Student Intern Chronicles: The Cataloging Fiasco

By Augie E. Beasley

I had numerous student interns over my 30 plus years as a school library media specialist. I am sorry to say, many of them I do not remember, but most I do. Of all the ones I had, several truly stand out.

I have disguised and changed the names of the student interns in case they read these vignettes.

Back in 1980, Carl was a 33-year-old classroom teacher who wanted to become a librarian because he thought working in the library would be easier than the hustle and bustle of the classroom. Our standard practice with interns was to give them a true taste of a typical working librarian's day. After a few days, I had him working with Carolyn, one of the other librarians, who was cataloging new books that had arrived. In those long ago days of yesteryear the school system did not have centralized cataloging for high schools, so we did our own, and the library secretary typed the cards by hand (pre-printed catalog cards were just becoming available).

For some reason, Carl wrestled with cataloging. He was a whiz with fiction and short story collections, but that amounted to being able to do one times one in the multiplication table. Carolyn was trying to teach him cataloging 101, which he should have known already. After a few days, she had to tell him to stop making up his own subject heading, insisting that he must use Sears.

I mean he made some creative subject headings that I cannot remember now. He was making so many cataloging mistakes that he started trying to slip the work cards to the library secretary without us knowing what he was doing. But she always showed them to Carolyn.

Carolyn, who had a voice as soft as starlight, redolent of magnolias and honey-suckle blossoms, and who never raised her voice, said softly “What were you thinking?” as she held the work card out to him. “These people are trying to survive. This was not a fun camping trip for them.”

Carl had just cataloged the non-fiction book Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Paul Read with a number of 796.9 for winter camping.

The book came out around 1975 and is about the Uruguayan rugby team's plane crashing in the Andes and how the survivors turned to cannibalism to survive for forty plus days.

She had him to re-catalog it. This time he gave it the number of 613.67 for camp sanitation.

I can still hear her telling him in that soft voice of hers that although it could be said the rugby team was camping in the Andes, she was sure the last thing on their mind was camp hygiene. Survival was their main goal. She urged him to catalog it again, and to stop giving the work cards to the secretary until she approved them.

He left mumbling, but came back in a few minutes grinning like a mule eating briars and handed his work card to Carolyn. “Got it right now,” he said.

This time, Carolyn lost it, “Dammit Carl! What under God's green Earth were you thinking?” she demanded as she pointed the work card at him. “What made you use this number?” I mean, she was madder than a wet sittin' hen.

Carl had assigned the call number 796.33 to the book, the number for the game of rugby. His logic was that since it was a rugby team that crashed in the Andes, the book was about rugby.

I’m not sure, but I think I heard her whimpering as she sat down with him to find the correct call number: 982.6.

Next she gave him In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, a book about the horrific 1959 murders of the Clutter family in Kansas. To me it is still a heart-wrenching read. Carl bounded over to Carolyn's desk like an eager third grader wanting his work graded and stood back waiting for praise he knew was coming.

Silence. He had assigned the book in the biography section, for it was about the Clutter family.

Carolyn was a teetotaler, but I am sure she muttered something about raiding her husband's liquor cabinet when she got home for a much needed double scotch.

By now she was looking wan and had developed a noticeable tick whenever she cataloged with Carl. Back to Dewey she sent him, though throughout he was muttering how he thought a library internship would involve learning how to operate a library, not catalog materials.

Finally he came up with new number: 978.1 for the history of Kansas, as this was Kansas history, he proudly stated.

Carolyn used to eat a slice of chocolate cake when she was upset about something. I think by now she was up to a whole cake a day. She wouldn't offer anyone else a slice of her cake now. It was her personal stash kept in the bottom of her right hand desk drawer.

Such egregious errors in cataloging as these had been going on for days. Finally, Carolyn took him to one of the conference rooms and had a long talk with him. No voices were raised and no chairs were thrown, but afterwards his cataloging started improving. I’m not sure what she told him, but he started taking his library internship seriously after that.

He came to me to complain, but I said I agreed with everything she had said. Moreover, I told him to stop carrying tales like a kid.

Carl ended up not being a bust as a librarian. He enjoyed helping students, especially students at risk of dropping out of school, Orthopedically Handicapped students, and Educable Mentally Handicapped students. He designed library lesson plans for them to use when they came to the library. They were good, and we ended up using them for years.

We have not heard from Carl since the fall of 1981 when he and his wife moved back to her hometown in New England.