Cataloging Tools We Use and Why We Love Them

Despite my academic experience, and a couple ramshackle volunteer gigs involving funky Google docs and internal non-relational database work (from something out of the 90s), I haven’t had much that much experience with actual cataloging. Well, finally I’ve been able to put my theoretical knowledge to the test and actually dive into what the catalog means, what’s offered inside, and what the potential for having a robust catalog is. Let me say, however, that I don’t think the Seward Park project has exposed me to all the basics of the catalog, and there are a lot of pieces to a record, MARC and otherwise, that we won’t have much need to explore, but I have gotten significant experience in the 2,000+ items we’ve gone through thus far.

Oh, and I forgot to mention this: we’re almost done. That’s right, the catalog is almost complete (or rather, the “initial catalog is almost complete”–a catalog is never finished)! After this past Saturday’s diligence, Anna and I got through the majority of the remaining titles. All that is left for our initial push, and this project, to be honest, are a few stragglers and a handful of what we’ve deemed “trouble books.” We’ve thrown all these “trouble books” into a spreadsheet and I can’t see them taking too long to complete. The hardest part will be subject cataloging; however, Anna’s experience and the staff’s topical knowledge and my intellectual drive will get us through those easily enough. I hope, anyway. There are a lot of books in the collection that one might question in terms of topical relevance, and I know at least a few are books that were not found in the Library of Congress or other databases we investigated. But the remainder of the project is not what I initially wanted to talk about. What I really, really wanted to talk about was help.

Libraries are networks and have relationships like humans have relationships. One of the most glorious elements of the library (archetypal place-type) is that it has been following in a deep tradition and that tradition has been supported by a respect for the libraries that have been through the libraries that are and will be. When you’re creating a catalog, you actually save significant amount of time by using resources that others (others who are most likely paid or severely experienced) have created before you. I’ll talk about a few of the resources below, and I’ll try to be brief.

Z39.50: While I don’t have enough time to go into the history of the Z39.50 function, or explain it exactly and technically (you can learn about its core existence right here), I will say this: it’s ingenious and my code name for it is: short cut. Actually, all the tools I’m going to talk about here are short cuts and should be appreciated as such. They cut down drastically on time spent to add new records to the catalog or fix/ensure accuracy for the fields within each record. For Z39.50, you can basically think of it as a gateway to another collection. In the case of OPALS, there are a few Z39.50s included to begin with when you have the ILS setup originally. When they’ve been added to the ILS, it means that the cataloger can search the other database to find records within the database and add it to your own library database.

Why is this important? When you’ve got a collection of books, it saves a lot of time to grab the records for those books from other libraries.  The Library of Congress was the first library database we used to find records for books in our collection. But, oddly enough, LC doesn’t have everything. Anna and I came to the conclusion that a lot of the resources we were cataloging were actually from this region (Pacific Northwest, US and Canada) and so we decided to add the University of Washington to the Z39.50 list and, voila, we found records for even more of the resources we were cataloging. That being said, the magical Z39.50 can’t find every resource, because some resources simply haven’t been cataloged, or are so obscure that they’ve been cataloged only be “random” libraries out in the middle of the ether. Now, wouldn’t it be nice to search every database at the same time? Yes, it would, and Anna brought that up. But this technology is actually relatively old-school, and so what we’re left with is going to a Z39.50 index like this one I found via  a simple Google search and trying to find relevant libraries to add. As you can see, there are tons. Really, tons. It’s overwhelming, which is why it helps to have a specific need, so you can have a specific database to add to solve that need. Another way you can go about finding out what library collection has your resource in its catalog is by way of WorldCat, which I’ll discuss below. But regardless of how you find a resource, it doesn’t mean you’re going to find it, and in some cases Z39.50s aren’t even available for certain libraries, so the tools are only good to a point.

WorldCat: If you’re a UW student, you’re used to using a WorldCat interface to find materials located at UW and within the entire university consortium (and online databases for digital articles and e-resources). WorldCat offers all of its location-based information online for free, though, right on their handy website. Anna has more direct library experience with them than I do. Though you can use WorldCat to find out which library has your resource for Z39.50 info, you can also use WorldCat to get more basic information for the record more quickly. Anna started using WorldCat for items in the catalog lacking call numbers. Let me back up and take two seconds to explain what call numbers are: they are, at least in our case, Dewey Decimal numbers (determined by subject) and Cutter numbers (determined by author’s last name) that, when combined, make up a reference to finding the item on the shelf. I don’t know why, but LC doesn’t always have call numbers in place in their records.

So you can either create the call number from scratch (using the Dewey classification site, which is actually pretty awesome and easy to use), or you can try and see if a library that owns the resource has a call number available. Most of the time, if a library has the item, it has the call number, and it’s available through their OPAC. This is where WorldCat comes in. You can search for the resource and 99% of the time find a library that has it in its catalog. Then you go to that library’s website (linked in WorldCat) and search the OPAC for the resource and get the call number listed. I wish WorldCat would display the call number and save that extra step, but it must not seem like a priority to share that information on a SERP on the WorldCat interface. You can, of course, run into problems with WorldCat. When you find a resource and your library is using Dewey, you’re going to have to make sure you look in public library catalogs only, as most other libraries (corporate-special, medical-special, and university, for example) use LC classification. Why we chose Dewey and not LC for our call numbers and classification is mostly in part because Anna has the most experience with it, and because the call numbers used before we got to the library already were Dewey, so it made sense not to start from scratch. Anyway, there have only been a few instances where using WorldCat to find the call number was not possible. In some cases we’ve used FirstSearch, which is owned by OCLC. Similar to WorldCat, it can find resources fairly easily, tell where they are available and, in some cases, display additional information (like call numbers). The major problem with FirstSearch is that it’s owned and maintained by OCLC. That’s another conversation. When all else fails and a resource can’t be found, Googling a phrase like “[resource]+library+call number” sometimes brings up the resource in question.

So in conclusion, libraries don’t have to rely on other tools and systems and libraries to get their job done. Technically Anna and I could have cataloged the entire library from scratch without any other help. But we probably would be only on the second or third shelf after all of these weeks of work, and that’s neither practical nor desirable. I think this experience, which is finding accurate records existing inside the world of cataloging already, has been just as valuable as knowing how to catalog a record from scratch, though I won’t be certain about the equality in question until after this Saturday.

In other news, we are hoping to meet with Joey and Ali soon to discuss internal policies. We’ve also got the first draft of the collection development done, though Anna’s looking over it before we move on to sharing it.

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