The Perfect CataloguerDecember 19, 2008
Melissa Torres has sparked an interesting discussion on AUTOCAT this week, simply by asking “how do you see the skills in the cataloging world changing? What are the skill sets that are needed now as opposed to 5, 10, 15 years ago?” 
Daniel Stuhlman’s answer displays concision, comprehensiveness and elegance when he says “The skills of analysis, synthesis, communications, creativity, and thinking out of the box are important for catalogers and most professionals.” 
However, Janet Swan Hill provides a wonderful mantra for cataloguers and cataloguing students that I shall be “cutting out to keep” and use with my students. AUTOCAT subscribers can read the whole thing in its entirity in the list archives, but here are my highlights:
… Catalogers will always need to speak well: to individuals, small groups, large groups, hostile groups, friendly groups, clueless groups — in order to explain why X has to be done or why we need Y, or what good Z does for the users.
Catalogers will always need to write well, convincingly, clearly, without obfuscation or needless jargon, with the appropriate level of detail for the circumstances.
Catalogers will always need to be able to train people, because graduate library programs will never (can never) provide enough education or training for beginners.
Catalogers will always need self-confidence, and to take satisfaction from knowing that the work they do is essential, that it’s hard, and they do it well, because many (most?) people who are not involved in information organization do not know enough to provide external validation to catalogers, and the catalogers need to rely on internal validation for satisfaction … 
This final quality is one that really can’t be stated strongly enough, I think, and yet is so often overlooked by people when they come to recruit people for the “backroom” roles in information.
I always tell new cataloguers that they have to be robust enough to cope with the fact that any mistakes they make, however grave or trivial, are on full show on the world wide web, and that other staff members and the general public have the right to point them out.
The best cataloguers don’t act defensively when this happens – they just say, “Thanks for letting me know, I’ll sort it out,” and “do let me know if you catch anything else – it’s really helpful and important for our database quality,” then they make a cup of tea and get on with their day without beating themselves up for that typo.
No matter how good our quality control procedures, there’s always that occasional something that slips through until an external someone’s gimlet eye spots it. And then we can correct it, kick ourselves once and move on.
So cataloguing, of all the branches in our profession, is arguably both the best and the worst area for a perfectionist … or maybe the best way for a perfectionist to learn to chill out a little and take things in their stride. (?)