Life as a Librarian: Post #2- Maybe not the most glamorous of tasks….


Post #2 in our “Life as a Librarian” series addresses the task of cataloging and classification.  Not the most glamorous of library tasks, but by far, one of the more important ones. Large libraries have huge departments dedicated to the cataloging of library items. Here at Warner, we have Jonathan Beasley, our Technical Services Librarian as well as a student worker and Jean Demey, our Technical Services Assistant.

When a new item comes into the library its title is first check in the OCLC database. OCLC is a business that, among many other services, allows libraries to share records with each other. If a library has already created a record for the item, other libraries may use this record in their own catalog. It saves a lot of time. If a new item’s record is found already completed in OCLC, then the item and its record go to Jean who adds the record to Warner’s catalog. This process is called copy cataloging.

If the item does not have a record in OCLC or there is something incorrect about the record that is there, then the item goes to Jonathan who either creates a record for the item from scratch or corrects the record found in OCLC. This is called original cataloging.

Let’s talk about these records. In the library world, we all use a standard format for our record. This format is MARC- “machine readable catalog”. MARC tells us what type of information to include in a specific field. There are about 880 fields. Not all records use all 880. Major fields include the title field (245), call number (050 or 090), subject fields (650) , and the description field (520). Catalogers (aka librarians who catalog items) usually memorize what information goes into what field. Also what the item is determines which fields you need to use. I catalog our media collection, so there are fields I use in media records (DVDs, CDs, electronic resources) that Jonathan & Jean don’t use since they catalog books.

The other important player in cataloging is AACR2- “Anglo-American cataloguing Rules, Second Edition”. AACR2 tells us where to place commas, periods, colons, and other details regarding the content of a certain field. We consult both MARC and AACR2 in order to create a complete, full-level record. Other records can be created, like a partial record or a minimal level record.

Lastly, there’s the classification portion of this task. Most academic libraries use the Library of Congress classification system, or LC. We use LC to help us determine what call numbers and subject headings to assign to an item. The Library of Congress devised a classification system that groups items on a similar topic together on the shelf. Here’s a brief breakdown of the LC classification system: http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/lcco/

Catalog records are vital to locating resources. We use them not only to identify what items we have here in Warner, but also in our interlibrary loan service, EZ Borrow. Without these standards, it would be very difficult for libraries to share resources. Currently, there has been a lot of talk in the profession about moving away from AACR2 (gasp!) and instead adopting a new set of cataloging rules- one that better identifies resources in this new Digital Age. As you can imagine, there is much debate over this. Some libraries have adopted the new rules, which is called RDA- “resource description & access”. For now, most libraries are waiting for an official word on whether not to adopt RDA.

Cataloging librarians are a breed of their own. You have to be a detailed oriented person to enjoy cataloging. I’ve been told that catalogers are born, not made. Personally, I enjoy cataloging and now that you know probably far more than you would like about cataloging and classification in libraries, hopefully next time you search our catalog, you’ll appreciate a little more all that information on the screen about the item. It’s just one of the many tasks librarians do. Now you know!

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