Researcher’s Corner: Cataloging Managers – What Do They Do Exactly?

I’m pleased to be able to share this summary of recent research into job ads for cataloging managers. The authors compare their findings with an earlier study, so in addition to broadening your understanding of what hiring managers are looking for, they offer interesting insights into how these positions have changed in the decade or so. While their research is specific to the cataloging field, their observations of change, especially in reference to supervisory skills, are likely reflecting a broader LIS reality.

If you’re interested in the content of this post and would like to read a more formal account of this research, please seek out:

Brannon, S., Sassen, C., & Yanowski, K. (2022). Roles and Responsibilities of Cataloging Managers: An Updated Study of Job Advertisements. Technical Services Quarterly39(1), 17-36. DOI: 10.1080/07317131.2021.2011144


What are the expectations of cataloging managers in academic libraries? We thought job advertisements might give a clue. We looked at the postings’ educational qualifications, work experience, and minimum and preferred knowledge and skills, and also set out to see how things have changed since 2008, when the most recent study on this topic was published (Zhu, 2008). We used the same methodology from that article.

First off, we looked on job sites and email listserv archives for postings from 2015-2020 that had titles implying that the position was for a cataloging head, cataloging coordinator, cataloging supervisor, metadata manager or technical services manager. Those titles ended up being:

  • Head/Coordinator of Cataloging and Metadata Services
  • Head/Director of Metadata Services/Management
  • Head/Coordinator of Cataloging/Cataloging Services
  • Head/Director/Coordinator of Technical Services
  • Head of Technical Services and Acquisitions
  • Manager of Monographic Cataloging Latin Script Unit
  • Administrator of Cataloging/Systems
  • Director of Content Management
  • Head of Metadata and Discovery
  • Metadata and Content Services Department Head

After de-duping 61 postings, we ended up with 29. Looking at each, we tallied the appearance of different titles, qualifications, experience requirements, degrees wanted, and skills needed, then calculated related percentages.

What we found is that there are many responsibilities that have always existed and still exist in Cataloging Manager jobs. These have continually been important and seem to always exist across time:

  • Hiring and supervising catalogers
  • Developing and implementing cataloging policies
  • Performing original and complex copy cataloging
  • Staying on top of trends

On the flip side, there were also responsibilities that seem to now just be accepted as “part of the job.” In Zhu’s study, more postings had committee and task force responsibilities.

What is more important, however, are the emerging responsibilities of a modern Cataloging Manager. Things like “overseeing quality control” and “balancing multiple projects” didn’t show up in postings in 2008 at all.

The ones listed below showed up much more frequently in our study than in Zhu’s. As you can see, most are traditional library responsibilities, but up until now, they did not fall to a Cataloging Manager. This is partially because the world of technology is ever-changing, but a potentially better reason is that Cataloging Managers are being expected to take on multiple roles at their institutions.

The emerging responsibilities we found are:

  • Represent the library in local and national groups
    • Not just in a cataloging role
  • System-wide planning/policy decisions
  • Working with vendors
  • Reference duties
  • Academic department liaison
  • Providing leadership for selecting and handling digital resources
    • Not just cataloging them
  • Enhancing the discovery of materials
  • Preparing statistics and reports
  • Participating in disaster recovery efforts

We also looked at “Minimum” and “Preferred” qualifications for education and work experience. There are no notable changes in educational requirements of cataloging managers. The standard still appears to be an ALA-accredited library/information science degree, although, one sign that the need for a master’s degree may be on the decline is that 14% of postings stated that an equivalent combination of education and experience would suffice.

About half of the postings provided a specific time range for desired relevant cataloging or technical services experience. This hasn’t changed since 2008 either – it is still between 2 and 3 years. Fewer than half of the postings gave a desired amount of supervisory or management experience, but of those that did, the desired amount is between 2 and 3 years.

No longer are basic communication skills, teamwork, project management, administrative skills like time management, or knowledge of professional issues and trends desired in most ads. Even more surprising, supervisory skills and personnel management appeared in very few ads. However, it should be noted that perhaps this is due to the language of supervision changing over time.

Instead, postings want the ability to work with diverse groups, have analytical skills, and flexibility. Desired management skills that weren’t mentioned in 2008 include collaboration, negotiation, working independently, project prioritization, and program assessment.

Here again, more skills are seen as a “given” for today’s cataloger. No longer are postings wanting basic AACR2 knowledge or ILS experience in general, and non-MARC metadata is no longer ‘emerging,’ as it was in 2008. Instead, newer activities and resources are desired, such as:

  • Knowledge of RDA and BIBFRAME
  • Working with a variety of formats
  • Batch loading
  • Quality control
  • Linked data
  • Automated web tools
  • Coding
  • Electronic resource management
  • Institutional repositories
  • Discovery system knowledge

A few postings did have some random qualifications that we found interesting…and confusing:

  • “Ability to recommend solutions in areas not under direct supervision”
  • “General understanding of the external environment and how it affects academia in general and [school] in particular, including political, legal, environmental, educational, financial and social influences”
  • “Extensive functional knowledge and expertise in all aspects of own and related areas of [school], and pertinent interdependencies”

There is another more recent trend compared to Zhu’s 2008 study. Some of the emerging expectations that we found in our study relate to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Examples include:

  • Ability to use knowledge, experience, awareness, and skills to advance [school’s] commitment to diversity and inclusion, and to engage effectively with a broad spectrum of culturally diverse groups
  • Demonstrated commitment to diversity and understanding of the contributions a diverse workforce brings to the workplace
  • Embraces and employs the diversity of individuals, cultures, values, ideas and communication styles in the achievement of common goals
  • Models inclusive excellence through specific actions that support the college’s diversity goals in the recruitment, hiring, and retention of talented and diverse faculty and staff

Remember that there were some postings where an MLS was not required, but rather an equivalent combination of experience and education? Perhaps that could be considered a positive DEI-related move.

We should acknowledge several limitations in our research. We were not able to examine all relevant postings related to our study because some of the listings we found were abbreviated and did not provide the information we needed for our analysis. We also are aware that some relevant job postings may have appeared in advertisements that were deleted after the searches were concluded, long before we began our research.

Our comparison of the current and retrospective job posting datasets indicate that the roles of cataloging managers continue to evolve in response to changes in libraries, technology, higher education, and society. We hope that our research will be helpful not only to job seekers who aspire to apply for cataloging manager positions, but also to administrators defining those positions.

Reference

Zhu, L. (2008). Head of cataloging positions in academic libraries: An analysis of job advertisements. Technical Services Quarterly, 25(4), 49-70. https://doi.org/10.1080/07317130802128072


Sian Brannon, the Associate Dean for Collection Management at the University of North Texas Libraries, has been in libraries since the 1990s. She has worked in public, academic, and technical libraries. She is the former editor of Public Services Quarterly, and is an adjunct professor for Technical Services/Research Methods courses.

Kevin Yanowski is the Department Head of Cataloging and Metadata Services at the University of North Texas Libraries and he has been working in libraries since 2015. When he is not untangling the quagmire of complicated record editing and cataloging instructions, his interests include leadership, mentoring, cataloging unique collections, user-catalog interactions, and magic. Additionally, Kevin is a practitioner of the Art of Hosting and loves having meaningful and interesting conversations.

Catherine Sassen is Principal Catalog Librarian at the University of North Texas. She has published and presented on cataloging, indexing, assessment, career development and mentoring.

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