Tag Archives: Cataloguing

Theses Just The Beginning

Let’s talk about Theses, or “Fuds” as my manager calls them. Think about it…

Until I started at my present job, I never really thought about the fact that PhD and Masters theses were submitted to academic libraries and catalogued in the same way that books were. Obviously, I’d seen hard-bound theses before (at least, I think I had…) but I’d never really paid that much attention to them. People write their dissertations, I thought, and then just sort of handed them in.

Imagine my surprise when I found out this wasn’t the case!

In my present guise as a cataloguer, it is my responsibility to catalogue and process our theses submissions, and I actually rather like doing so. There’s something satisfying about opening up these grand texts, casting my eye over the research and tremendous commitment on display, before adding them to our system for others to peruse. It goes to the heart of academia, to the exchange of information and ideas, themes which sadly are becoming increasingly dismissed in favour of targets, money and statistics. Universities and libraries should be about something more than just churning out graduates.

Of course, I can’t lie, some of the titles I encounter look extremely boring. But every now and then, a little gem passes in front of me, with a catchy title or intriguing premise, and I marvel at the work and dedication needed to produce such results. My particular favourite so far was a music PhD.: a volume of research, plus CDs and a dozen pamphlets filled with scores and lyrics, beautifully illustrative and full of artistic ideas, experiments and above all passion for a subject.

What I actually do to/with the theses is rather clinical- tattling, barcoding, data-inputting. Sometimes, especially with the music ones, I actually feel a little guilty about writing and sticking things on other people’s work, like I’m flagrantly scribbling over canvasses in the National Gallery or defacing a textbook (things which of course I NEVER do).

What’s interesting about theses though is what happens afterwards. In many ways my role is secondary to the work of our Online Repository team, who receive the electronic copy and add it to our institutional resource. Suddenly, the tangible, physical thesis transforms into this fast, fluid, open access resource, available to researchers, students, academics and the public worldwide.

As a media studies student, I’m fairly familiar with some of the debates surrounding the evolution of new media technologies, and it will be interesting to look back in a few years time and reflect on the ways in which open access information has changed our world.

But for now, all I need to concentrate on is sticking, scanning and stamping, in the good old-fashioned library way.

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Catalogue of Misery

Was today the worst Monday EVER?

Contextually speaking; clearly, plenty of people worldwide have experienced considerably worse in the last 24 hours, and I’m essentially being hyperbolically self-indulgent. So, allow me to clarify…

Was today the worst day at work in my library in the context of me and me alone: EVER?!

Well, actually no. I mean, for a start there was the time a student cross-examined me, accusing me of “preventing her learning” by not allowing her to subvert the £100+ on her record in order to take out textbooks. Oh, and the day some books were returned in a rather damp, yellow and odorous state- draw your own conclusions, we did, and those books were never issued again.

Looking at it rationally, today was just, well, normal. I did desk. I catalogued. My line-manager despaired inwardly as I asked the latest in a long line of inane, repetitive questions about the Dewey Decimal System which undoubtedly resulted in yet another poor, unsuspecting library angel losing his/her wings. Standard stuff.

Perhaps it was the post Olympiad blues kicking in, but I just wasn’t feeling it today. No concentration. Fidgety. Easily distracted. It also didn’t help that I stayed up into the wee small hours last night listening to the US Open final between Williams & Azarenka. Late to bed is sluggish to rise.

Unlike in other departments, I’m finding that the ‘bad’ days in Cataloguing are harder to shake off. When my mind starts to drift or go fuzzy, I find it extremely difficult to maintain focus on the screen- and everything is on the screen. Even the assorted other tasks which make up my workplace portfolio involve screen time. Eye and mental fatigue are constant foes. And like when Serena’s groundstrokes begin to break-down and she starts having to rely on that booming first-serve, so too does my limited repertoire of cataloguing skills falter, and I’m forced to fall back on my gimme shot; except in my case it’s a bit of an underarm shocker, dumped in at an extremely low percentage.

A laboured tennis metaphor, but you get the idea. It’s not pretty. I start grunting and eyeballing line-judges. Losing ugly.

Today was one of those days. I hope for better tomorrow. Though, I suspect my mood will be indelibly influenced by Andy Murray’s performance tonight. I’m listening at the moment, and he’s a break up in the 1st set. If it all goes pear-shaped, expect the next post’s headline to read something like WORST YEAR OF MY LIFE EVER, or similar.

An exaggeration? Wait until I upload a screenshot of the bib. record which crashes the LMS…

(Since typing the above, Djokovic broke back. Read into that what you will…)






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Control Freakery

Is it possible to forget everything you’ve learned in 11 days?

That was the question I pondered on Tuesday morning when I returned to work following some much-needed annual leave. Having just been introduced to some fundamentals of the cataloguing process, had I jeopardized my development by sunning myself in the south of France?

Well, not quite, though it took me until Wednesday afternoon for the mental gears to kick in.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve had to focus my attention upon learning something completely new which is as complex and complicated as this. I feel like I’ve enrolled on a foreign language course, and as with learning a new language, the grammar and syntax are simultaneously nuanced and specific; except I don’t have 6 months to build up slowly and at my leisure. I’m in a professional working environment, I have books (and, as of this week, theses) which are needed for students to use, and I’ve got to get to grips with the practicalities of my role (and effectively cataloguing itself) now; which is as exciting as it is challenging. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling under a little pressure; the fact that I’m part of a team of two (well, possibly three, we’re not sure at the moment- I’ll explain later) means that it’ll become very obvious very quickly if I’m the poorly performing cog in the wheel.

In other news, I’ve lost control of my desk. I’m a bit obsessive about working structures, patterns and tidiness and I need to establish how I work. I have to have things in certain spaces, arranged a certain way. The geography of my desk helps with the geography of my mind. When my desk looks messy, you can rest assured my mind is too. At the moment, my desk starts neat at 9 and has descended to anarchy by 5. My target for next week is to sort out how I’m working in order to work better. If my physical space is taken care of, hopefully my mental space is too.

Finally, Thursday witnessed an almighty numerical fail, when my manager attempted to explain to me our system for generating control numbers for items without ISBNs. It’s a very sensible, simple, straightforward system using basic, easy to understand numbers arranged in a particular order.

Unfortunately, when my eyes see numbers, and when my ears hear numbers, my brain does a number.

Thankfully, events descended into hilarity as we both saw the funny side; but for a moment it felt like any veneer, any mere semblance of intellect, capability and professionalism disintegrated instantaneously.


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