I’ve been spending more time cataloging recently. When I was in graduate school, I was a 20-hour-a-week copy cataloger for a state agency in Wisconsin, and spent those 20 hours up to my eyelids in other people’s catalogs, looking for downloadable and free catalog copy for Wisconsin state documents, article reprints, and locally-published research reports on the health of the deer population in Green Bay, and the like.
I loved every minute of the work.
When I got my first ‘real’ library job (an idea I take umbrage with; I learned just as much in my paraprofessional jobs as I have in my pedigreed ones), I was doing more — serials, acquisitions, selection, budgeting, staff management — but still cataloging. My extremely capable technical services assistant and I were it, the only two in the building responsible for buying and cataloging $85,000 in books. That’s a lot of work, and we worked hard and got it done. For my part, it was mostly copycat work with a little bit of original tossed in when we ordered some odd critter, but I found and managed and completed a few original cataloging projects as well.
And then I came to my current place of work, where I have a room full of capable, efficient, smart, and effective staff who do all of our cataloging. Mostly, I just see the oddballs, the problems, or original copy that needs proofing before it’s sent to OCLC. And to start, that was fine with me — I had a bunch of new and interesting challenges to take up, learning how to manage a much larger budget and staff, and addressing the issues unique to my new workplace. Bigger place, bigger issues, bigger job, great fun — let someone else do the day-to-day, and I’ll be Big Picture Lass, I thought, and happily didn’t catalog anymore.
But this summer, four years in, I had a chance finally to get back to where I started. I was training a contract librarian on how to catalog on our ILS (ExLibris’ ALEPH), and was back into the nitty-gritty of linking items to holding records, and talking about how to use OCLC to find the exact record to match your item in hand. I was also working with a graduate student intern on government documents serial cataloging for continuations of print publications that had moved online, which mean a lot of the same conversation about identifying records, reading MARC tags, and working with ALEPH. And, on top of that, I’m working, finally, on getting our ebook collections into our catalog, instead of in their online silos. I’m back to cataloging.
I spent a portion of my weekend working with the contract librarian as he speeds toward the end of the retrospective cataloging project he’s doing. And I remembered something. Cataloging doesn’t make me tired.
I’ve learned that, with my current work, I get up in the morning, energized, and need to use the first half-hour of my day doing some basic household tasks, because when I get home after 8 to 10 hours of library management, I’m exhausted. Bone-deep weariness. Four hours of sustained work on budgets, book selection, project management, and communication leaves me feeling like I’ve been wrung out and hung up to dry. But four hours of cataloging? Is nothing. Headphones, some good music, and an organized workstation and I’m good to go for days on end. Cataloging is fun. And easy. And makes sense to me.
Which isn’t to say I don’t love other aspects of my job just as much. They’re simply harder work for me. Today thus far I’ve caught up on morning email and voice mail, read a document in preparation for a meeting, facilitated the meeting, reported to an colleague on the meeting, proofread the first draft of a project proposal about coordinating tech services and public services workflows, checked in with several other colleagues, filled out the intern’s evaluation form, ate my lunch, and came down to the reference desk, where I’ve answered 2 lengthy reference questions, 2 mid-level questions, 6 short questions, and done four printer troubleshoots. After this shift is over, I’ll go back to my office and sort out the email in my inbox, send a few management-y emails to the Collection Development Committee, follow up with some faculty after our Library Liaisons’ luncheon on Friday, sort the SUNYLA treasurer’s stuff in my inbox, make decisions on the cart of Problem Stuff from technical services, and then read a few of the articles piling up on my desk (because Monday is professional reading day on my calendar). And then I’ll go home, and be hard pressed to want to deal with the laundry, because I’ll be tired.
If I were cataloging all day… not so much. I wouldn’t be the same kind of tired, at all. Because something about cataloging just clicks in my head and works for me.
Knowing that, I’m working hard at making sure there’s time in my workweek for things like cataloging (and also selecting books, which works much the same for me) that give me energy, rather than require that I give it to them. I think that’s the key to some sort of balance in my worklife, and I’m going to give it a try.