Anatomy of a cataloguer, or, I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed

This blog post started life as a comment on the “Anatomy of a cataloger” post by Theresa Schultz over at LISNPN but it got a bit too long and then moved slightly in another direction anyway so I’m posting here on my much-neglected blog.

First of all, it’s not entirely true that I wasn’t angry. There was definitely some anger, in fact there may have been a little mention of Hulk Cataloguer on Twitter last night. After thinking it through, however, what I’m left with is disappointment. First of all, please do read Theresa’s post. And definitely also read the comments there, eloquently and coherently written (thank you all). I’m not interested in any ad hominem attack – Theresa has replied to the comments and explained her position, welcoming the discussion. She points out that the piece is meant to be humorous. Let me just indulge in a little experiment to see if I can show why the reaction to her post wasn’t just a sense-of-humour-fail on the part of the cataloguers I know.

What if, instead of being a piece about cataloguers written by a non-cataloguer (or a very reluctant cataloguer, by her own admission), it were a piece about librarians written by a non-librarian. Replace “cataloguer” with “librarian” (and a couple of the other words to the new context) and see what it gives:

Is there any position more dreaded than “librarian”?  Not because they’re scary, but because none of us really want to do it?  Because we don’t really love books, electronic resources, searching, referencing, or silence?  Or any of the library standards?

I can’t think of anyone I went to university with who liked librarianship.  We all thought of it as a necessary evil.  I’ve had to do some work in a library, and I haven’t changed my tune overmuch.  Borrowing a book is fine, but working on an issue desk?  Forget it.


Librarians are respected in an abstract way, I think, when they’re thought of at all.  It’s not a glamorous position, a high-visibility position, or one with a lot of change.  If you like a reliable, steady sort of work, then libraries might just be for you. 

You get my point, right? If someone wrote this in a magazine or website, the library community would be all over it. Even though it’s intended to be humorous, the use of stereotypes, the “necessary evil”, “who’d want to do this” aspect would get our backs up and we’d be advocating and busting out of the echo chamber about libraries and librarianship. Wouldn’t we?

And rightly so. It’s particularly disappointing that this was written on a website for enthusiastic, interested new professionals, library school students and people interested in the profession. As part of a series that, while light-hearted, states its aim to give “a better understanding of what our colleagues do and so students might have more realistic ways to potentially decide which track to focus on”. Yes, the author gives some praise to the importance of cataloguing and the catalogue but all the while says “we’re lucky other people like to do this so that we don’t have to”. Who is going to finish reading that and think “Hmmm, I think cataloguing’s for me, I love to be under-appreciated, mocked and considered nitpicky”?

More importantly, I’m disappointed because we’re obviously not getting our message out. It’s been nearly a year since High Visibility Cataloguing was set up and we’re not much further out of the cataloguing echo chamber. I’m disappointed because we should have been *offering* to write a piece for LISNPN about the realities of being a cataloguer. As part of the discussion on Twitter last night, Doreva Belfiore made the suggestion that a cataloguer write about their work for the Hack Library School blog. Brilliant idea. We should have thought of that. Proactive not reactive!

In true schoolteacher-y style, I’m most disappointed in myself. Must. Do. Better. This high visibility stuff won’t happen all by itself, we need to be looking for avenues to promote and describe what we do ourselves, take charge of the narrative so that other people don’t do it for us.

This was my own personal reaction so I’ve posted it here but please do keep an eye on the High Visibility Cataloguing blog as we would really like to collect proactive ideas and ways to get our message out there. We need you! If only to make sure the Hulk Cataloguer doesn’t make another appearance.

Thank you to all the wonderful cataloguers who commented on the original LISNPN piece and talked about why they love cataloguing, superstars one and all!

P.S. I heard a rumour that the Hulk Cataloguer may have a Twitter account. If any gifted person would like to design an avatar for Hulk Cataloguer, I…. er, I mean he‘d be very grateful 😉


12 comments so far

  1. thewikiman on


    I’m sorry there was something on LISNPN that annoyed you like this, and your ‘replace with librarian’ example very neatly illustrates why it would do. When we opened LISNPN to guest bloggers there’s always the risk that something would come out on that wasn’t ‘on message’ and I do feel slightly uncomfortable about that fact that, as you say, that one wasn’t very encouraging to a particular sector. We don’t ask to see guest posts before they go out – I’m not sure what I’d’ve done if I’d seen that because I don’t want to repress anything either. I’m quite glad I didn’t have to make a decision, quite honestly.

    Anyhow, what I’d really love is a response piece on LISNPN, by you, as soon as possible. Would that be something you’d be happy to do? I’m not in charge anymore but I can’t imagine Lex or Rachel objecting. We ran that ‘lISNPN wants your blogs!’ campaign a few weeks back, so this would be a post we’d love to have. What do you reckon?

  2. niamhpage on

    Hi Celine, as a non-cataloguer I was furious on your behalf!

