Cataloging conundrums


It sat on my desk, looking at me with such sadness that the young woman on the front cover had tears streaking down her cheeks. It looked so forlorn as day after day I shuffled papers around it. Each time I moved it I would chastise myself, “You need to make a decision about this book, today.” But I just couldn’t seem to find a solution to this cataloging conundrum.

Yesterday, I imbued this inanimate object with human traits. “Why must I sit here day after day waiting for you to do something with me?” the book asked.

“I just don’t know where to put you,” I woefully replied.

“What exactly is the problem?” the book asked impatiently.

“Well,” I carefully responded, not wanting to hurt any feelings, “you don’t fit any cataloging categories very well so I’m just not sure where you should live in the library.”

“Goodness” exclaimed the book, “just get me on the shelf somewhere so I can get checked out. What’s the big deal?”

I know what you, the reader, must be thinking. “Molly has gone ’round the bend. She’s truly bonkers.” Not so. Many of us talk to ourselves and the truly brilliant of us answer, too.

Let me see if I can explain this situation to you about the book sitting on my desk.

The title of the book is “Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein,” a most fascinating book that defies classification/categorization. It’s free verse poetry that is a biography of Mary Shelley in a graphic novel-esque format. Haunting, dark, intense, yet beautiful, this is a unique and unforgettable depiction of Shelley’s life and the time in which she lived.

When faced with a cataloging conundrum, we usually look at other libraries’ records. Well darn, no help there as about one-half the records classified the book Biography and the other half Poetry. Susan and Marsha couldn’t agree and that’s how the book ended up on my desk.

In this case, the Dewey Decimal System goes right out the window. Sorry, Mr. Dewey, but you don’t have the definitive answer for every book published and despite your valuable contributions to Libraryland you were an anti-Semitic, sexual harasser. Oops, I got off track for a minute.

Hmmmm. I still didn’t know where to place this book, so I pulled out my trusty circulation report and quickly realized we have far more biography than poetry readers. But wait. Maybe if we put this in the poetry section we’d get some biography readers interested in poetry. Well, we could also put this in the bios and get the poetry readers interested in biography. Or, I could give it to Mr. Ronk, our resident biography reader and get his opinion.

“STOP,” screamed the book. “Just make a decision. It doesn’t matter where you put me because your decision, whatever it is, isn’t going to kill any babies.”

“OK … OK,” I whined and before I could dither around some more I took the book to Marsha, simply said, “Biography,” and walked down the hall to the children’s department to look for the book that caused me the worst cataloging nightmare of my career.

There it sat proudly in the juvenile fiction collection, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” by Brian Selznick. It was the 2008 Caldecott Medal winner, which recognizes the preceding year’s most distinguished American picture book for children.

The best description of this absolutely amazing book is on Selznick’s website. “This 526-page book is told in both words and pictures. ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’ is not exactly a novel, and it’s not quite a picture book, and it’s not really a graphic novel, or a flip book, or a movie, but a combination of all these things. Each picture (there are nearly 300 pages of pictures!) takes up an entire double page spread, and the story moves forward because you turn the pages to see the next moment unfold in front of you.”

Are you seeing the problem here? Picture book implies the “Easy” collection of story books for our youngest readers. Selznick’s explanation is far more expansive and inclusive. So where does this book live? Here in Mifflin and Juniata counties it’s in the juvenile fiction collection, as is the sequel. Phew! Good call by the cataloger.

I had an absolutely knockdown, drag down “discussion” with a university cataloger about the call number and placement of this book. The intense debate went back and forth for several days, neither of us willing to compromise. Finally, I “strongly encouraged” her to see my point or face insubordination action.

Jeez, we both were just a teeny tiny passionate about the issue. And you thought all librarians do is check in and check out books all day. We do that, but we try to find just the right spot for each book, making it easy for you to find.


Molly S. Kinney is the director at the Mifflin County Library. She is currently reading “Pieces of Her,” by Karin Slaughter. Shout out to S.F. and JAH — thanks for the suggestions, ladies. Keep them coming.


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