An Unlikely Librarian – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Music Cataloging

A personal submission from our 2021 MLStEP Chair, Geo Flores.

“I was on my belly looking down at the sights of my M240 on an army training exercise in Georgia and I was bored. Very bored. If I recall correctly, I was singing Disney tunes pretty loudly because the soldiers trying to find me and my squad were clearly failing. When my squad got bored with my singing, they got me to stop by asking me what I would do after the army and I said “I dunno. My name is Geo. Maybe geology?” That usually got a laugh, although putting the pun aside, I was fairly serious. But for some reason, out of nowhere, like a bolt of inspiration I said, or librarianship probably.

Okay, it didn’t come out of anywhere. A friend of mine I’d met years ago was also a vocalist like myself and she went back to school to be a librarian. For her, it was a way to leave music behind, but I wondered if it could also be a way to make some use of my music degrees. A few days later, when we got back to base, I got on my computer and looked up music librarianship. A few months later and I was enrolled in classes. And about a year later I texted my one librarian friend: “so what does a librarian actually DO?”

It’s a bit of an odd thing to be halfway through your coursework and still not be sure what a day in the life of a librarian actually looks like. I learned project management, library theory, I built my own database, I learned how to search through and use dozens of different sources, but I just had no concept of what these things would look like or how they would fit together when I got my first job. Like a true friend, she never really responded to my text. This is fine because I soon got my first job, not as a librarian, but as a cataloger. 

I was only a cataloger for about 3 or 4 months when Baylor sent me to MLA Annual in Norfolk just before the pandemic hit last year. I remember during the first-timer’s meeting, I sat with the acquisitions folk instead of the cataloging folk because in my mind I wanted to be a “librarian” librarian. I wanted to build a collection, identify obscure texts, uncover the mysteries of forgotten manuscripts, and basically be the Indiana Jones of librarianship. I’m not saying I don’t want that anymore, but the more I catalog the more I see the charm

Cataloging is not the most immediately appealing thing in the world. If you wanted to be provocative about it, it’s glorified data entry. If you wanted to be romantic about it, it’s a series of living puzzles that no matter how many times you complete is ever so slightly different each time, and become more and more different over time as new standards and practices are adopted. I frequently have FUN while cataloging. I remember the first time I noticed this, though I don’t recall what piece of music I was cataloging. I recall thinking that the difference between one thing and another was a purely academic difference and that it didn’t matter which term I used before realizing THAT IS LITERALLY MY JOB. That realization and my subsequent foray into OCLC Bib Formats, RDA Toolkit, and MLA Best Practices guides or whatever combination of sources I used to solve my conundrum was the first time I realized I was doing a job I genuinely enjoyed, but it wouldn’t be the last.

Since then, I’ve gotten a ton of enjoyment out of cataloging. Sometimes it’s the simple pleasure of coming across new music that I would never have known about were it not for my job and I frequently make little playlists of the music I’m cataloging to listen to while I work (with all the modern music I catalog, this is not always a traditionally pleasant listening experience). Other times it’s the genuine pleasure of coming across an impressively detailed record and giving whoever did it a mental pat on the back for saving me a lot of trouble. Once, it was getting to use an obscure relationship designator: $e restorationist (expression). That last one was particularly indicative of my descent into cataloging geekery as I crowed to my non-librarian friends about how cool it was that I got to use such an obscure designator. And still, every day I find new little conundrums and puzzles to pick apart, to learn from, and to enjoy.

When I say these things to my non-librarian friends, they invariably tell me I’m insane. Although to be fair, saying these things to most non-cataloging librarians often yields a similar reaction. I like to respond, “what’s crazy about it? I get to be pedantic for money!” Any librarian will tell you that your career doesn’t always go the way you might want or expect, so maybe I won’t be a cataloger forever. Maybe one day I’ll find myself running from giant spherical boulders with an ancient lost tome under my arm (it belongs in a library!), but for now, I’ve learned to stop worrying and love the music cataloging.”

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