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Cataloguing: not really scary….

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As first year student librarian, the thing that caused me the greatest anxiety was cataloguing.

I understood the reasons and theories behind it; to help people retrieve information about resources in a library from a list, and from various points of access, and that a person called a cataloguer usually did this job. (This ABC-CLIO-ODLIS article provides a great definition). While I had a tenuous grasp on the basics, could navigate my way around a MARC record, and on a good day, I could remember what AACR2 stood for, the idea of applying my fresh knowledge in a workplace was a bit nerve wracking.

So signing up for a RDA webinar, run by the Schools Catalogue Information Service was a great opportunity to learn more about how cataloguing was changing in school libraries.

A bit of background: the Schools Catalogue Information Service (SCIS) is a subscription based cataloguing service for schools, where school libraries can copy catalogue records into their library management system, rather than doing it from scratch. This service is critical for schools as it limits the time spent on original cataloguing, leaving more time for librarians to focus on developing programs and educating students.

RDA or Resource Description and Access replaces AACR2 (or Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, the second version). Basically AACR is a set of rules used for describing an item in a library catalogue. AACR was written before technology, so can run into issues when a cataloguer needs to describes something digital like an e-book. RDA has been written to replace the old system and bring it up to date with new technology.

The Webinar I attended was run by the Australian School Library Association(ASLA)  and involved representatives from SCIS discussing how their organisation was addressing the change to RDA and what this would mean for librarians responsible for cataloguing in schools. They described RDA as ‘resource description for the digital age’ and explained how RDA would use carrier, media and content to describe resources, rather than the physical description currently used. Practically, librarians could expect not to find a GMD (General Material Designation) when the new standards were implemented and that certain phrases such as ‘second edition’ and the Bible would no longer be abbreviated.

As a student, I found it reassuring that there was this kind of support available to librarians when changes in standards are made. It not longer feels like I will be turned out into the big bad world as a fresh librarian and expect to know every single standards and cataloguing method there is off by heart. There is a network of people and organisations out there working to educate and support librarians.

The other thing that I found reassuring is that the librarians attending the webinar were happy and comfortable to ask questions and to share the knowledge and information that they had. Maybe this reflects the core function of a librarian: to provide people with access to information. It is clear that this flows into professional development as well. There is an eagerness to share information willingly, and to support other members of the profession. This is not the first time I have encountered this. During both of my professional placements (as a part of my university degree, I am expected to complete a certain amount of professional placements in different libraries), the librarians I worked with were happy to share knowledge and answer endless questions, even the really stupid ones (‘what’s a call number?’ after I had spend an hour sticking them on books! *facepalm*)

So the moral of this story is that if you are a newly enrolled LIS student, its ok not to know what the number of the publisher field in a MARC catalogue is, because there is always someone out there who can help you. My advice as someone who is very close to graduation is to find a mentor who you can mine for information, and not to be worried that you don’t know everything after your first term. Also, after a while, cataloguing actually becomes really satisfying and just a bit fun.