  3. Rachel P (@archelina) on

    Great post Celine and hope I do get to read your response on LISNPN soon too! I don’t think non-cataloguer views on cataloguing are invalid, and there were a few positives in Theresa’s post – but oh these persistent stereotypes…

    I gather that oboe players are always the butt of jokes in the musician community – seems that cataloguers are still the oboe players of the library orchestra 😦

  4. […] not-quite-alive materials” absolutely needs to be challenged. As Céline Carty points out in her response to Theresa’s post the profession as a whole is trying to break out of the echo chamber and prove these outdated […]

  5. Nicky on

    Excellent response to a worrying blog post – I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading when it popped into my inbox this morning. You’ve put the counter arguments very succinctly and hope that you’ll consider wikiman’s suggestion for a post on the LISNPN that will gvie a more accurate account of a cataloguer’s role in this day and age.

  6. Charlotte Smith (@LottieMSmith) on

    Really good post! As a subject librarian who does a lot of cataloguing (and a trained cataloguer) I was very annoyed and your post sums up my objections very well!

  7. Claire Sewell on

    Great post Celine. I read the original post this morning (having missed all the “fun” last night) and was really annoyed at first, but then I calmed down and I can see that it wasn’t intended to be as bad as it seems.
    I was typing out a very long comment, but that was rapidly turning into its own blog post! I think you should definitely write something for the LISNPN blog from a more positive perspective. There are always two sides to every story and I think you would be a great person to tell “our” side!

  8. Jason W. Dean on

    Bravo, Celine!

  9. venessa on

    Celine this is a great response. I do understand that Theresa was trying to be humorous but as you have quite rightly pointed out, what upcoming professional is going to think positively about cataloguing after that. I have also given myself a slap on the wrist for not being more active – we’ll crack it though I’m sure, all 4 of us do work hard to fit HVCats in with all of our other committments.

  10. Erica on

    Celine, I so wish you had time to post more often (says the woman who just now got around to reading this post and has several hundred other cataloging blog posts yet to read. *sigh*)
    I think you are spot on – had the word “cataloger” been replaced with “librarian”, Teresa would have been just as upset as the rest of the library community over the post. And that brings me to my own issue with her post.
    Yes, it comes across as bordering on offensive as well as terribly inaccurate, but aren’t we used to that by now? Don’t we all just roll our eyes, get out our yardsticks and give little elevator speeches on why catalogers are amazing and are really the nexus of any library? I mean, look at all the fantastic responses from passionate catalogers as a result of her post. And as one of the participants said, it opened an excellent dialog, which is great!
    No, my beef was with both Teresa’s and The Wikiman’s responses. I stopped blogging years ago (that time thing! It gets me every…uh…time…) but even a guest blogger knows that s/he will get criticism on every post if the blog is read by the public. The worst way to respond is how they responded – passive-aggressively and with seeming intent not to “listen”. I was more put off by her “thank you so much for opening this to debate and please keep going” followed by “I’m not wrong and it’s my opinion so suck it up you big babies” also followed by “I stick to my guns that all you people do is catalog even though you’ve all told me you’re also working the desk and helping the IT departments”. One stance or another is fine, but all of them? There went her credibility in my mind.
    The Wikiman could similarly have benefited from posting what he posted to you here over there. All the “I got her back” and “You didn’t step up, so shut up” makes a blog, especially one that is supposed to be encouraging to new professionals, less than welcoming. There was no need for moderation, but had there been, I don’t think that was the best way to go about it.
    And now that I’ve done precisely what you did not do over on Teresa’s post, I’m going to be going now. I’ll see you again in another three months.

    • Ned Potter on

      I agree I should have tried to be more welcoming, sorry about that. I’m nice and diplomatic about 98% of the time, and it gets really, really boring. I often don’t say what I think about things (when I do it tends to end badly, just like in this example) but sometimes I just get to the stage where I’ve had enough… I don’t think I was being passive-aggressive though, just aggressive.

      It wasn’t (just) the ‘you didn’t step up’ thing – what specifically annoyed me were the comments that we should have got a cataloguer to write it, as if we’d commissioned a piece on cataloguing and not bothered to get someone supportive to do it. It’s just an open blog which info pros can write on, we don’t vet the entries and we didn’t ask anyone to write about cataloguing. Someone did, shame it wasn’t a cataloguer, I tried to handle it best I could once the post was out there, sorry it was in the ‘worst’ way possible. (You should have seen my earlier drafts of the comment replies I left if you think that was the worst I could have been. 🙂 )

      I defended her because I am always grateful when people volunteer their time for another cause, and because she was getting slaughtered and she is a human being. I don’t know her but I know if I’d been in her position, I’d’ve been upset – I felt bad for her and didn’t want to leave her adrift in a sea of criticsm, when she’d been kind enough to answer my call for guest bloggers. That would have been dishonourable, I think. And as I said in the comments (which you agree with above) “It’s good that this has catalysed a debate and given cataloguers a chance to educate the rest of us on what they do and why it’s enjoyable.”

      I think more people now know positive things about cataloguing than if Theresa had never posted at all.

  11. Céline on

    I really don’t want anyone to end up feeling bad about this whole thing. That’s why I’ve tried to move away from talking about the original piece when I wrote the bit for LISNPN. I genuinely think this is a case of “all’s well that ends well”.

    Plus I’m exceedingly non-confrontational and would like everyone to Just Get Along 😉 Definitely don’t want anyone feeling bad though.

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