John M. Jackson is a 28 year old MLIS student and cataloging supervisor for the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He blogs about academic libraries and information literacy at Ink and Vellum. You can follow him on Twitter as johnxlibris.
When people ask what I do, I love to give them my official title: Grand Inventory Cataloging Supervisor. How many times in my life will I get that chance to say the word “grand” in the title of my job!? Ok, the name of the library is “Grand Library” but most people don’t know that. Many of our students don’t even know that! Grand Library is USC’s offsite storage facility for low-use materials: in the words of one of my colleagues, it is where books go to die.
But they don’t see the wonders that I see every day! I once came across the Library of Congress catalog from 1860. The other day, I stumbled across a volume of Diderot’s famous Encyclopédie. These books are not entombed. I prefer to think of them as waiting. Or simply misplaced. They just need the right person to find them. As Steven Jay Gould famously said, “There’s no way it will interest more than eight people in the world, but those eight people really care.” I catalog with those eight people in mind.
That is my reason for being as the Grand Inventory Cataloging Supervisor: find our books. Over the last ten years, Grand Library became the dumping ground for materials weeded out of other collections and for acquisitions that couldn’t be processed fast enough. As a result, hundreds of thousands of volumes were never cataloged properly or at all. So it is our 4-year mission to boldly go where no cataloger has gone before: into the stacks to live, to dwell, to rebuild.
Literally. I have a desk in the middle of 81,000 square foot room containing over 2 million volumes and growing every day (it’s in the PQ7000 section: Spanish literature). I supervise a team of student workers and day-by-day we work to create and edit bibliographic records in order to properly reflect our monographic and serial collections. We are fond of calling call our job “guerrilla cataloging”.
I did not always want to become a librarian. In college and in graduate school at the University of Virginia, I studied medieval literature (hence the name of my blog). While I was there, I worked part-time for one of the electronic archives and saw, for the first time in my academic life, the raw power of information: how it can be created, enriched, and shared. I wanted to be a part of that environment and actively contribute to its goals and objectives.
I have aspirations of working as a subject specialist and reference librarian for the institutions of higher education. I half-jokingly like to say that I’m a cataloger who wants to be a reference librarian who wants to be a cataloger. I love both aspects of librarianship, but the public services aspect of reference work pulls much harder on the drawstrings of my heart. I love nothing more than to see that look in a student’s eye when “they get it.”
This may explain the topics I choose for my blog (which is very young and I’m still unsure of what it may grow up to be). I started the blog in January of this year with the goal of setting up a professional space where I could talk about information and academic libraries. So far, it’s been a very efficient way to learn about information literacy, instruction, and reference work and to keep up to date on current research. Ideally, this will contribute to a future job as a reference librarian, but life has a way of taking you to unexpected destinations. So until then I will be diligent and I will blog: contributing, sharing, and networking with other librarians like the spectacular ones highlighted here in the Young Librarian Series.