As part of our Archives Month 2010 celebration, archivists and librarians here at the Smithsonian are blogging about the work they do. I was asked to describe what it's like to be a cataloger. I filled up pages of notes with thoughts about the past, present, and future of cataloging archival and library materials, and, more specifically, about my job as Special Collections Cataloger for the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. It was a great exercise, but I generated way more information than I could pack into one entry. Therefore, I've suggested to my fellow SIRIS bloggers that we ought to do a continuing series on the glories and travails of cataloging (do you agree? Let us know in the comments section below!).
Being a cataloger is a very important job, because your concise, expertly-informed, and accurately-crafted record makes it possible for your institution's reference staff, researchers, and others to find the materials they are interested in that are tucked away out of sight in the closed stacks. While cataloging manuals like Describing Archives: A Content Standard and MARC 21 Concise Formats are full of details that are challenging to understand and remember, the work is all worth it when you can create well-organized and easily findable records in SIRIS for unique materials. Featured here is the Wheldon & Wesley Card Index, recently acquired by the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History, containing the accumulated inventory and provenance notes of a British antiquarian book dealer who specialized in the sale of publications on natural history for over 150 years (and the Smithsonian was one of the company's best customers).
This is an exciting time and an exciting place to be a cataloger, because there are so many ways that our records can be shared and enhanced. Increasingly, you'll find links to images or websites in our SIRIS records. We are looking into providing geographic data reference points with our catalog records. And in the coming year, we will be exploring ways to integrate mobile applications with the Smithsonian's Collections Search Center. We are also working on increasing the number of finding aids available in Encoded Archival Description (EAD) and other standard data formats to enable the Smithsonian to share and re-purpose its data with other research institutions around the world. What else lies ahead? Perhaps adding a crowd-sourcing component to allow catalog users everywhere to add their own keywords and notes to our records, while still preserving the integrity of the original data. These changes and improvements might seem like a tall order for now, but we will find a way to work things out, with so many bright minds working together here and in the greater archival and library community beyond the Smithsonian.
(The illustrations show one of the cards created and annotated by Wheldon & Wesley staff members; the cover of the printed sales catalog for Wheldon & Wesley's 160th anniversary; and the cabinets containing Wheldon & Wesley's inventory cards, accumulated between the 1950s and 2000, now housed in the Cullman Library).