Competency G – Cataloging

…demonstrate understanding of basic principles and standards involved in organizing information, including classification, cataloging, metadata, or other systems


The human brain seeks to organize, catalog, and assign value to information it does not understand as a means of comprehending what appears foreign. It wants to make sense of that which seems unassigned or without order. The impulse is to label and categorize what the brain recognizes as new information in order to assess its’ usefulness, and begin to process it. As humans, we also store and organize information so we can find and retrieve it later. For information to be useful, it needs to be accessible; the best resources are findable resources. As librarians in service of our patrons, efficient organization is vital to aid resource findability, retrievability, and discovery.

Cataloging is a way of organizing information resources (books, DVDs, e-books, audio-books, periodicals, sound recordings, maps, paintings, etc.) by description or subject access so that a user or patron may be best supported in their search. This standardized method of asserting bibliographic control assigns unique identifiers to a variety of library resources to ensure consistent points of access and establish authority. Cataloging helps a user identify what they are looking for, and evaluate selections from a multitude of choices to best suit their needs.

Catalogers analyze resources to determine their aboutness, and then assign individual identifying descriptors to make them findable. In traditional libraries, catalogers identify physical resource items by assigning unique call numbers referred to as “location devices”, which are created by adding Cutter numbers to classification notations. (Taylor, 2009, p. 9) In virtual libraries, librarians establish surrogate records to represent each unique item, and assign metadata to characterize key elements of a resource to aid retrieval. Historically, card catalogs were used to contain these records for access and authorial purposes whereas current libraries employ online public access catalogs (OPACS).

Catalogers are also guided by a set of standards known as the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules 2 (AACR2), which has undergone several revisions and is currently being replaced by a more universal system named Resource Description and Access (RDA). Creating resource descriptions is a means of promoting consistent and stable access points for users. Elements of an information resource (also referred to as metadata elements) like name, title, date of publication, resource type, and edition or version serve as access points or pathways to desired data. (Taylor, 2009, p. 200)

Classification is a subset of cataloging by subject in that it groups resources with shared attributes, and provides users with a framework within which they may collocate related materials and be further aided in their search. It also promotes resource evaluation and selection because it catalyzes patrons’ abilities to distinguish between similar items.

Descriptors (or access points) are often chosen from thesauri or subject headings lists of recognizable terms called controlled vocabularies. Librarians classify materials based on conceptual analyses and as such employ controlled vocabularies to maintain authority control and ensure consistent access. Controlled vocabularies can take several different forms and go by several monikers depending on the subject or description devised to determine controllable access points. For example, databases are designed with the help of controlled vocabularies to help standardize and translate natural language into a recognizable and machine-readable language. Libraries use Machine Readable Cataloging (MARC) to encode records “so that each part may be identified, parsed, and accessed separately and [] be displayed in a meaningful way.” (Taylor, 2008, p. 106)  Both library databases and OPACS rely on metadata tags to provide consistent access to users and library staff.

Depending on the type of library, there are several different classification systems in use to facilitate standardized and consistent access. The Dewey Decimal System (DDC) is commonly used in public libraries, whereas the Library of Congress Classification (LCC) is typically used in academic libraries. Both systems employ hierarchical arrangement, which divide “the world of knowledge” into sets and subsets by subject and discipline. (Taylor, 2006, pp. 532-537)

Librarians arrange public collections by classifying fiction items separately from non-fiction items, and assign unique classification notations by resource type. Non-fiction items are further subdivided by discipline, represented by three numerical numbers comprising the call number (e.g. 007), whereas fiction items are often arranged by author’s last name.

Archivists arrange collections based on three core principles: provenance, original order, and respect des fonds. Provenance relates to the known history of the creator, be they individual, family or institution.   Maintaining “original order” necessitates that archivists do not move records around within a collection. This means that archivists must take care to catalog records where they are and not classify them according to their own beliefs or values. Archivists must maintain the creator’s order. Respect des fonds may sound complicated but essentially means that archivists should respect the integrity of the collection as a whole as well as “the importance of the creator.”

