Things I've learned because of cataloging

I work in technical services for a county-wide public library system. Literally every single new material that we purchase for any of the branches in the county touches my desk before it goes anywhere else. And a lot of it stays on my desk to be cataloged and processed before it hits the shelves. So I see EVERYTHING - the good, the bad, and the questionable. Here are some observations I’ve made:


  1. You really CAN judge a book by its cover (sometimes). If the book has a picture of a cat on the cover and says “cat sitter mystery,” you’re going to get exactly what is advertised. Mysteries are particularly good at this - Amish knitting mystery, Bookmobile mystery, Quilter’s Club mystery, cupcake bakery mystery series. But you can also tell a lot about a book based on the way it was published - the size and shape of the physical object, the color scheme, the fonts, the layout. I can often pick out a fantasy book based on the font and the colors used on the jacket. Same for sci-fi. And thrillers. And some romance. I can pick out a YA book from a shelf based solely on the book’s height (typically 22 cm, whereas most adult fiction is 24 or 25 cm high). I’m a lot of fun at parties.

  2. But labels can’t always be trusted. I like to call this the “Fox Mulder rule,” i.e., Trust No One. I catalog all of the adult fiction for our library system, and we assign each book to a genre and give it a genre sticker on the spine to help patrons browse more easily - romance, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, westerns, historical fiction, etc. And while there are sometimes clues from the publisher or other hints I can use, I am the ultimate arbiter of which genre a book falls into, and in the case of cross-genre fiction I can only pick one genre and one sticker. So the whole process is pretty arbitrary. And the next time you pick up a romantic suspense historical mystery thriller with magical wizards in it, let me know which genre you’d pick if you could only pick one.

  3. The world is your oyster… and so is the library. Check out anything you want, from any section, from any department, and don’t be afraid of the judgmental looks you’ll get when you, 30-something, childless, wander into the Easy Reader section because you heard about this great picture book with some awesome illustrations and you just want to sit on the floor and take a look at it before you decide whether or not to take it home.

  4. There is a book for every reader, and a reader for every book. I had no idea that Amish fiction was such a huge market until I started my current job. Amish romance, Amish thrillers, Amish Rumspringa tales, Amish historical fiction, Amish westerns(?!), Amish knitter’s club, Amish murder mysteries, Amish knitter’s club murder mysteries… We can’t even keep those books on our shelves because they are so popular. Diet books about only eating vegan food, or gluten-free food, or raw food, or wild game you caught yourself while living in a shack in the woods. And that one about the cat that rides around on the library Bookmobile. Suffice it to say that whatever niche interest you’re into, someone has probably written a book about it, fiction or non. And if you ask your librarian nicely, we’ll probably buy a copy.

  5. A sense of humor will get you far. I’ve recently cataloged:

    • A romance book by Heather Cocks.
    • The novel “A Little Life,” which clocks in at over 700 pages. Perhaps a not-so-little life.
    • A thriller about the history of the United States Federal tax code. (How… thrilling.)
    • More cat mysteries. Always with the cat mysteries. See also: books of cat poetry, both poems about cats and poems purportedly authored by cats. We really have a thing about cats.
  6. There are still things you don’t know. Even in this job, where I have a master’s degree and years of experience, there are always new things for me to learn. I had no idea what a “cozy mystery” was until I had to start cataloging them. I also had no idea that Amish fiction was such a huge market (see #4 above). I read about 100 books a year, I have a TBR pile in my house that numbers about 400, and just when I think I’ve seen (and maybe even read) it all, I find out there is a whole world of books out there I have yet to explore. I’m sure this applies in some grander way to life in general, but that seems like a lot to think about right now. I’m going to lay over here on my couch with a cup of tea and an Amish knitting club cat-on-a-bookmobile historical romantic suspense murder mystery thriller in space. I’ve heard this is a good one.