Home > Library Staff > Success Story from the Back Room

Success Story from the Back Room

February 23, 2010


I received an email last week from one of our library staff members singing the praises of another staff member.

First of all, it was very gratifying to see unsolicited kudos being given among the staff. I believe very strongly that one of my key responsibilities as library director is to encourage our staff in their efforts at the library. (This is a topic deserving of its own post. Note to self.) So you can imagine the joy that I felt in seeing someone who works under me share a recognition of the importance of encouragement. The word “proud” comes to mind.

Back to the email…

The email described how the efforts of one staff member allowed our rural SC college library to rub elbows with two top-5 research university libraries in the U.S. and assist one of those libraries (and, in turn, one of their library users). The praised staff member in question works in cataloging and has been involved (among other things) in an ongoing, long-suffering project to retrospectively add a group of older books in the collection to the online catalog.

Anyone familiar with the tasks associated with cataloging (or technical services) knows that this is not a high-profile, glamorous job. Cataloging tasks are done in the back room–away from the public spaces of the library. As a result, most people are not really sure what those “catalogers” do. Much of the work that is done in the recesses of the cataloging department goes unnoticed by library users. I mean, when was the last time you heard someone say, “We have the coolest library! Have you seen those records in the library catalog?”

The praised cataloger, while working on the retrospective cataloging project, added a particular 1901 publication to our online catalog at some point during the project. At that moment, our copy of the book was exposed to the world through the miracle of the Internet. The staff member who sent me the email told the story of how our copy of that 1901 book had recently been requested through interlibrary loan by the library at Princeton. In the interlibrary loan system, only two U.S. libraries were shown to own the book: Harvard and our library. After the initial shock wore off, this realization offered a beautiful success story of the value of cataloging librarians and their efforts. On an average day in the back room with no one around, our cataloger clicked the save button to add a record to our online catalog. Little did she know at the time that because of her unobserved efforts our library was positioned to connect a library user a thousand miles away with a book not widely held in libraries.

The moral of the story? Work diligently, and never underestimate the value of your contributions–even (and perhaps, especially) if they come from the unassuming back room. Look around. There are more success stories just waiting to be told.

By the way, a century-old library book is now on its way from rural SC to Princeton, NJ to make itself useful.

Pic by erskinelibrary


Categories: Library Staff
  1. TJ
    February 25, 2010 at 9:57 am

    A great story. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Marybeth
    February 25, 2010 at 10:43 am

    As a cataloging librarian I would like to thank you for this post! 🙂 Success stories such as this one truly highlight the value of quality bibliographic control within the realm of a shared/cooperative bibliographic database. Just imagine if every cataloging department had the staff/resources to enable this type of retrospective cataloging of “hidden” local collections! I wonder what other treasures might be exposed?

    Thanks again!

  3. jane nearing
    February 25, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    It may be a trendy term, but it’s all about FINDABILITY. Libraries are so much more to so many more because of our efforts to create and sustain our version of neural pathways. We are the memory of the earth.
    And, interlibrary loan is the ultimate service to our users. ILL ROCKS!

  4. Jane
    March 2, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    What’s the title of the requested book?

    • johnkennerly
      March 2, 2010 at 3:10 pm

      I don’t recall that the staff member who shared the story with me also told me the exact title. I do know that it had to do with Herodotus, the Greek historian.

  5. Rhonda
    April 14, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Looks like it’s “Herodotus IV : chapters 1-144”, edited by W.J. Woodhouse. (Searched in college’s library catalog, then checked against worldcat.org)

  1. February 23, 2010 at 9:09 pm
  2. February 24, 2010 at 12:43 pm
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