Head of Cataloging Helps Library Users Find, Evaluate, Use Information

Sally Grucan, head of cataloging at Olin Library, lends her expertise to campus projects such as the Media Database, Departmental Collections Catalog and a new digital repository.
Posted 05/01/08
Q: Sally, when did you start at Wesleyan?

A: December 5, 1983. I have always worked for the library but my first office was a makeshift space in the Science Tower – now the Exley Science Center – while Olin was being renovated and expanded.

Q: As the head of cataloging, what is your main objective?

A: It’s all about access to information. Whatever the library can do to connect students, faculty, and staff – our “users” – with the best information, we do it. Google is helpful in many ways, but the library has resources that Google doesn’t know about. The extent and quality of our resources are astounding for a university of Wesleyan’s size. Cataloging occurs in many departments, not just Cataloging: Acquisitions and Electronic Resources, Special Collections and Archives, Scores and Recordings, Reserves and Reference.

Q: What is the general purpose of Wesleyan libraries’ Technical Services?

A: Due to a recent reorganization there are two departments comprising Technical Services, so–called because we handle the technical aspects of building the library collections. Acquisitions and Electronic Resources, under Helen Aiello, acquires material in all formats and provides access to internet resources. Cataloging describes these resources in the Caleb online catalog, and also in the OCLC shared bibliographic database.

Internet resources – also known as electronic resources – are a particular challenge for Technical Services because there are so many and their content and URLs can be fluid. Electronic journals, for instance, are better accessed through the library’s Journal Locator than the online catalog. Within the next year or two the library will offer “one stop shopping” to find information more easily.

Q: What is involved in cataloging?

A: Cataloging is the activity of describing information resources so that users can find, evaluate, and use them. Some users are looking for a specific item, others just have a topic in mind. Catalogers must describe an item accurately and in sufficient detail to uniquely identify it, but also add descriptions and terms so that it can be found more generally, e.g., by using a “keyword” search or a subject (topical) search in the online catalog. It takes years of training and experience to do cataloging efficiently and well. A cataloger must quickly grasp the essence of a work, then describe it in accordance with complex national standards so that the resulting cataloging record can be shared other libraries and on the web. That’s why we call cataloging an art as well as a science.

Q: How does a book go from being acquired to making its way on the shelf?

A: Books are chosen by “selectors” in various subject areas. I do American and Native American literature, and they are also recommended by members of the Wesleyan community. Boxes arrive daily, and their contents verified and paid for. Cataloging then sends the books to materials processing/marking to receive spine labels, etc. This is not always a smooth ride! We endeavor to get new books out to the shelves as quickly as possible and for many of them we utilize a “shelf–ready” service whereby they come pre-cataloged and pre-processed. Our library has been at the forefront of innovative Technical Services practices for years and I have been invited to conferences to speak about this.

Q: How many new books, on average, are catalogued each year?

A: In Fiscal Year 2007, we cataloged about 19,000 titles, by which I mean new records in the online catalog regardless of format. We cataloged 17,000 volumes––books, serials, scores, and theses––and added 5,000 volumes to existing catalog records. We hold over 1 million titles and 1.3 million volumes. We have approximately 400,000 non–book items and over 100,000 internet resources. This is not the whole collection––we have tens of thousands of older items that have not yet been cataloged into the online catalog.

Q: Where are new books shelved?

A: We are out of space in Olin and the Art Library, so we must begin to weed even more earnestly and/or find offsite storage for low-use items. We are pursing off–site storage for JSTOR journals, for example. A new compact storage area in the basement of the Science Library accommodates books that had been in storage elsewhere for many years.

Q: Do you work with the Science or Art library on cataloging?

A: Yes, we do cataloging for those libraries centrally.

Q: What is your daily schedule like, and what are some recent projects you’ve been involved with?

A: Any plans I make for the day are usually blown out of the water! I do little actual cataloging these days, concentrating instead on problem resolution, policies and procedures, workflow evaluation and redesign, planning and budgeting, and library and campus committees. I have particularly enjoyed lending my expertise to campus projects such as the Media Database, Departmental Collections Catalog, and WesScholar, Wesleyan’s up-and-coming digital repository. I am active in the CTW Library Consortium which includes Connecticut and Trinity Colleges; incidentally, I am the sole remaining founding member. The Web 2.0 has made my work exciting and challenging. I am constantly learning and trying new things.

Q: Who are other members of the Cataloging Department staff, and how does each person contribute to the department?

A: Linda DeRusha and Jody Schenker have been members of the Cataloging Department for many years, for which I am grateful. As I said above, it takes years to produce a top–notch cataloger. Linda and Jody catalog at the more difficult levels and handle most formats. They have recently been trained in serials cataloging and will catalog a huge treasure–trove of older Cutter–classification serials in the compact storage area. Joy Mlozanowski is a newer member of the department who works half–time in Cataloging and half–time as bookkeeper for the library. Joy expedites the shelf–ready material from Yankee, editing cataloging records as needed. I and Suzy Taraba are in the process of hiring a new Cataloging Librarian who will work in Cataloging and Special Collections & Archives. We have a great pool of candidates who can handle difficult languages and the complexities of rare book cataloging.

Q: What do you like best about working at Wesleyan?

A: I love my job, my colleagues, and serving our exceptional students, faculty, and staff. I’ve worked in many different kinds of libraries and it’s a privilege to practice my profession in a place like Wesleyan.

Q: What are your degrees in?

A: I have a B.A. in English from Clark University and an M.L.S. from the University of Rhode Island.  

Q: Outside of work, what are your hobbies/interests?

A: I garden, bike, read, sew, and do a little traveling. I collect contemporary art and miniature books.

Q: Is it true that you are married to Joe Rouse, the Hedding Professor of Moral Science, professor pf philosophy, processor of science in society and chair of the Science in Society Program?

A: Yes! We met in the old Fayerweather weight room, which tells you how long we’ve been together. We have two sons, Brian and Martin, who are about to head off to Vassar and Oberlin, respectively.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor