My business card states that I am head of the special formats cataloging unit. It’s an odd title – one of the many unusual titles that people who work in libraries have. Even speaking to an audience of librarians, special formats is such a broad classification that it requires some explication.
Organizationally, I work in the cataloging and technical services department. Our department is organized into units, each with an area of focus – monographs and acquisitions, serials, binding, database maintenance, special collections, and special formats. The primary focus of special formats are the theses and dissertations deposited at the library. We work closely with the graduate school to both preserve and provide access to these scholarly works. The nature of both access and preservation is changing – but perhaps that’s for another time. The University of Arkansas is unusual in that it describes the theses and dissertations with “full-level” cataloging, so that our library users have the best possible access to these items. After processing, the manuscripts are sent to the binding department and bound. Here’s the result – the bound theses and dissertations from May of 2012:
When I started in this position, I looked at the workflow for these items and worked with public services librarians to make the processing more efficient, while increasing access to these items in the catalog. This prompts me to share with you one of my favorite quotes from one of the titans of cataloging, Charles Ammi Cutter:
The convenience of the public is always to be set before the ease of the cataloger. ((Charles A. Cutter, W.P. Cutter, Worthington Chauncey Ford, Philip Lee Phillips, and Oscar George Theodore Sonneck. 1904. Rules for a dictionary catalog. Washington [D.C.]: G.P.O., p. 5))
Indeed, one could replace “cataloger” with “librarian” and you would have an excellent directive for all librarians, and a pertinent reminder for me as a first-year academic librarian – that I work to serve the patron, and their ease and convenience should be foremost in our minds in the work we do as librarians.
In addition to theses and dissertations, our unit is also responsible for a wide array of other media formats – video, microfilm, and internet resources. When I arrived, there was a sizable (but not insurmountable) backlog of microfilm and microfiche, as well as a few CD ROMS. With the “newbie” energy I had, I tackled those backlogs so that users could find those items in the catalog, and use them. Your energy and enthusiasm as a new academic librarian can be put to uses that help the user – but just because you are new doesn’t mean you need to reinvent the wheel. Take time to learn not only how things are done, but why. Work in an appropriate way to change the things that need changing – and direct your enthusiasm on projects that you might not want to do later on. Working on that backlog was perhaps not the flashiest of projects, but it’s something that helped the user and the department almost immediately. I’ve already identified some things I would like to change long-term, things I could not really do on my own. I need to build consensus to do these things – building consensus on “big” things both inside and outside the library being a major part of that “work in an appropriate way” idea I mentioned above.
Another reflection that comes to mind is that it’s important to adjust to change, and to accommodate new opportunities. Though not in my job description exactly, I’ve been working on a digital project of early Arkansas history, the Colonial Arkansas Post Ancestry digital collection. It has been an exciting opportunity for me to hone my skills in CONTENTdm, and to gain some interesting knowledge not only of early Arkansas history, but also the history of the colonial Americas. Being open to this change and the new opportunity it represented has not only made me a more effective professional, but also has provided me with an opportunity to collaborate and work outside the library and serve the needs of a very wide community – one beyond the library here, and even beyond the state of Arkansas.
Putting the user – faculty, staff, student, and even worldwide users – first helps me be centered in my daily work as a new academic librarian. Keeping the user first in any work that a librarian does is something we should all strive for.