Today we're talking with Emily Dust Nimsakont, who is the Cataloging Librarian at the Nebraska Library Commission. She also provides cataloging training to librarians throughout Nebraska and recently spoke at the online conference, RDA @ Your Library, presented by Amigos Library Services. Let's get started with the interview!
What is your educational/professional background?
I have a bachelor’s degree in history and psychology from Knox College in Galesburg, IL, a master’s degree in museum studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and a master’s degree in library science from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Before working in the library world, I worked for museums and nonprofit organizations. My first library job was as a reference assistant at an academic library. I finished library school in May of 2008, and since October of that year, I have been working as the Cataloging Librarian at the Nebraska Library Commission in Lincoln, Nebraska.
When you graduated college/graduate school what were your career goals/have they changed since?
When I finished my undergraduate degree, I wanted to work in a history museum, preferably as a museum educator. When I finished my library science degree, my goal was to find a job as a cataloger, and I have succeeded at that goal. See my answer to the next question for more detail on how my goals changed.
When/how did you decide the LIS career path was for you?
For a long time, I’ve been interested in informal learning environments, places outside of the classroom where learning takes place. My first career path was in the museum field, and about a year and a half after I finished graduate school for the first time, I was feeling pretty frustrated with the job prospects in the field. At around the same time, I was discovering that while a lot of my colleagues were about preserving the stuff in our collections, I was interested in connecting people with the information about the items in our collections (writing up exhibit text, doing research in our collections for museum visitors, etc.). I started to think that maybe librarianship was the career for me. I started library school without any experience working in libraries, but luckily, I quickly discovered that working in libraries was indeed a good fit for me.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
There really is no typical day, since I have a variety of tasks that are part of my job. Here at the Nebraska Library Commission, we are a depository for state government documents, so most of my cataloging work is original cataloging of these items. We also have a collection of library-related materials that we lend to library workers and library students across the state, so I catalog these items, too (this is usually copy cataloging). I also am responsible for assigning metadata to the digitized historical photographs in our Nebraska Memories collection. In addition to functioning as the Commission’s cataloger, I am also responsible for providing training on cataloging-related topics to librarians in the state.
I do spend at least a little time cataloging just about every day. However, I usually try to balance the near-constant flow of items that need to be cataloged with the need to work on other, more short-term projects, such as preparing for an upcoming training session.
What is your favorite/least favorite thing about your job?
My favorite thing is probably the fact that my job duties include a variety of tasks, as I mentioned in the previous question. No two days are alike, and I very rarely get bored.
It’s harder to say what my least favorite thing is. I suppose it’s the fact that sometimes, working in a government agency can be a little restrictive. For example, sometimes there can be a decent amount of red tape involved with getting permission to start a new project. However, most of the time, my enjoyment of my job outweighs these frustrations.
How do you think your education prepared you/didn't prepare you for your current career?
I definitely don’t think that library school fully prepared me for my career, but I don’t think that it’s necessarily supposed to. I actually don’t think it’s possible for library school to perfectly prepare anyone for working in a real-world library job. The school that I went to didn’t really have tracks or specializations, so I definitely came out of library school a generalist, which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing. Although figured out halfway through library school that I wanted to be a cataloger, and I tailored my practicum and volunteer work to get some experience in that area, I feel that my coursework gave me a base of knowledge that would have helped me in many areas of librarianship, if I had ended up getting a job as another type of librarian, rather than as a cataloger. I feel like I learned the very basics of the profession in library school and have supplemented those basics with a lot of on-the-job learning in my first professional position, and I don’t really see how it could happen any other way.
What advice do you have for current/graduating library and information science students?
If a class sounds interesting to you, take it, regardless of whether it relates to what you think your chosen path in librarianship is. Though I knew about halfway through library school that I wanted to be a cataloger, I took classes on a variety of subjects, including readers’ advisory, library materials for children, and library use instruction. That library use instruction course has ended up being very valuable to me, since my current job involves not only cataloging but also training people on how to catalog, and I’ve applied many of the instructional techniques I learned in that class. You never know what type of position you’ll end up in or which classes will end up being useful in ways that you didn’t expect, so I would recommend exploring a variety of areas, if your program allows it.
What changes do you foresee for the field of Library and Information Science in the next five to ten years?
I think that there will be a lot of changes in the coming years. To focus on my area of expertise, I think that cataloging has been changing a lot and will continue to do so. Resource Description and Access (RDA), the new cataloging rules that are currently being evaluated by the national libraries, will certainly change things if they are implemented. There will most definitely be short-term effects, as libraries adjust their workflows and budgets to the new rules. However, I also think there is the potential for great long-term effects on the cataloging world if the full potential of RDA is realized.
Even without the new rules, catalogers’ work is changing. We work with digital objects more than ever before. We work with batches of items, rather than creating a record for one book at a time. I really think the whole concept of what a cataloger does will change greatly in the next five to ten years.
Special thanks to Emily for participating in our blog. If you would like to know more about Emily, or have any questions, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.