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Career Strategies for Librarians
Tales from the Tenure Track: A Cataloger's Ultimate Experience
by Anna M. Ferris

Catalogers everywhere are grateful to Richard A. Murray for helping to dispel the stereotype about
catalogers in “The Whimsy of Cataloging." 1 His assessment, that a career in cataloging can be
“fascinating” and “challenging” and (yes, say it!) “even  fun,” is absolutely true (even though it did reveal
the best-kept secret in librarianship).  But, in fact, Mr. Murray has only touched upon part of the truth about
professional catalogers.  

In the interest of library school students and prospective catalogers, I would like to expand on Mr. Murray’
s article and report on the side of cataloging he does not mention but which actually makes up 60% of
the workload for a cataloger who is in a tenure-track position at a large university library.  (As a catalog
librarian at the University of Colorado at Boulder, my contract stipulates a workload of 40% librarianship,
40% research/scholarship and 20% service.)  This article, therefore, will focus on the activities that relate
to the scholarly work and professional achievement required of catalog librarians at some academic
institutions.

The following passages, excerpted from the job advertisement 2 for the position I currently hold at CU-
Boulder, will help to illustrate which activities are involved.  (The passages dealing exclusively with
librarianship activities have been excluded.)

“CATALOGER, MONOGRAPHS.  … A SIGNIFICANT PART OF THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE
MONOGRAPHIC CATALOGER INCLUDES research/creative work and service, in keeping with the tenure
standards of the University of Colorado at Boulder.  REQUIREMENTS:  …potential for research and
scholarly/professional achievement.  DESIRABLE QUALIFICATIONS:  …evidence of research and
scholarly/professional achievement.  …  The successful candidate with demonstrated accomplishments
in research and creative work will be appointed … as … Assistant Professor on the tenure track.  A
successful candidate without significant professional experience and with promise in research who
lacks an established scholarly record will be appointed as a Senior Instructor (non tenure track) for 2
years, with transfer to the tenure track and promotion to the rank of Assistant Professor upon a
successful review.”

Needless to say, a solid knowledge of cataloging—everything excluded above—is the key to landing an
academic cataloging position.  When perusing job ads, however, it is worth noting how recurring
phrases and variations in font size are used in the advertisements for academic library positions.  These
are clues indicating how significant these activities are at a particular university library.  There is a
reason why scholarly and professional achievements as well as service are so important:  these are the
requisites for ANYONE holding a faculty position at a research institution.  For catalog librarians, faculty
status translates into a career where professional concerns, responsibilities and privileges are
equivalent to those of the teaching/research faculty.  The only distinction is that the cataloger’s primary
responsibility is to librarianship and not teaching.

On the tenure track, anyone with a passion for cataloging and a good understanding of the value of
scholarly work will discover countless opportunities for growth and fulfillment.  S/he will come to realize
that the hurdles to academic success are not so insurmountable; in fact, the rewards far outweigh the
drawbacks.   These are some of the most rewarding aspects of being a cataloger on the tenure track:  

Working at a level of expertise well beyond simple cataloging functions        

The professional development of a cataloger is, in itself, an exciting process characterized by these
specific stages:  1) initial training as a copy cataloger; 2) acquiring expertise as an original cataloger; 3)
applying expertise to investigate solutions to complex cataloging problems; 4) publicizing this research
through scholarly endeavors and contributions; 5) ultimately, contributing to the advancement of
cataloging knowledge.    

Selecting research topics of your own preference

The research undertaken by professional catalogers is directly linked to the work they become involved
in.  The choice is simplified once they discover an area they have a concerted interest in pursuing,
especially if it relates to the routines and activities dealt with on a daily basis.  Library school students:  
this is comparable to being asked to write a paper in your favorite class on a topic that interests you the
most as a student of library science.  

Networking with other professionals

The fact that other librarians are in the same situation, working on topics that are of special significance
to their work, makes them very amenable to sharing and receiving new ideas.  The opportunity to learn
from and work with other professional librarians, nationally as well as locally, is an important aspect of
the cataloger’s development.  It also underlines the fact that, as professionals, librarians are just as
committed to serving their colleagues as they are to serving their patrons.  

Attempting to earn tenure at an academic library can be seen as the ultimate challenge for a
professional catalog librarian.  Along the way, the cataloger will attain an estimable level of cataloging
expertise; contribute to the educational function of the library; play a part in helping to advance the
profession in general; and, above all, serve to further the goals of the academic institution.     

Notes:

(1) http://www.liscareer.com/murray_cataloging.htm

(2) American Libraries, January 2001, p. 118-119

About the Author:

Anna M. Ferris is Monographs Cataloger at Norlin Library, University of Colorado at Boulder.  She
received her M.L.S. from Southern Connecticut State University in 1998 and caught the cataloging bug as
an intern at Yale University’s Sterling Memorial Library.  
Article submitted April 2002

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