For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
October 5, 2006 - So You Want to be a Cataloger
You'll think I'm kidding. But I've got an experience for you that will change your life. And you'll love it: Yes, YOU can be a cataloger.
I'm guessing that if you read this column, you love books. If you love books, the odds are very good that you've got books all over your house or apartment. They might even have started out in order. But they're probably not in order now. In fact, you're probably not quite sure which books you do have these days.
But that's about to change. Just follow these steps:
1. Go to Library Thing. You'll find it at www.librarything.com.
2. Create an account. It's free (up to 200 books), or $10 a year, or $25 for life.
3. Start looking for books you own. A database that combines some 45 libraries world-wide, including the massive Library of Congress, not to mention the files of Amazon.com, lets you quickly find what you want. Click on a match, and you've got a catalog record of your book. You've just started building your online collection.
4. In "list" or "cover" view, you can review your new library. You can search, sort, edit, and "tag" your titles. You can rate and review them.
5. You can find out what other people think of those books -- and what books they might have recommended.
6. Library Thing doesn't sell books; it just shares information about them. But once you know what you're looking for, there are libraries and bookstores!
At this writing, there are some 79,000 profoundly addicted users, and over 5.6 million books in the system. You can share information about yourself, too, and find -- who knows? -- your literary soulmate. Or at least you'll find people interested in the same things you are.
Library Thing will even pass along information to your blog, if you've got one. You can access Library Thing by cell phone when you're standing in a bookstore.
No less a newspaper than the Christian Science Monitor proclaimed, "LibraryThing appears poised to turn the cataloging of books into a form of communal recreation."
But you know what? That's what cataloging has always been -- the attempt to describe, as a group (of librarians, in this case), the fascinating world of literature. Just scanning through the tags or headings people give books tells you just how many ways we can describe something.
Like Amazon.com, Library Thing includes brief user reviews. Frankly, I like our own Douglas County Libraries catalog better than that; it includes links to the major reviews, and plot summaries.
But as is true with so many things, this isn't about competition; it's about collaboration. Library Thing adds a social dimension to the longstanding tradition of booklists. That's something public libraries have done in person for a long time. Now, it can be done online.
In a way, it's ironic. The trend in librarianship is away from so-called "original cataloging" -- where everyone is expected to create the cataloging record. In part, Library Thing fits into that; you grab what other people have done. Some in the library profession have thought this signals the end of a noble occupation.
But now you also get to add something personal, something that frames that record according to your own unique worldview. And that opens the door to all kinds of interesting new discussions and referrals.
Suddenly, to be a cataloger is be ... cool. Popular, even.
So, dear Readers, let's get cracking. A book uncataloged is like a friend not spoken to. There's work to do. Why shouldn't it be fun?
[Disclaimer: LaRue's Views, unless otherwise stated, are his alone.]