Library Blog

Cataloging the Society Library

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Many library users are familiar with the Society Library's card catalog, located in the Reference Room, and many are also familiar with the Library's later iteration of the catalog, found on our website. Believe it or not, they serve the same function, but in different forms. Although technology has changed the way we make the Library's holdings findable, the Cataloging Department continues to work diligently to do just that. Not many are familiar with the Cataloging Department, since catalogers usually sit with computers and books, rather than people and books. Here, we introduce the Cataloging Department’s many functions and purpose.

catalog cardsWhat is the Cataloging Department’s purpose?

Our purpose is to provide access to our collection, so accurately representing our holdings is our main focus. We maintain the catalog to ensure that users find what they need. Consistency is important to all involved, as it will ensure the proper organization and retrieval of many thousands of items.

How does the Cataloging Department actualize its purpose?

We create records to represent materials, describing as much as possible from physical details to subject description. We edit information in records, working with any number of records at once, from one to thousands. We follow generally determined guidelines in the cataloging field, but also have our own local rules that we create and follow for consistency. We also familiarize ourselves with the ways the catalog is used by patrons, researchers, staff and others, so we can make it work best for all.

Why is there variation among records in the catalog?

As you can tell, we spend time and energy thinking about the cataloging of our materials, but of course there is always variation; standards have changed, and so has technology, not to mention staffing and users. Because our institution has a long history, materials were cataloged at different points in time, which means they are cataloged under different rules and policies. Most newer cataloging records are fully cataloged to the best of our ability, while older records are simple and sparse, with little information. We sometimes have time to revisit and add information to enhance an older record if necessary. You can expect to see some variation in our catalog, and with some time and experience, you may be able to recognize the history of our cataloging practices. Also bear in mind that catalogs among institutions vary, so allow for flexibility when searching catalogs of other libraries.

How does the Cataloging Department help you, the library user?

Our focus as a department, and as an institution as a whole, is to provide and promote access to our collection. Our work in the Cataloging Department allows users of the catalog to find what they need and to find what they didn’t know they needed. We continue to improve our work to better organize and classify for the purposes of retrieval and the occasional special surprise.

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