A recent tweet from campbell_b got me thinking about how haphazard my cataloging education has been over the last four years. When I started working for USC in 2007 as the administrative assistant for Technical Services, I didn’t have a clue what cataloging and acquisitions work entailed (I’m still a little fuzzy on serials acquisitions). Since then, through adhoc training sessions, self-education, and dumb luck I’ve managed to get a fairly firm grasp on what it is I’m doing here.
Thankfully, I’ve had two generous and trusting supervisors, willing to give up their time and hand over increasingly more detailed tasks to me every time I ask for it. Back in 2007, I started editing records for electronic dissertations, introducing me to the world of metadata schema via Dublin Core.
Later that year, my supervisor asked me to help him clean up old location codes in the ILS by finding and transferring items to approved locations. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I had never worked with Sirsi before and didn’t know MARC from Adam. All I had were print-outs of records and a list of possible places those items could be. It was my job to either find the items or remove the records from the system. In retrospect, I’m sure I deleted a few things that I shouldn’t have. I’m far more careful these days.
In 2008, I asked to get involved with the inventory/cataloging project happening in our offsite library. By this point, I had a better idea of how to work in the ILS, but I still didn’t know anything about AACR2 or LCRI. Another supervisor was kind enough to lend me her copies of the OCLC trainer’s manuals for beginning and advanced cataloging. I spent weeks pouring over the material, trying to understand the intricacies of ISBD, added entries, and access points, eventually moving to the primary sources in Cataloger’s Desktop.
Somewhere in all of this I learned to work in OCLC Connexion and our local ILS, importing and updating records, creating holdings information, and making decisions about call numbers, subject headings, converting serials to monographic series, and doing whatever was necessary to provide access via the catalog. Last month, I had my first bit of formal training with name authorities through NACO and just yesterday I got a crash course in serials holdings records.
I shudder at the thought of the errors I must have made in those early days. How I’ve managed to train over 50 student assistants and not crash the system is a miracle. But I have learned a few very important lessons:
- No one knows what you don’t know. This can be a good thing. It means that many people probably assume you are more knowledgeable than you actually are. On the flip side, it means you have to ask for training when you know you need it.
- Confidence goes a long way. Even if you don’t completely understand a concept, being confident about what little information you do understand makes you a better teacher. And your learners will appreciate it.
- Always assume you’ve missed a class. This keeps me cautious. Knowing now how much I didn’t know four years ago makes me pause before doing anything drastic.
- Thank your benefactors. I couldn’t have made it to this point without the help of my two supervisors. Their trust in me is the only reason I managed to move from clerical staff to supervisor.
- Access. Access. Access. When in doubt, do whatever provides the most access for your users. Most often it will be the right decision.
I don’t plan to do cataloging work forever, but I’ve managed to acquire a solid, though somewhat patchwork, foundation in cataloging practices that will always frame the way I look at information resources.
And I will always, always, always love my cataloging department =)
(photo credit: isabisa)