learningI love this image. It illustrates the eternal truth about teaching–that it is a two-way street. I don’t have that much experience with teaching (the example that most stands out in my mind is the one day I spent teaching kindergarten as an emergency-certified substitute teacher–yikes!), but the experience I do have has taught me that the teacher almost always learns more than the students.

Earlier this week, I presented a cataloging workshop/seminar in lovely, mountainous Blair County. I had been invited by one of my former Clarion classmates, who is the district consultant for that area, and the System Administrator to present an overview of cataloging–some basics about metadata, MARC, RDA and the like. As I told those attending, I viewed the presentation as more informational than instructive.

I have never prepared material sufficient to fill a three-hour time slot. Even though I have been cataloging for almost 10 years, I have never formally instructed anyone about MARC–fields, tags, indicators, authorized headings…. The closest I’ve come is when we–the catalogers at the Library System of Lancaster County–go out into the member libraries to give linking training, which is a component of cataloging instruction, but much less detailed and complex.

When I agreed to do the workshop, I was nervous and apprehensive. I knew it would require a lot of preparation, but I had some ideas and believed it would be a great experience, so I decided to step out from behind my cataloger’s desk into the discomfort zone and give it a go. I’m very glad I did.

I learned so much about myself, cataloging, instruction, libraries, and mindset through this process. I thought I would share what I’ve learned so that others–equally as apprehensive as myself–might benefit. You see, I sometimes suffer from imposter syndrome and have a difficult time believing that anyone would want to listen to what I have to say. That’s where mindset comes in–you have to believe that you have something of value to offer in order to feel good about your offering.

Here are a few of the things I learned by teaching-

  1. Preparation is everything. Over prepare. You can never be prepared enough. Become so familiar with what you want to say that it’s a pleasure to say it, not a chore.
  2. Directors everywhere are proud of their libraries and rightly so. I was given a tour of the hosting library–The Bellwood-Antis Public Library–complete with description about the various aspects of the facility (including a beautiful, hand-painted mural), which was obviously more than just a facility. It was, as I said, a source of pride.
  3. Librarians are gracious. The night before the presentation, I arrived at the hotel, was picked up and driven to the facility so that I could see the setup and where I should go the next day. I was taken out to a nice restaurant, where we had a great meal and great conversation. And I was delivered back to the hotel with well wishes for the presentation. I was made to feel comfortable, welcome, and acclimated before I even set foot in the door for the actual workshop.
  4. There is always more to learn. If you read my blog, you know that I call myself the “anti-cataloger.” I’m not a huge fan of cataloging. But in order to give a quality presentation, I had to make sure I fully understood MARC. I thought I did, but it turns out that I didn’t. I used this book by Deborah Fritz, a well-known expert in cataloging, to prepare for that portion of my presentation that focused exclusively on the details of a MARC record. I learned that my disdain for certain “nitpicky” elements in the MARC record is unfounded. There is good reason for most of the information that is in there, particularly in the indexed, authorized, coded, and fixed fields. However, studying MARC reinforced my belief that the devil is in the details–things such as pagination, dimensions, publisher, publication date vs. copyright date, punctuation, capitalization–these things do not (normally) affect user access or display or successful migration to another system. Some things can and should be ignored, at least sometimes if not always.
  5. Be yourself. The introduction to my presentation had a movie theme and used movie images to emphasize certain undeniable truths about cataloging. Yes–cataloging can be humorous, entertaining, light, fun, and relevant. I swear.
  6. Expect more of yourself, but don’t be unrealistic. Prepare as best you can and don’t settle for less. But don’t expect perfection and allow yourself to make some mistakes. No one else will care as much as you do.
  7. Assess. I sent out a survey the next day asking participants to rate the overall usefulness of my presentation, whether they would recommend it to someone else, and what could be improved. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. How else will you know if you achieved what you set out to achieve?
  8. Observe and learn from your surroundings. I’m used to Lancaster County. It was interesting to travel to another library system and watch and listen to the dynamics in the room–the shared concerns, the areas of disagreement, the common ground upon which all public libraries operate. Don’t be so focused on yourself that you forget to absorb what’s happening around you.
  9. The thing you are most scared of doing is probably the thing that you should do. If you only do what you’re comfortable doing, you will miss out on opportunities to grow and fail and learn.
  10. Do what it takes to calm your nerves. Nervousness is normal, but if it’s going to overwhelm you and ruin your ability to present information effectively, then find a way that works for you to calm those nerves.
  11. Stay engaged. Don’t get so absorbed in your prepared presentation that you forget you have an audience. They have questions. They are confused. Do not assume that everything you have just said is as clear to them as it is to you. It is most definitely not. Remain aware.
  12. Enjoy yourself. Be prepared and you will enjoy yourself. One follows the other.
  13. Don’t think of yourself as an expert. Think of yourself as an enthusiast. You don’t know everything. Don’t try to pretend that you do.
  14. Remember to thank everyone–the people who invited you. The people who hosted you. The people who listened to you. Thank them.
  15. Reflect. What could have you done better? What would you change next time? Think about your experience and learn from it.

I am grateful to Blair County libraries for the opportunity to share my perspective with them. To me, sharing perspectives, listening, learning–that’s what rises to the surface when weighing the importance of the components of this land we call libraries. I am also grateful to my colleagues at LSLC for sharing their perspectives with me so that I could be better prepared. My fellow catalogers do a great job every day.

We can all learn from each other. And we can all teach each other what we learn.

It’s definitely a two-way street.