Magazine article American Libraries

On My Mind: Life Isn't Fair

Magazine article American Libraries

On My Mind: Life Isn't Fair

Article excerpt

No one will tell you life is fair, especially not a librarian. Every year we are told about inadequate funding and library closings. Yet we still hope that there is a place for us somewhere--or we hope there's hope. Newly graduated and eager to finally work, it comes as no surprise that the dream job isn't out there.

After resumes, interviews, and visits, I finally landed a job. It wasn't my dream job, but a job nonetheless. So I moved my whole life halfway across the country to start my career as a cataloger. Yes, a cataloger.

It was a shock to learn that cataloging isn't required in some library school programs. In fact, I've worked with very few people who even took a cataloging class. In my LIS program, we were required to take either cataloging or indexing. I chose cataloging, although I'm not sure why; I daresay it seemed more glamorous.

The final project entailed either writing a cataloging-related research paper or cataloging all the items in your kitchen, including the infamous junk drawer. We learned basic cataloging concepts and classification rules and principles, based on AACR2. The instructor, a lifelong cataloger, acknowledged the limitations of the classroom and stated, "One becomes a cataloger by cataloging." We were not to worry about the details, as we would learn "on-the-job through an experienced cataloger."

On my first day as a cataloger, I knew I was in trouble. There was no other cataloger. I was alone.

It wasn't fair. The more I thought about my time in library school, the more upset I became. Money and time spent, and for what? How could they let me loose with the skills I had? What happens when an instructor says not to sweat the details since you'll learn them on the job? The result is a student who doesn't listen and who probably doesn't care. Then you can't mentor with anyone because there isn't anyone. There's little or no cross-training because the previous cataloger has left. The first thing I learned: If your coworkers aren't catalogers, they can't really help.

Obviously, formal education cannot cover everything, especially the intricacies of cataloging. The pages upon pages of rules in AACR2 alone make instructors balk. I recall being told what an authority record is, but I don't remember ever seeing one. We spent one class period, less than two hours, on Dewey Decimal Classification. …

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