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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 😉

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