Catching Up with NLM Catalogers

Read other profiles: Diane Boehr | Sharon Brown | Phyllis Chui | Karen Detling | Meredith Horan | Ihsia Hu | Elizabeth Lilker | Christine Mandic | Elizabeth Plantz | Tina Shrader | Alvin Stockdale | Sharon Willis

Quick Q&A with Elizabeth Plantz, Tina Shrader, and Elizabeth Lilker
Question Elizabeth Plantz Tina Shrader Elizabeth Lilker
no photo available headshot of Tina Shrader no photo available
What got you interested in cataloging and how did you get started as a cataloger? While getting my MA in library science at the University of Chicago, I worked part-time in the cataloging department on a special project with the Library of Congress. The people working on the project were wonderful and made cataloging fun. That experience, plus the fact that cataloguing jobs had much smaller applicant pools than other areas of librarianship, sent me in that direction. I had a work-study job in the library as an undergraduate. Mostly, I worked the circulation desk, but the cataloger occasionally tapped me to work on special projects for her, mostly correcting catalog cards and doing searches in OCLC. During my senior year I worked in Special Collections, doing data entry to record the volumes and issues of a few runs of early 19th century journals. I continued working in libraries when I started my MA in English at the University of Kentucky. I decided that the English program wasn’t a good fit, so within a year I switched to the School of Library and Information Science, working full time in the main library and then in the law library at UK while I got my MLIS. I had worked in bookstores in New York City and decided to go to graduate school for library science. My cataloging class was the most interesting and that led to an internship at New York University.
In a nutshell, what is your background? I was born and raised in upstate New York. In college I majored in political science with a specialization in Middle Eastern studies. After graduation I went for a MA in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Chicago and realized that I wasn’t interested in a PhD, so I joined their joint master’s program in Middle Eastern studies and library science. After graduation I worked for two years at Kuwait University on a reorganization and modernization project for the libraries. That’s where I met and married my Iraqi-born husband. When he was accepted to a master’s program in Boston, I began a new career as an Africana cataloger at Boston University. We then moved to the Chicago area when I got a job working as an Africana cataloger for Northwestern University Library, which has the largest separate Africana collection in existence. I moved to the DC area when my husband relocated here for a new job. I always thought I would like to work at the Library of Congress, but now know that I was lucky they weren’t hiring. NLM is a great place to work, and I am so glad I’m here. I worked as a cataloger and serials librarian in small and large academic libraries for about 10 years after I got my MLIS, then transitioned to federal service when I took a job at the National Agricultural Library. I was at NAL through several job changes and reorganizations, eventually serving as acting head of the Acquisitions and Metadata Branch. I came to NLM in 2013 as the Head of Unit 1 in the Cataloging and Metadata Management Section. I studied history, mostly European but also focusing on Africa. However, I grew up in a household full of medical books. Some of my favorites when I was young were Eleven Blue Men, Microbe Hunters, and Rats, Lice and History.
Where else in your life do you use your organizational skills? Nowhere. I don’t consider myself organized at all at work or at home. Outside of work, I’m not an especially organized person. I suppose I’m a little atypical for a cataloger in that respect. Unfortunately, my organization skills at work haven’t transferred to home, except perhaps for sorting balls of wool by color.
What excites you the most about your work? I like that the work we do in our section is of such high quality and that what we do has national and international impact. Having worked in area studies for many years, I know how important the work of a specialized library can be for other libraries that cannot afford the money, staff, time, or expertise to even try to do one tenth of what we do every day. I’m really motivated by the sense that the work we do here at NLM is important. I feel like my work directly contributes to the health and welfare of people around the world, because without the description and subject analysis we do in cataloging, it would be much more difficult to locate accurate scientific and medical information. My colleagues are fully engaged in their work, and it’s a collegial department. We do the highest level of cataloging work at NLM, which is then distributed for other libraries to use. It’s also important that NLM participates in developing and testing new cataloging standards.
If you weren’t a cataloger, what else might you have been? When I was very young I wanted to be a veterinarian and raise horses. Then I fell off a horse. At various times I have considered museum work, book preservation, cross-cultural consulting. I like anything to do with textiles, especially quilting, but as I grow older I don’t think craft work would be a good career for me, turning a joy into an obligation. When I first started my career, I had designs on special collections librarianship and rare book curation, but those jobs were hard to come by, and I fell into cataloging. I don’t regret it in the least! I’ve always wanted to work with books and wanted to be a librarian from a young age. If I weren’t a librarian, I’d probably still be working in a bookstore.
Tell us something surprising about yourself. I love Middle Eastern and Islamic art and culture. However, I really don’t care for anything having to do with Ancient Egypt, so please do not bring me back any fake papyrus drawings when you come back from your vacation in Egypt. I played Dungeons and Dragons and other tabletop role-playing games throughout college, took a break for a number of years, and picked it up again about 10 years ago when one of my college gaming buddies moved to this area. No matter where I am, people stop and ask me for directions.

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Image credits (woman icons): Samy Menai and H. Alberto Gongora (Noun Project)

3 thoughts on “Catching Up with NLM Catalogers

  1. Pingback: Weekly Postings | The MARquee

  2. How do you feel about MeSH for identifying the subject content in works related to health services administration, nursing and allied health professionsAlso, do you think that inverted headings are obsolete now that we don’t use card catalogs? They’re definitely difficult to explain to anyone who’s never seen a card catalog (or print index).

  3. Pingback: 2018’s Seasons of Stories from NLM in Focus | NLM in Focus

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