Librarians, archivists, and information professionals all employ various methods of standardization to ensure consistent access and promote resource findability for patrons. The organization of information is vital to exemplary patron service.


Libr 202_Investigating MODS

My first piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency G is a paper I wrote for LIBR 202: Information Retrieval in which I discuss MODS (Metadata Object Description Schema). In this paper, I explore the origin and various uses and characteristics of MODS as well as its’ capabilities for interoperability with several other metadata standards and systems (i.e. MARC, MARC-21, EAD, and Dublin Core).  I also discuss how the utilization of language-based tags promotes MODS as a user-friendly and highly repurposeable content standard.

This paper demonstrates my competency in discussing key attributes of a metadata standard to identify, understand, and synthesize implementable methods to aid information storage and facilitate expeditious user retrieval.

Internship_Diane DiPrima at Poetry Center_Cataloging Record

My second piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency G is a cataloging record I created while completing my internship at the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University.  This document is intended to aid users with finding and retrieving an archived audio poetry recording created and performed by the artist at the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University in 1964. To determine representative characteristics of the recording to aid user findability, I listened to the recording several times as well as researched the artist’s career and legacy. Utilizing these tools, I created descriptive metadata tags with consideration for how users would search for this recording based on singular aspects of the artist’s poetry and career. Key terms like “Beat poet” and “Imagist” help aid both precision and recall that facilitate findability and direct resource access. This cataloging record also identifies DiPrima’s setlist and running times in addition to the listening content. After cataloging the audio recording, I converted my cataloging notes to XML, and imported the XML to DIVA: SF State’s digital repository where it currently awaits the site launch.

This cataloging record demonstrates my competency in determining the aboutness of an information resource, and identifying distinctive and unique metadata terms to promote user navigability and findability. It also proves my ability to distill a document’s essential content into a pithy description that considers how users seek and retrieve information.

Libr 259_Digital Curation Spreadsheet

My third piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency G is an assignment I created for LIBR 259: Digital Preservation in which I appraised and selected a small group of ten various file types to “preserve” and make findable and readable for future generations. Each digital object was assigned a “unique identifier” and cataloged in individual spreadsheets along with the object’s preservation metadata in order to both test their stability and serve as an access point to the historical metadata of the object. Each week, I normalized and validated the ten personal digital objects with consideration for maintaining readability, renderability, and findability for my son and his future family.

This paper demonstrates my competency in determining the aboutness of digital objects to curate and preserve them for future generations. Assigning preservation metadata and logging each digital object’s unique characteristics was critical to ensuring my primary goal of long-term information retrieval.

Libr 256_Finding Aid

My fourth piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency G is a finding aid I created for LIBR 256: Archives and Manuscripts. This access tool provides researchers with an index of certain “core identifying information” for a collection to help them determine its usefulness to their information needs. (Erin Lawrimore, LIBR 256 lecture, September 15, 2010) A finding aid serves as a chief source of information to aid both archivists and researchers in gleaning both a content synopsis as well as key elements of a collection that drive its purpose.

This paper demonstrates my competency in arranging and describing an archival collection to help promote retrieval and resource access for researchers and other users. My finding aid contains a variety of access points, which allow researchers to quickly ascertain the nature of the collection and evaluate its purpose and content.


Both traditional and virtual libraries maintain standardized methods of presenting collections to users to serve their myriad resource needs. “Organization of information allows us to keep usable records of human endeavors for posterity.” (Taylor, 2008, p. 99) Information retrieval is integral to providing quality service to our patrons, and is the bedrock of our foundation as intellectual freedom fighters to remove barriers and “promote access to all.” (ALA, 2012)


American Library Association. (2012). Access. Accessed October 29, 2012:

Joudrey, Daniel N.; Taylor, Arlene G. (2009) The organization of information. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Morville, Peter. (2005). Ambient Findability.  Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc.

Taylor, Arlene G. (2008). Organization and Representation of Information/Knowledge. In Haycock and Sheldon (Eds.), The Portable MLIS (98). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Taylor, Arlene G. (2006). Introduction to Cataloging and Classification (10th ed.) Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

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