I was offered a position at Brandeis University when I was about a month shy of graduation from Simmons School of Library and Information Science. I asked them if I could wait until I formally completed all my coursework before beginning the new job. They were amenable to that. [Neither of us knew I’d spend the first three weeks of my job in the hospital with pancreatitis tho]
It’s not easy for catalogers to find jobs right out of school, particularly without having to move. I know that I’m very fortunate and privileged to have done so. In some ways it seems like Brandeis was an inevitability for me. My father attended Brandeis as an undergrad in the 70s, while my sabba both got his PhD there and taught. Years later I end up being their Hebrew cataloger. I never thought I’d be using my Hebrew knowledge in my professional career — but the timing of the position vacancy and my availability was perfect.
Let me also point out that I worked for a year or so at an unpaid cataloging internship. Having real-world [read here: non-classroom] cataloging experience on my resume gave me an immediate leg-up on the people who couldn’t afford to accept unpaid work.
Two years and two months later, how have I grown? What did I learn? What’s next?
The first and foremost thing is that the classroom is wonderful, but it’s not the same as cataloging on the job. For one thing, there’s an ILS. I’d worked with Voyager at Emerson [though only briefly briefly in the cataloging module] and with Evergreen at the State Library of Massachusetts, but now I was working on Alma, several months after a data migration from Aleph. ILSes are weird and persnickety and tetchy and do not display all the beautiful data that you’ve entered into them. There was a frustration to overcome in the first few months — knowing that the complex 77X relationships I was entering into records would not be displayed to the public, nor would any differentiation between genre/form and subject be displayed, despite that being such an important part of my classroom training.
I hadn’t joined any professional organizations until I started at Brandeis. I felt that as a student I didn’t have anything to contribute to the larger conversation. Now of course I recognize that that was incorrect, and I love hearing from students and think we need to hear from them even more. But that’s where my head was at the time. I joined ALA [with ALCTS as a division] and added on GLBTRT and SRRT. I wanted to support the work that those two round tables were doing, so tossing a couple more bucks their way each year seemed like a good way to do that. I also joined NELA [New England Library Association], MLA [Massachusetts Library Association], and AJL [Association of Jewish Libraries]. My very first conference was right around the corner in October — a NELA conference in Dover, NH. I was slightly terrified at the idea of meeting all these new people and being expected to schmooze and dazzle. But it was totally fine! Smallish for my first conference, and turned out to be a lot less scary than I’d expected. I even made a new twitter friend!
The very next year ALA Midwinter was in Boston which was perfect for my first foray into national conferences. I was able to stay at my own house, eat my own breakfast and/or dinners if I wanted and just attend the conference during the day. I met loads of people from twitter, and saw from afar loads more whose work I’d read, or whose knowledge on list serv posts I admired.
It was at Brandeis that I first became involved in the NACO/SACO programs, first through the Judaica/Hebraica funnels and then as a full member of both. This work I found immensely rewarding. There was a joy and power in knowing that I’d created the record, and filled it with good controlled data which could represent a person/place/corporate body or work throughout library-dom. When it came to subjects, I was elated to be able to contribute to a body as vast and as storied as LCSH. I tentatively began doing some work on changing or updating headings as well as filling in gaps.
I also became more active on twitter during my time at Brandeis, finding new peers to collaborate with and bounce ideas off of. It was also during this period that I started this very blog. Blogging and twitter has led to more development opportunities than I could’ve imagined. Writing about my Emflix project here led to me writing a journal article about the same project in Code4Lib. Writing about a thought I had regarding faceting people terms in LCSH led to a presentation at the ALA conference in Orlando in 2016.
I want to talk about that presentation for a moment. I have deep regrets about certain aspects of that presentation. I spoke very glibly and indeed, inappropriately about the work and the people of the Policy and Standards Division of LC. Frankly, there was a lot that I didn’t understand then [and by know means do I understand it all now] about the history and processes of their work and I didn’t show them or what they do the proper respect, or even kindness. What is appropriate on twitter, or in casual conversations isn’t necessarily appropriate for the national stage and I really overstepped some lines in that presentation.
Despite this misstep — I continued to plunge into our shared organization’s work serving on a task force and serving as intern to a committee. There were projects at work that challenged me, forced me to really commit to specific workflows and keeping several different people in the loop. These are not traditionally things that I’ve done well, so I was glad to be pushed to be better at them. The work itself, was also challenging. As the Hebrew cataloger [I cataloged English materials as well as various other languages that crossed our desk but 30% of my job was solely Hebrew] I had to learn and become adept in an entirely separate set of practices that I’d never learned in school for encoding materials in RDA. In truth, I struggled with the Hebrew itself at times too. I hadn’t taken any kind of rigorous Hebrew course since high school and never expected that I’d suddenly have to remember both the modern language and the rabbinical sphere.
Overall, my time at Brandeis has been filled with incredible opportunities and professional growth. I entered fresh from library school with no knowledge of how the work is done outside the classroom but my colleagues, were incredibly patient with me as I caught up. I know I’m leaving stronger, and I’d like to think I’m leaving them better off too.
Looking towards the future, I expect challenges in location — I’ve never lived outside Massachusetts or even the greater Boston area and will have to adjust a new pace, a new social standard.
I imagine the new job will have challenges that I don’t even know what they are yet — new people, new expectations, perhaps a more formal setting, I’m not sure precisely what to expect. I hope to continue my professional contributions to the field, and also to leave more of a mark on the scholarly record although that isn’t my strongest suit.
I’m excited and nervous for what comes next — but I know that I’m in good shape to face it.