Interview with Melissa Adler, Cataloging Instructor

Melissa Adler is currently the instructor for two Library Juice Academy courses: Cataloging for the Non-Cataloger and Introduction to RDA. Melissa has graciously agreed to an interview for this blog.

Melissa, thanks for doing the interview. To start, I’d like to ask what your background and experience are, that have led to you teaching these courses for us.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to teach for Library Juice Academy! So far it’s been a great experience. I have a mix of professional and academic experience that has brought me to teaching these courses. I worked as a copy cataloger for a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin before starting the PhD program at UW-Madison. While earning my PhD at Madison I conducted research on various aspects of information organization–particularly Library of Congress Subject Headings, tagging, and the history of catalog standards. I also worked as a cataloger for the library school’s Laboratory Library for nearly four years during my course of study. I have taught Fundamentals of Cataloging, which meets the requirements for Wisconsin’s certification of public library directors, as well as an introduction to RDA for UW-Madison’s Continuing Education department.

That’s a pretty solid background for teaching. Regarding the classes you’re teaching, it’s clear enough from their titles what they are about, but I wonder if you could say a little bit about what makes your approach to teaching them a little unique, and give a little detail about what you will cover in them and what students will learn if they take these classes.

In the course on Cataloging for Non-Catalogers, my primary focus is on providing librarians with information that will inform their practice by teaching the basics of a MARC record and rules for descriptive and subject cataloging. Ultimately, any type of library worker will be better able to serve their community if they have some knowledge about how the catalog functions. Perhaps it sounds trite, but the catalog is the backbone of the library, and without it, we wouldn’t be able to make use of library collections.

The RDA course is both exciting and challenging to teach, as I find that students are coming to this course with a variety of backgrounds, perceptions, hopes, and fears about the new standard. RDA is based on a rather complex conceptual model (Functional Requirements for a Bibliographic Record, FRBR), which some catalogers love and others seem to despise. Initially, I taught this with FRBR and RDA treated somewhat separately in two different courses. I now think that, even though a fair number of students resist FRBR and would rather just know how to create a MARC record using RDA, it’s essential to provide a solid background on FRBR as an integral part of the course. As the Library of Congress’s official implementation date draws near, more and more information is becoming available, but it’s rather difficult to sift through all the resources that are available. I see my role as a teacher of this class as a facilitator who draws the more useful information together and provides some context. We’re given access to the RDA Toolkit for this course, so students are able to navigate the tool and apply it to exercises.

Can you give a little bit more specific detail about what students will learn in these two classes?

The Cataloging course will provide practical, hands-on training for non-catalogers, including short-cuts and sample workflows and guides to make the job of cataloging easier. We rely heavily on freely available resources so that you learn to use tools that you will be able to access after the course. The transition from AACR2 to RDA makes this a particularly interesting time to teach and learn cataloging. Some libraries will make the change, and others (especially small ones) will wait and see what happens. Rather than teaching a lot of rules, I will try to explain the principles underlying the rules, and I will point students to resources that can help them make decisions when you are cataloging. In the interest of keeping this simple due to the limited time frame, we primarily focus on cataloging printed books.

The RDA course will provide a beginning introduction to cataloging with RDA and FRBR, the conceptual model on which RDA is based. Upon completion of the course students will know what the key changes from AACR2 to RDA are, and will recognize and create basic bibliographic records in MARC using RDA. It will provide a general overview of changes in MARC with an emphasis on fields you will most likely encounter, as well as resources for those who want to continue their training or desire more detailed descriptions and examples of rules for particular types of materials. The course is really not aimed at those who already have a moderate or higher level of familiarity with FRBR and/or RDA and consider themselves beyond a basic, introductory level.

Thanks for that detail. That should help people decide if these classes are right for them. I’d also like to ask you a bit about your own research, though I know it is off the topic of these courses. Would you mind saying a little bit more about the research you did, and a little about what you are doing now?

Sure! My dissertation is an intellectual history of subject headings and classifications concerning sexual deviance from 1898 to the present. It reveals various social practices that contributed to the creation and evolution of terminologies and classifications, as well as the consequences for access to information regarding subjects on sexuality. My current research explores ways in which vocabularies in new media and online social networks might inform formal and controlled vocabulary constructions. I am evaluating representations of a variety of groups that have historically been marginalized by the academy by looking to the discourses of interdisciplinary fields, such as critical animal studies, disability studies, queer studies, and critical race studies. These emerging areas of study are all deeply invested in the practices and processes in the production of taxonomies and language, and while they share similar histories of oppression, their subjects each push the limits of classifications in unique and compelling ways.

Thank you, that is very interesting. I have two questions to finish up with. First, if you could teach anything for Library Juice Academy, what would it be? And second, what do you enjoy the most about teaching?

Hmmm. My dream course would be something related to critical classification studies. I’d love to dig in to some readings that interrogate classification through feminist and queer methods, Marxism, postcolonial studies, critical race theory, disability studies….etc.

I have to say, when someone tells me they learned something they didn’t know before I get a real thrill. I love being a part of someone’s enriching experience. That said, I also really like being part of a class in which discussions are lively. I think the best classes I’ve taught have been good because of the student participation. Especially in librarianship, everyone has important perspectives and experiences that can inform the work of others, and I find that I often learn a thing or two from my students.

Thanks very much for the interview! It was a pleasure speaking with you.

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