I knew I wanted to be a librarian from the time I was very young. I was lucky enough to have great role models in my school librarians. And a friend’s mother was head of a small college library and gave me my first library summer job when I was fifteen. But the only librarians I had ever seen were the public services librarians, because of course they’re the ones out front and center. I had no idea that the wonderful world of cataloging and technical services existed! Until I went to library school, that is, where I took Cataloging my first semester. (I’m revealing my age, I’m afraid. First that Cataloging was required, when so many schools sadly don’t even offer it now. Secondly, that the course wasn’t called “Metadata!”) And I fell in love with cataloging. It’s solving a puzzle, creating order from chaos, and helping people all at once.
I have worked at small libraries, both public and academic, and I have never had the luxury of a big department of colleagues I could ask for guidance and advice. ALCTS has been and continues to be an amazing resource for the Lone Cataloger. There are so many wonderful classes and programs! And a lot of resources are online, which is great when your budget doesn’t support travel.
Even more valuable than the classes is the community that ALCTS provides. It’s lonely to be the sole person in the library who knows or cares what RDA stands for! But when I go to ALCTS events, I’ve found my tribe. We can speak our secret language of 33x and FRBR. And it’s more than cataloging arcana. Early on in my library career I found the Technical Services Managers in Academic Libraries Interest Group. This group was invaluable to me as a new manager, because I could talk to people who were dealing with the same challenges that I was and often finding interesting solutions.
Finally, I love that ALCTS provides me the opportunity to give back. I get to organize programs to help and inform my colleagues. I have a seat on the ALCTS Board and I help determine how the organization can continue to stay relevant as the profession changes. And now I serve as an instructor for the Fundamentals of Cataloging web class. I love chatting with new catalogers and helping them to make sense of the crazy rules, which aren’t quite so crazy once you understand the context. They may not teach “Cataloging” in some library schools anymore, but there will always be a need to organize information.
I want to conclude with a quote from one of my favorite fantasy authors, David Eddings (from King of the Murgos, published in 1988 by Del Rey, page 76):
“Isn’t he just a librarian?” Garion asked. “Somebody who looks after the books?”
“That’s where all the rest of scholarship starts, Garion. All the books in the world won’t help you if they’re just piled up in a heap.”
Shannon Tennant is the Coordinator of Library Collections and Associate Librarian at Elon University’s Belk Library. She is currently the chair of the Affiliate Relations Committee, a member of the Tech Services Managers in Academic Libraries IG, and an instructor in the ALCTS Fundamentals of Cataloging class. The picture here was taken at the Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland.