Ever wonder where those numbers on the spine label come from, or how that link got in the catalog? Now’s your chance to find out by reading this useful and entertaining Cataloging FAQ.


AACR2:  The old set of cataloging rules, originally designed for card catalogs.  Many online cataloging records still use AACR2, but many new ones use RDA.

ARC: Automated Retrieval Center.  Basically, a building full of books, but with robots.

Call number:  The letter-and-number combination on the spine label that allows library materials to be shelved in order by subject and author.  Call numbers come in different flavors, including Library of Congress (LC), Dewey Decimal, and Superintendent of Documents (SuDocs).

MARC format:  “MARC” stands for “Machine Readable Cataloging.”  This is where the raw data lives. Look at the MARC view of the record to figure out why your search brought up a certain record, or to find information that doesn’t display in the standard view.

RDA:  Stands for “Resource Description and Access.” This is the new set of cataloging rules designed for computers and linked data.  RDA records typically have fewer abbreviations and more detailed information.  Newer cataloging records often use this set of rules, which replaces AACR2.

Spine label:  That rectangular sticky thing (usually) on the edge of the book that faces out from the shelf.  A call number, and sometimes a location, is printed on the spine label.

Subject heading:  One of the lines of a catalog record listed under “Subject(s).”  Click on this, and you’ll get records of other materials that deal with the same topic.  Subject headings are the ancestors of hashtags.

TMA:  Too Many Acronyms. A common characteristic of library-related topics 🙂


Q: So, what do you Cataloging people do?

A: We download records into the catalog, create records for materials that don’t have them yet, assign call numbers, correct errors in the catalog, update data, add links, determine cataloging policies, and drink coffee.  Lots of coffee.

Q: You don’t sit around and read all day?

A: No.  We would have time for that….when?

Q: I ordered that book yesterday.  Why haven’t you cataloged it yet?

A. Because it isn’t here yet, and we don’t have a teleportation device or a working time machine.

Q: OK, how do I get it cataloged real fast once it does get here?

A: If possible, have it marked “priority.”  We will then catalog it within 2 business days whenever humanly possible.  If you discover that something is needed immediately and doesn’t have a priority flag, just ask nicely.

Q: I noticed that some information in one of the databases I clicked on wasn’t right.  Can you fix that?

A: We have many rare and amazing talents, but unfortunately, changing other people’s data isn’t one of them.

Q: What about that misspelled word in a record for a book UCF owns?

A. That we can fix.  Just let us know.

Q: There’s a patron in front of me and I think the item he/she wants is in Cataloging.  Should I send this person up there?

A: Better idea…why don’t you get all the details and then give us a call.  That way the poor patron doesn’t have to traipse all over the building repeating the same story to 37 different people.

Q: What’s that nice, new addition behind the main library?  Can we go in there?

A: That nifty little piece of architecture is an ARC (Automated Retrieval Center).  The lower three stories are full of bins, which will soon be full of books.  Unfortunately, non-employee humans aren’t allowed in right now, just in case the robots run amok.  Once the ARC is connected to the main part of the library, there will be access to a reading room on the top floor.  (Stay tuned for updates.)

Q: Hey, do you nice Cataloging people have an official motto or something? Like “Cataloging rules”?

A. We don’t have an official motto or slogan, but if we did, it might be either “Don’t type anything more than once” (we’re so into macros), or “We’ll do almost anything for chocolate” (it goes really well with all the coffee we drink).

Q: So, what do all of you look like?  I can’t find any pictures of people on the Cataloging web pages.

A: We don’t have any pictures because libraries attract oddballs and crackpots the same way tuna attracts stray cats.  However, we’re all stunningly gorgeous* and work as swimwear models** in our spare time.  (Thanks for asking.)

*OK, not really.

**OK, not really either.

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