The Whimsey of Cataloging

I just got out of my cataloging class and I’m currently procrastinating from doing other work while eating the lunch that I diligently packed from home before biking to campus this morning. I’ve been reading my Feedly but at the same time, wondering how I can wrap my head around cataloging better. I am convinced that I like cataloging but I haven’t quite figured out how yet. All the rules and little minutiae get me all confused, but cataloging is, at its very core, everything I liked about archaeology: it’s the process of identifying and recording an artifact completely so that it can be found again. It’s basically organizing; and I LOVE organizing.

So it does really bother me that I don’t like cataloging yet.

I have to mention a little aside here. Bear with me because I’m pretty sure there is a point to this. When you catalog something, you enter all the information into a “surrogate record,” which is the representation of the object in your database. The recorded information forms a complete picture of everything that is important about that specific artifact. The first time I heard the term “surrogate record” I had an inexplicable flashback to Latin class in college when we were introduced to the notion of a “substantive adjective.” Which is an adjective that represents a noun. (Sorry grammar enthusiasts; it took me until college to learn that term.) For example, if you are talking about poor people living in Hoovervilles during the Depression, but you just say “the poor lived in Hoovervilles,” everyone listening will know that “the poor” means “the poor people.” The adjective stands in for the noun.

It’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to understand why my brain made the leap from “surrogate record” to “substantive adjective,” but I think something else was going on. I think my brain was trying to show me a way to understand cataloging. Latin made so much sense to me and helped me learn all of the English grammar that sitting through intentional grammar lessons couldn’t teach me. I loved taking Latin even more than I loved taking Spanish, Italian or Portuguese — all of which I have had occasion to actually use in real life — because of the beautiful mathematical organization of it all. Just as a I needed Latin to lead me to understanding and loving grammar, I need something to help bring me to love cataloging. The only thing standing in my way is that I don’t know what that thing is yet.

So I have started the search for that thing, and as usual I started with Google. If I have an issue, someone else in the world has it too. So that is how I came upon this page called “The Whimsey of Cataloging”. It didn’t give me answers, but it gave me hope that an answer is out there. Here is my favorite part about the cataloger’s experience communicating with people in far flung places:

Recently I had a lengthy email discussion with a magician in Venezuela named “Abracadabra” in which I tried to determine whether he was the same “Abracadabra” who wrote the book I was cataloging. (He wasn’t, but he was a great conversationalist).

I know I could do this. I don’t know that I want to be a cataloger, but I know that the concept of cataloging is 100% appealing to me. I just don’t like the process of doing it yet. I think I just have to figure out a way to learn the grammar of it all.

Thanks for sticking with me through this brain dump of a post. Anyone else feel like I do? Please tell me I’m not alone. Have you found the doorway to loving the cataloging process yet? Tell me your secret.


Real Life: Where I’ve been procrastinating/eating lunch.


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