight for your cataloguers and stress, through statistics, cost analysis and available literature, the reason why a trained professional should be valued. I firmly believe that if you want a tooth pulled, you go to a dentist. If you need to get a massage, you go to a certified masseuse and, if you want your items catalogued properly, you hire a cataloguer. Cataloguers are like accountants. Most people can do math, many are even good at it, but would you trust them over a certified accountant? On the whole, not bloody likely. Like basic accounting, copy cataloguing might not be too difficult for an untrained cataloguer, but when rules need to be interpreted or problems need to be solved, you need a professional. With the ever increasing introduction of new formats and genres, as well as changes in cataloguing practices and the surge of remote, online users, hiring professional cataloguers is more important than ever. I believe that to not hire a professional likely costs the institution more in the long run, and any initial cost saving benefits are lost as a result of poor access to collections, increased backlogs and lack of overall efficiency.

J. McRee Elrod (Mac) posted a list on AUTOCAT several weeks ago that I think is useful if you are faced with tight budgets and a lack of trained professionals. Here’s the disclaimer from Mac when I asked him if I could post this: “…please note they are not suggested best practices. They are measures of desperation…”

The easiest ways to save money are:

1) Get a good cataloguing module. TLC’s ITS is easier for a clerical
person to understand than the newer Bibliofile. It has Z39.50

2) Use free Z30.50 records.

3) Use LCC or DDC (adding Cutters) as found. Don’t second guess.
Some older material may have out-of-date DDC numbers, but most
materials will be new with current numbers.

4) Change DLC 490 0 to 490 1 and copy into 830, without checking SARs.
Only revise 830s if a patron says series are separated in the
catalogue. Even LC has separated series entries in their catalogue
due to typos. Most search by what is on the item.

5) Accept entries (100/110/6XX/700/710) as found. Only revise if a
patron says entries are separated. Most of the material you acquire
will be the only work by a particular author,

6) Use integrating resource practice for serials, i.e., current title
and publisher in 245 and 260; past titles in 247; past publishers in
503 (obsolete though it be); as opposed to confusing to patrons
successive entry.



Filed under future of cataloguing, Our Profession, The Cataloguer

17 responses to “I Can’t Replace my Cataloguer with another Cataloguer?!

  1. Janet Young

    I agree with much of what you have to say about the importance of professional catalogers. I am very concerned about the lack of librarians in our Technical Services department. How can we not have a cataloging librarian in a university library? ? However, I think that the case can be made for developing cataloging skills in library assistants. If you have a library assistant who shows an affinity for cataloging, grab hold, train and support that person. I am not a librarian but I have been cataloging for about 25 years, the first 15 as a copy cataloger, doing increasingly complex work under the guidance of a great teacher/cataloger/librarian who is now retired. For the last 10 years I have been doing original cataloging and I do sometimes wish that I had a librarian to consult with. I think I am a really good cataloger but I don’t have the certification that people who have gone to library school have. So, do you think there is a place in the cataloging world for workers like me?

  2. If you can convince those in power that you need a good, professional cataloger, I think one of the best things you could do is to train/mentor new MLIS graduates.

    I’ve met some new graduates this year who really want to gain experience. They express their frustration with feeling unprepared to take on an entry-level cataloging position right out of library school.

    Becoming a good cataloger is sort of like an apprenticeship. There is no way you can get it all in library school.

  3. Emma

    There are certainly those of us in school or fresh out of it who want to catalogue and gain experience!

  4. Laurel Tarulli

    Thanks for the comments – and you both make a point. Chris – I’ll address your comment first, because I believe my response will be shorter.

    Yes – you’re absolutely correct. If, indeed we are given the go ahead to hire another cataloguer, we are often faced with the challenge of finding cataloguers with very little experience fresh out of school. We need to mentor young professionals and not only MLIS students, but library tech students as well. In many cataloguing departments, it’s the library techs who make up the bulk of the cataloguers, not librarians. I believe it’s the practice for many libraries to welcome local students in these programs into our departments for their work practicum or for experience. When we host a student, I encourage them to contact me with questions about the profession or in their job hunting quest, when the idea of jumping into the profession may seem daunting. I don’t believe our role ends when the student’s practicum ends. We should continue to make ourselves available as resources to new graduates or soon-to-be graduates. As a public librarian, I also think it’s important to develop a relationship with my academic counterparts, opening a dialogue to assist students in these programs with professional contacts and experience.

    Janet – I had a feeling someone with your experience would write. And thank you for doing so. In your case, with the years of experience you have, I would consider you a professional cataloguer. If you were a library assistant, do you have a library tech degree? I believe those degrees are as important as an MLIS. For instance, the students that we have hosted in our department who come from a library tech program are far superior in their cataloguing skills than those coming from an MLIS program. And, in fact, all of the professional cataloguers in our department either have a 4 year university degree or a library tech diploma. And yes, if you need a cataloguer and you find a library assistant keen on learning or a fresh-faced graduate with no experience – the decision may be difficult. And, of course, factors based on other job qualifications and skills also need to be considered. So, I guess that I would have to say that had you come to be for a cataloguing position with your skills and experience – I would grab you and be thankful to have you on my team.

