“Why Do You Need A Master’s Degree To Alphabetize?” Or, Library School Semester 3 Overview

Welcome back, Reader! Today’s post goes out to the customer my colleague interacted with a while ago who was obstinate over the fact that becoming a titled Librarian requires a Master’s Degree, because he knew the alphabet before he was in kindergarten and “that’s really all you need!” I’m here to inform you that the alphabet is not the only thing you need to know to work in a library. I could go on a tirade about the ignorance of such a statement and detail some of the many skills and knowledge needed to be an adequate, much less good, librarian, but I don’t think that would do anyone much good. Instead I’m going to tell you about the classes I’m taking this summer and the role the topics they cover play in librarianship.

Cataloging & Classification

It should be easy to see how this class fits into librarianship. Before a book or other library material can get on the shelf and into a customer’s hands, it has to be entered into the library’s catalog. The catalog is essentially a local database where customers and staff can see what items are available and where they are located. Today, the vast majority of library catalogs are available online. In order for the catalog to accurately reflect the library’s holdings, someone has to input information about each item in such a way that the computer knows how to display it and what to do when the item is interacted with, for example when a customer wants to reserve an item, or when an item is checked out to a customer or back in.

There are local, national, and international standards about how to enter this information, and many libraries share (or sell) with each other the behind-the-scenes information they write for MARC records, which is what is input into the computer. Here’s an example of part of the MARC record for a book I’m currently reading:

Creating these records isn’t really all that complicated, but it does take a high level of specialized knowledge. Thankfully, the standards which guide this process are being updated over time to be more user-friendly and straightforward. Also, the fact that my library includes the “Field Description” column is extremely helpful for learning what the codes and tags mean. Here’s what the customer would see for the item based on record above:

This class goes over how to create item records according to the most common standards. It’s akin to learning a language, which is something I’ve always enjoyed, and at a week and a half in I am really enjoying this class! I expect it to take more mental effort and practical application than my previous classes, but I’m really looking forward to it. Last semester I took a class called Organization of Information, which laid the groundwork for classification concepts, and it’s fun to see how the practical application builds on those concepts!

Information Technology

Photo by ThisIsEngineering on Pexels.com

Libraries aren’t just for books anymore, and they honestly haven’t been for a while. It still may come as a surprise to some that librarianship requires a decent amount of knowledge about technology. I’m less excited about this class because technology and I don’t always get along and because it requires a group project, but I definitely believe that it will be very helpful in the long run. Currently, I see myself as close to the bottom of the middle of the pack when it comes to technology knowledge at my library, and I would like to be more helpful to both customer and my colleagues. Computers, smartphones, microfiche and microfilm readers, tablets, projectors, 3D printers, and many more technological assets can be found in libraries around the world. Even the fax machine has a learning curve! It wouldn’t do any good for a library to possess such technology if the customers are not familiar with them and the staff are not equipped to assist. This class will (I hope) provide foundational knowledge for interacting with a variety of technologies commonly found in the library.

Both of the classes I’m taking this summer have direct practical applications to librarianship. In a small library, one librarian may fill all roles, from cataloger to IT helpdesk to clerk to program presenter. In a larger library, each of these roles may be separated out to a different department. Ultimately, I think I would prefer to work a library more like the first, but regardless of whether I end up with a highly specialized job or one with broad responsibilities, it’s good to have exposure to and knowledge of all the different pieces of the library. And contrary to some people’s beliefs, there are a lot of things that go on in the library which have nothing to do with alphabetizing! Library catalogs, in order to be useful, are much more complex than that. But I digress.

What are you working on this summer, Reader? Do you have any questions about librarianship, cataloging, or another related topic? I’ll answer any questions to the best of my ability.

Before I sign off, one last mention that your local public library is probably currently hosting a Summer Reading program, and many of them are not just for children anymore! I would encourage you to stop by or peruse their website and see what they have going on. Whether the reward is simply the books and conversations you discover along the way or something physical like an e-reader or branded tote bag, many programs (at least in the US) are expanding and doing their best to reach out to all ages and levels of readers.

Until the next chapter,


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