Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Library day in the life of ... day 1

Today is my first day describing my working day for the Library Day in the Life Project:

A brief introduction: I work in Cambridge University Library as a cataloguing project manager. My official title is Head of Retrospective Conversion, which doesn't sound like something essential but is (and not just because I say so). The Library still has many books only catalogued in card catalogues, which means that the books can't be found in any online database. My job is to organize the 'conversion' of the card catalogue records into records that can be searched via the internet. We're not talking about making the full text of the books available, just the catalogue record, but no magic wand is available: the card catalogues must be scanned or keyed. Or, in a few wonderful projects, as in the present Tower Project, the material is considered sufficiently rare and undiscovered to be re-catalogued from the book itself. There are ten of us working on the project: you can see our Tower Project web pages and our project blog


It's Monday morning, and it starts with re-shelving the books that have been returned by readers. I try to remember that it's great the the library is so well-used, that the books are borrowed so often, but the downside is an awful lot of books to re-shelve each morning. Each trolley holds 120 books and this morning I have two trollies and just 40 minutes to re-shelve them. Impossible jobs aren't a good way to start the week. I can only remind myself that our whole book re-shelving process is currently being critically reviewed.

Coffee Unlike any other library I've worked in, people actually have plenty to say at coffee time. Today we cover the Australian Open, football (of some kind, not my thing), the TV series Borgen and Coronation St.


If you're still reading, by 10.30 I've actually started something job-related. My job is to ensure that cataloguing projects are completed, on time, within budget to an agreed standard. Key to this is quality control of the catalogue records we produce. All records for this Tower Project have to be keyed from scratch. This means copy-typing information from the title-page and keying in the MARC21 coding and punctuation. Staff use templates for as much material as possible, but there is still a lot of scope for human error in keying. We have various ways of dealing with this: our validation programme, Catalogers' Toolkit, a brief visual check by cataloguers (preferably the next day). This morning we're using a programme called MARC Report to check for MARC coding errors. Why does it matter? MARC coding is (partly) what makes catalogue data work. More importantly, compiling a list of errors enables me to prioritise and correct the most damaging errors. What does 'damaging' mean in a catalogung context? If you can't find the book in the catalogue. So we prioritise keying and coding errors that affect classmark (call number), title and author name.

12.45 Rare Books reading room

Working in the reading rooms gives me a chance to see which books catalogued by the project are being read. Last year we finished cataloguing all the books published in the nineteenth century and they're very heavily used. In a place like Cambridge there are always the 'regulars' in a rare books reading room, so you get to know the people working on 19th century popular material. There are also the short-term visitors from overseas, very focused, trying to see as many texts as possible within a limited time. It's also an opportunity to talk to people about how the books are being used: what's the topic of their PhD? Have they published anything on it? Most researchers seem quite happy to talk about their interests, I can only remember one who looked rather alarmed.

2pm late lunch

Over lunch I checked the student newspaper Varsity to see how the UL was reported. Two journalists visited the library last week to research an article on the library and I did a brief tour of the tower and talked about the collections. Both writer and photographer (who are also full-time undergraduates) absorbed masses of detail without blinking, managed to capure something of the more entertaining side of life here, and even included my favourite advert for 'electric corsets' published 1892.


Cataloguing - more about this tomorrow.

5pm General admin.

Preliminary admin for meeting of heads of department on 7th Feb., book-moving rota, blog-posting rota, answering email and phone enquiries about our cataloguer vacancy.

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