    Interestingly, I always seem to refer back to the legal profession. For years, you didn’t need to go to law school to study to become a lawyer – you apprenticed. Even today, law students article to a firm before being admitted to the bar, which mirrors this same type of apprenticeship from the past. I am familiar with one exceptional lawyer who never went to law school, but became a lawyer through apprenticing during his years in South Africa. However, despite his knowledge and expertise, I still have to say that a firm grounding in the foundations and theories of any profession will benefit a professional – and the *real-life* training begins when you start your first day of work.

  5. I am fortunate in that halfway through my cataloging class last quarter I started an internship at a non-profit research library. It was increadibly useful to practice what I was learning on actual items, and to have a librarian, excellent reference books, and teachers to ask about odd or unusual problems that came up in a relatively stress free environment.

    Looking back on my first day I hardly accomplished anything, I was nervous and unsure of what I was doing, I had to look everything up at least twice because I didn’t trust myself at all. Now, I have several of the fixed field codes that I use on a regular basis memorized, and a mental system for how I check copy-cataloging records.

    I’ve been led to some great print and online resources which have greatly increased my understanding of what I am doing, thanks to my cataloging prof. and AutoCat members. The librarian I work with walks me through each new type of item I encounter so that he can answer any questions I might have with a real record in front of me and informs me of things to watch out for, he is a great mentor.

  6. Janet Young

    Laurel- yes, I have a library tech degree. Also a university education. And a nerdy interest in all the details of cataloging. Maybe I was born to be a cataloger! If I were younger, I’d probably go to library school and get that degree but I’m now only a few years away from retirement.

    Kiyomi- sounds like you’ve got a good mentor. Keep asking questions. And good luck with your career.

  7. Thanks so much for your blog and all the very useful links. I am a very recent MLIS grad with little library experience. I have done internships in cataloging and reference, and have volunteered at a nearby university library, where I now am continuing to volunteer in the cataloging department one day a week. I am learning so much, but I still am unqualified for most cataloging positions I see available. This is a second career for me, and finding a job has been difficult. I’m seen as overqualified for entry-level positions (i.e., library clerk), but I don’t have the years of experience for anything else. I do think that there could be a much more organized system of mentoring in cataloging, as well as in libraries in general. The MLIS degree should combine classroom work with training in the field from day one, and there should be specific certification exams (cataloging, reference, et al.) available to be taken at the end of graduate school. Such a system would also “level the playing field” between those who have the degree and those who don’t but have experience. Anyone could take a certification exam, and the results would show your competence in a given area.
    Again, thanks for all these resources. I look forward to reading your blog.

  8. Laurel Tarulli

    Kiyomi – thanks for commenting. I know that my practicum really opened my eyes to everyday cataloguing and what it’s like on the job. Funny enough, after I graduated with my MLIS, it was my first job out of the program – that of an office manager for a law firm – that really taught me about organization, management and databases. Now, I refer to those experiences a lot – and the many professionals who patiently helped me along the way. It’s great to hear you find AUTOCAT helpful and that your librarian has become your mentor!

    Michelene – you make a good point. I would encourage you to apply to jobs you don’t think you’re qualified for. I think many employers look for someone eager and interested in the profession. Also, given that this is your second career, I bet you’re more qualified than you think. A lot of experience from your first job may likely transfer over to a cataloguing position – organization, attention to detail, professionalism, etc. Think about your skills and your knowledge. Sometimes enthusiasm and transferrable skills win out over experience.

    Janet – I think you were born to be a cataloguer and I’m believe your colleagues are very lucky to have you on board! You definitely meet the criteria for a cataloguer in my book!

  9. Laurel – My last job before entering the program was Quality Control Manager at an Environmental Lab. There’s nothing like being in charge in a fast paced environment to make you organized and familiar with database programs like Access and Excel.

    I’ve been very fortunate when it comes to mentors. My undergrad mentor has been one of my closest friends since orientation and 13+ years later we’re still very close. I was at the U. of Redlands a couple days ago, and was amazed by the number of faculty I recognized that also remembered me by name. I suspect this was due to my habit of spending time in various faculty offices asking questions. I love learning about reference resources because they let me answer my own questions, although, they have also been known to lead to more complex questions for my teachers/mentors.

  10. Michelene, Laurel makes a really good point about continuing to apply for jobs you don’t feel qualified for. Employers will “ask for the moon” in library job ads, but know that they won’t necessarily get someone with everything. It’s great that you’re volunteering in a cataloging department. Good luck!

