One of the best parts about working in a library while plowing your way through library school is when you get to see the real-world applications of the things you’re learning. I know that seems like a pretty basic, if not cliched, statement but it’s completely true! Another graduate assistant and I are taking a cataloging class this summer and yesterday the cataloger at our library offered to let us shadow her for a few days to witness some cataloging in the wild!
I’ve found that cataloging is very much like the majority of library science classes: learning theory is essential for understanding the underlying structures and why it works; learning some of the mechanics is tricky but makes you feel like you’ve mastered it a little (yay for basic MARC principles!); and actually doing it makes you feel like an idiot who has learned next to nothing, but then again you can see how much more lost you would be had you not taken the class. I definitely felt this way when it came to reference. I had taken “Intro to Reference Services” my first semester, where we learned reference theory, studied instructional practices, and even did mock reference interviews. All of that is a great foundation for actually doing reference, but learning about it is a lot different from doing it, as I found out when I started my current library job, which has me sitting at a reference desk 20 hours a week.
Yesterday, as we sat down with the library cataloger and she took us through some tricky cataloging problems (what she spends much of her time working on), I was overwhelmed by how much I had learned (in terms of MARC fields, classification, and the difference between a work/holding/item/etc.) and how much I would still need to learn to become proficient (mostly things to do with the idiosyncrasies of the actual program, Voyager Cataloging).
I was also struck by how drunk with power I would feel if I were a cataloger. While showing us examples, our library cataloger pulled things in and out of the catalog with such ease that it took my breath away. You may think that the power rests with the reference deities or the circulation gods or even the administrative overlords, but make no mistake: the catalogers are the true masters of the information in the library. How good they are at their job determines whether or not you will find ANYTHING.
Overall, I’m having a lovely time shadowing our cataloger. As my coworker pointed out, this experience will make us both feel much more confident when we assert our “cataloging skills” in future job interviews. Plus we get the satisfaction of learning more of the day-to-day practicalities of something we studied, which is the best!