Meet Rebecca Keenan the new cataloguer at Dunedin Public Libraries. Only a month into this new job Rebecca shares how she got there, what special skills, attributes and knowledge you need to be a great cataloguer and what a fun day in the life of a cataloguer includes!
Can you share with our readers a little about your library background and how it led to this role?
Back in Ireland, I studied journalism and worked in various content creation jobs – I wrote about tyres for a transport journal (I don’t drive), I wrote add copy for Yahoo! (not my favourite), and I created travel guides for Hostelworld.com (that was awesome). When I moved to Dunedin in 2011, I had some temp jobs before working at the Otago Museum for four years, also in a content creation role. When I finished there, I went back to temp and freelance work, but started to think about what I wanted to do with my life going forward. I’ve always been a massive library fan, so I decided to complete a postgrad diploma with Victoria University of Wellington via distance learning.
It quickly became clear that the cataloguing side of things really sparked my interest, so I further built my knowledge by completing the Open Polytechnic’s cataloguing and classification paper and starting a Cataloguing and Technical Services Certificate via Library Juice Academy (which I’m about halfway through now). The more I learned, the more I wanted to know, so when the job of cataloguer came up, I gave it a shot and am delighted to have gotten the role.
What special skills, attributes and knowledge do librarians need to be a great cataloguer?
The person who had this role before me worked as a cataloguer for 40 years, so I took their advice to hone my detective skills to heart! As a cataloguer, you need to search out records, differentiate between creators, find appropriate MARC codes, and so on. All this boils down to research and the ability to search for information in creative ways. Part of this includes reaching out to colleagues who know more – I’m lucky to be a member of the Kōtui consortium’s Cataloguing Working Group, and it’s already helped me learn so much through answering questions, authorizing provisional authorities, and creating training videos.
Technologies and practices are constantly in flux, so it’s important to be flexible. For example, how fictitious entities will be dealt with under new LRM and RDA practices, creating connections between resources using linked data principles, and the potential for BIBFRAME to replace MARC.
Having a good memory is useful, especially when it comes to the coding language specific to creating RDA records in MARC. It’s also useful for classification purposes – we use Dewey and being exposed to the collection through my time as a shelver has been incredibly helpful for remembering numbers.
Accuracy and caring about the integrity of data are important, and touch typing can be a useful skill, especially when adding in contents notes! Finally, it’s important to know why you’re there – that everything we do as cataloguers is supposed to make it easier for people to find stuff.
But as I’ve only been a cataloguer for a month, I’m sure this list will change and develop as I go along!
Why do you think it is important that cataloguing skills are retained in libraries and not just outsourced to specialist companies?
Having an on-site cataloguer allows our library to deal with any issues or inconsistencies with records quickly, directly, and in a way that works for our users. It also gives us more control over the description of our own material, especially with regards to local practices.
What do you hope to achieve in this new role?
Currently, my focus is on learning the ropes and getting up to speed with the day-to-day activities and practices. But, in the future, I’m keen to look at specific projects that might improve practices or user experience. For example, using learnings from the LIANZA Impact and Evaluation workshops to look at how staff use our systems to search for series, how this relates to our cataloguing practices, and whether anything can be tweaked to make things easier.
I’m also especially keen on improving access for communities and groups that have been more marginalised by the US/Western/Christian-centric cataloguing practices and tools (such as LCSH or Dewey).
In this vein, I’ve noticed a few DVD records where female cast members are left off the 511 field cast list… even when they’re main characters and their names are on the front of the case! I think it’s crucial to update things like this to create more representative and complete records.
What does a fun working day in the life of a cataloguer include?
Variety! So much variety! No day is ever the same. Currently, I’m working with a lot of AV material, and classical CDs are proving the most challenging. I’m not familiar with this kind of music, so am getting a bit of a crash course as I look for appropriate subject headings.
I also spend a lot of time on OCLC, searching for records to import into our system or creating records for items without a current record. Often, this involves deriving a record from a different format and then updating it to reflect the item in hand (for example, standard print to large print).
Authority work is another big part of the job, and I think this might be one of my favourite things. It gives me a real sense of satisfaction to add an authorised author heading from LC to our system, as that makes it easier for users to search and get complete results.
It’s also just really satisfying when you fix or add something, click save, and watch the all caps UNAUTHORIZED disappear from the end of the field.
You attended the recent Ngā Upoko Tukutuku Tukua Workshop at Araiteuru Marae, Ōtepoti. Why did you want to attend and what did you learn that will enable you to be more effective in your new role?
It just makes sense to me that people would like to use their own language or knowledge framework when searching for information, especially here in Aotearoa New Zealand where Te Reo Māori is an official language and an essential cultural touchstone.
As a result, I wanted to learn more about Ngā Upoko Tukutuku and this workshop provided a great opportunity to do so and connect with other keen cataloguers and library staff from across the country.
There was some great practical advice about how to determine the best headings to use and how to apply these to bib records using MARC. It was also important to learn that Ngā Upoko Tukutuku aren’t just translations of LC subject headings. Instead of imposing the LC way of thinking on the framework, it was developed from the ground up to reflect Te Ao Māori.
This knowledge will help me to add access points to Māori material in our collection, making it easier for mana whenua to find material using their own words and frame of reference.
What advice do you have for someone aiming to progress their career in libraries?
Take opportunities to try out new areas of library work when they come along. Expect change and don’t be afraid to give new things a go. Stay curious and never stop learning. Recognize your own worth.