Tag Archives: cataloguers

What makes a good cataloguer?

This is a bit of a follow-up from my last post, I can’t replace my cataloguer with another cataloguer?

So, let’s forget the training or education for a minute. Let’s even forget reasons for why we want trained cataloguers or how to catalogue *cheaply* but still maintain quality records. When it gets right down to it, what characteristics, skills or traits make a good cataloguer? We’ve all met cataloguers that have library or library tech degrees that weren’t the best cataloguers. Why? What sets apart a good cataloguer from a not so good cataloguer? What makes a great cataloguer?

This was Heather’s comment from my last post:

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?

Heather’s comment really got me thinking about this, and I’d like to know what the rest of you think. What do you look for when you’re hiring a cataloguer? Is it all about training or education? What do you think makes a good cataloguer? Has the rapid growth in technology and changes in cataloguing (in the recent past and in the near future) changed the qualifications and qualities you look for in a cataloguer?

Here are some things to consider:
Level of Education
Type of Education – Do individuals educated in music, math or languages make successful cataloguers?
Personal Qualities – Should cataloguers be creative? Well-read? Curious? Well-rounded?

Here are some past posts of mine that may interest you. Some are more closely related than others to the topic discussed above, but I feel that they all have some relevance. I welcome other posts or comments that can be shared with everyone!

**Focus Group: The Results (Includes a wish list of criteria that librarians look for when hiring into the profession)
Creativity? In Cataloguing?
Pride and the Cataloguer
Librarianship can be a struggle when it’s your second career
Quality v. Quantity


Filed under Our Profession, The Cataloguer

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

Wikis and Cataloguers: Success for the First Step

Our new wiki was installed in the beginning of December. I was both nervous and excited. This is the first “big” project that could have a huge impact not only in the cataloguing department, but also throughout the rest of the library. If this pilot project works, I can write a report that recommends wikis for other departments throughout the library system, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses that I have encountered, as well as the learning curves, training challenges and staff participation.

The First Step
Although not fully implemented, my first step with our Wiki was to introduce the cataloguers to its possible functions and uses. I put up many of our cataloguing “cheat sheets”, links to relevant cataloguing sites, department announcements and recent cataloguing decisions from LC and LAC. Sending them the link to the Wiki, I asked them to have a look around, get use to the navigating aspects and layouts. Upon reviewing the site, I asked for their feedback: What did they like? Dislike? Ideas for adding new content?

With my excitement in this project and by taking the time to answer questions and explain the possibilities of the Wiki, all of the cataloguers began suggesting ideas or providing me with feedback. One of the most rewarding moments was when one of the cataloguers suggested we put our “working” New Lists on the Wiki.

Collaborative Lists
New Lists are created as we catalogue items. Like most cataloguing departments, each cataloguer is in charge of cataloguing specific materials (DVDs, CD, Fiction, Talking books, Non-fiction, Children’s Non-fiction, etc). As we catalogue, items published or released within the last two years are added to “New” lists which are provided to the public and are constantly being edited and updated. Each cataloguer is responsible for their list, which reflects the items they catalogue. However, when backlogs occur, several cataloguers may be assigned to a specific collection to reduce the backlog.

With several cataloguers contributing to these New lists, it was becoming difficult for the main cataloguer in charge of the list to keep track of the item, how long they had been on the list, and when they should be removed. In addition, many cataloguers have their own system for keeping track of the lists (I.e. Word documents, Excel Charts, Handwritten notes). The time to organize these lists when multiple cataloguers were contributing was becoming a concern.

Our solution was to place the New lists on the Wiki. Presently, we are actively contributing to the New! Latest CDs list. This is an internal list that can be seen and edited by all cataloguers.

Because of the backlog, there can be up to four cataloguers contributing to this list at once. Because of the Wiki, there is one master list for each collection and the items are sorted by date. The cataloguer in charge of the list can then see when the item was added, how long it has been on the list and who added the item. This makes editing the live list in the cataloguer much easier. The amount of time that this has saved is equivalent to a couple of hours a week. As a result of the hours being saved organizing and editing the lists, more time can be spent cataloguing and reducing backlogs in other areas.

This is the first of many steps that I hope to take in the department. My next step is to set up a tutorial to allow cataloguers to create a group page and to collaborate on a project, using the features a Wiki has to offer. Once they have completed this tutorial, they should have the skills and knowledge to jump in to using the Wiki on a regular basis.


Filed under In the Cataloguing Department, The Cataloguer