What is a Library Catalog?

library catLibraries today have changed over time due to the expanse of technology in today’s society. Libraries contain a wide variety of materials in many different formats available for use by the public. Libraries now even offer free downloadable materials such as movie streaming and e-books that people can view on their tablets. One challenge librarians have is determining where in the library these materials should be located. This is where library cataloging comes into play. To us librarians, there is a method to our madness and library cataloging makes everything easier to find.

A library catalog is a register of all bibliographic items found in a library or in a group of libraries. You can also compare a library catalog to that of an index for a book. An index provides readers with information on where to find a specific section in the book without having to read the entire book. For example, if you are looking for a specific pasta recipe, searching in the index of that particular book will tell you which page to turn to. When it comes to cataloging, this is done the same way in that a library user can find the material they are looking for by looking at the call number of the material.

There are two types of catalogs. One is the card catalog and the other is the online catalog (Online Public Access Catalog). The card catalog is the older version and was written on index cards made up by the librarians. This card catalog only shows one individual record and is kept in a catalog drawer either alphabetically or numerically. Nowadays with technology, many catalogs are online and can provide more information than a traditional catalog would have. This is possible by the special MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging) coding that’s used in fields to find a specific item. Since the cataloging recorded is all coded, you can find the ISBN, author, title, series, publisher, and date of a particular item.

When materials are cataloged in a library, they follow the Dewey Decimal system of cataloging. These items are placed in different sections on the shelf so there’s some sort of organization to everything. The goal is to make materials available to patrons without having them spend a ton of time trying to search for a particular author. Typically, fiction books are organized by author’s last name and nonfiction books are cataloged by the call number. This call number follows the Dewey Decimal system way of cataloging.

Next time you stop into your local library, try using the online catalog and find a book you’ve wanted to read. You’ll find out just how easy and user friendly it really is.

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