  11. Bill (a cataloger)

    This is a heartening post. I’m cataloger with about 12 years of experience, and certainly don’t regard myself as stuck on any particular metadata format or ruleset (I know several fairly well), but I’ll admit to having something of a crisis of faith as it were. I have been seriously exploring other options if the bottom should fall out of the profession. This has certainly has some positive effects in seeking to further my IT skills. At the same time there is some frustration of wondering how much longer my work will be of value, and how to best position myself so it continues to be of value.

    Pardon the confession and thank you for listening.

  12. Laurel Tarulli

    I’m glad you wrote. I think a lot of cataloguers are worried about the future of the profession. In my view, the profession and its importance is growing and changing, but not declining. You’re on the right track, furthering your IT skills. I don’t know what type of institution you work in, but I do know that with the slow progression toward next generation catalogues, it is becoming increasingly important that cataloguers train as readers’ advisors. Because of the strong presence of online users, the catalogue is becoming the face of the library, with cataloguers as the frontline staff.

  13. Bill (a cataloger)

    Hi Laurel:

    Thank you for your reply. I’m currently working for an academic library in New England. I’ll certainly look into readers advisory training. I’ve expressed some interest in reference cross-training in the past and have meet with a positive response, though cataloging and digital library work has kept me very busy (we lost several people in tech services to state prompted early retirements). A topic for my upcoming quarterly goal review. Again, thank you for your advice and encouragement.

  14. Thanks for everyone’s encouragement here. Again, thanks for all the resources on your blog, and links to others’. All of this is an education in itself, and very much appreciated. I am currently working through some of the subject cataloging training materials at the Library of Congress site, which are a good review in some cases and helpful knowledge in others.

  15. Heather

    I’m coming a bit late to the table (for which, apologies) but I’d like to add some comments from a UK perspective.
    To start with, most of our library schools teach little or no cataloguing. Therefore we cannot make the assumption that a qualified librarian is able to catalogue. They may have learnt a little bit of theory on “knowledge management” and/or done a few paper exercises, but they will nearly always need training in AACR/RDA, MARC and classification (and the principles on which these rest). When cataloguing isn’t part of the professional skill-set, it makes it very difficult to make the case that a cataloguer should be professionally qualified.
    At the same time, the sector is shrinking – there are very few cataloguers in the profession (especially in public libraries) and even fewer in the job market. And in any case we are increasingly required to save money by recruiting on non-professional grades so we are not going to attract experienced staff.
    So, faced with candidates who are neither skilled nor experienced – how do I identify the ones who would be good at cataloguing?
    Anyone who applies for a cataloguing job will express a deep interest and passion for cataloguing, even when this isn’t really the case and what they want is any job that will pay the bills. (No blame – in their position I’d do the same). Putting aside the ones who shoot themselves in the foot by telling me that they catalogue by Dewey, or make other unforced errors, I am thrown back on trying to recognise the character and kind of mind that will be able to assimilate and practise cataloguing.
    Accuracy and consistency are usually cited as the qualities a good cataloguer needs, but I have too often seen these tip over into pedantry and inflexibility (and a very slow work-rate). Common sense and good judgement are just as important. Noone is going to make a good cataloguer who isn’t a catalogue user. I have a theory that linguists make good cataloguers because they are analytical and good at expression, but I can’t prove it.
    Has anyone got the answer?

  16. Laurel Tarulli

    Hi Heather,
    Your UK perspective is welcome and I am glad you decided to share your perspective.

    I’m first intrigued and alarmed by the fact that cataloguing is no longer taught in library school programs in the UK. Are they not addressing metadata issues or access to information? What about indexing and abstracting? Oh dear. Do you know what the factors were behind this decision?

    I think an argument can be made to get rid of or de-professionalize almost every aspect of librarianship, the question is why would we do this? Why are our schools and our professionals devaluing our skills? Why do we train students with reference skills now that there is Google? Why do we offer classes in readers’ advisory services when users can simple search Amazon, refer to user generated reviews and look at the “readers who bought this also bought…” feature. But, I digress.

    The first question, when looking for a cataloguer, should perhaps be to ask – what do we do and how can we improve it? I once heard a session where the speaker said that every time a patron uses the library catalogue, the experience should be better than the last time. Therefore, you want staff that will make the catalogue better.

    How can you hire staff to make the catalogue better if they aren’t trained in cataloguing? Definitely not a good scenario, but even with trained cataloguers, there are personal and professional traits that I consider essential. Perhaps others reading this also have recommendations or suggestions of what to look for in a *would be* cataloguer?

    You have a point about someone with linguistic skills. I’ve heard this. I believe English majors are also highly valued as cataloguers. Individuals with a high level of math skills and music training also tend to make good cataloguers. I know many cataloguers who are former musicians.

    As for personal traits, I like individuals who are curious, well-read, well-rounded and creative. I think any or all of these skills are important to cataloguing successfully.

    Overall, if you can’t hire a professional cataloguer, I believe having a list of skills for a candidate is vital.

  17. Pingback: What makes a good cataloguer? | The Cataloguing Librarian

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