Curating Information

One of the often overlooked roles of a librarian is that of “information curator”. In other words, it’s part of our job to compile the best and most useful resources on any given topic to help guide library visitors in their research. This could include making bibliographies of books and articles, or creating web based “LibGuides” that are featured on the library’s website.

I am currently doing a work placement at Virginia Commonwealth University‘s Qatar campus, where I have been working in the library under the supervision of the art history librarian. As I have quite a bit of experience working with the collection at the Museum of Islamic Art library, one of my projects has been to create a LibGuide to help students in the Islamic art history course.

The guide contains lists of books that can be found in the library on each topic within the field of Islamic art, as well as a selection of web resources to supplement them. For those of you living in Qatar, VCUQ allows members of the community to use the library, so feel free to avail yourself of these resources if you are interested.

Here is a link to the guide:



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I ♥ LC call numbers

While I was working at the MIA, I was drawn to cataloguing, mostly because I liked finding where a book would fit within a classification scheme. I really liked the idea that there was a place for every book, and the challenge of making a call number that would put it in the appropriate place on the shelf (this is harder than it seems!). Luckily for me, the MIA used the Library of Congress Classification scheme– an amazingly elegant system for classifying and organizing all of mankind’s accumulated knowledge. Here’s what it looks like:



This outlines the different subjects that works can be classified as, (i.e. Religion, History, Art, Science, etc.) and the various subdivisions within each field. Each broad subject is given a letter from A-Z, and more specific subjects are given 2 letters. For example, Art is ‘N’, but within art, you will find sculpture (NB), drawing (NC), painting (ND), and so on.

It gets even more complex with the addition of numbers 1-9999, which go into further detail about the content of a work. Generally, the lower the number, the broader the subject matter. So ND25 will be a general book about painting, whereas ND3416 will be about illuminated manuscripts.

You can see this in a bit more detail here:

(The entire classification system in all it’s detail is contained in over 20 volumes, but fortunately the Library of Congress makes it available online with a subscription.)

So this will give you the first part of a call number. The second part is called a cutter, and it’s usually derived from the author’s last name. There is a table for making these numbers:



After that, finally, you have the publication date. So altogether you have a call number that is completely unique for every book, and it will look something like this:

spine label

This tells me that the book is from the MIA, it can be found in the reading room, it’s about general art (N) from the Islamic world (6260), it’s author’s last name begins with H, and it was published in 2009.

LC classification is great for big libraries, or libraries with really specialized collections. Mostly you will find Dewey Decimal system being used in public libraries where the books are more generalized. (I’ve learned recently that I really don’t like Dewey…but that will be the subject of my next post).



Now go to your nearest university library and test out your new knowledge of LC call numbers!



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My Program

So it’s been about a week since I’ve started school, and I can honestly say my enthusiasm hasn’t abated at all. The class is quite small (9 people all together), but this lends itself well to some very good conversations and a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom. I have classmates from Qatar, Egypt, India and Palestine, and each one brings a unique perspective to our discussions. They come from career backgrounds as diverse as engineering and finance, and some have been working in libraries for more than a decade. Most importantly though, is that they are all extremely nice people…friendly, supportive and just as crazy about libraries as I am! Our professor’s name is Dr. Frederick Nesta, an American who has worked in libraries all over the world. He supplements the information in his lectures with an abundance of interesting stories that come from a lifetime of experience.


My UCL hoodie

The program consists of 6 compulsory modules :

  • Cataloguing and classification 1
  • Collection management and preservation
  • Information sources and retrieval
  • Introduction to management
  • Principles of computing and information technology
  • Professional awareness

There are also 2 optional modules, which could be any of these courses:

  • Cataloguing and classification 2
  • Creation and capture of archival records
  • Database systems analysis and design
  • Digital resources in the humanities
  • Electronic publishing
  • Historical bibliography
  • Manuscript studies
  • Publishing Today
  • Services to children and young people
  • Web publishing
  • Advanced Preservation

I’m hoping to do Cataloguing and Classification 2 (as my goal is to eventually be a technical services librarian) and Historical Bibliography, which will deal with the history of the book as a physical object (a must for any bibliophile). The program culminates with a 12,000 to 15,000 word dissertation on a topic of our choice.

This semester we are doing 3 modules: Cataloguing & Classification 1, Computing & IT, and Introduction to Management, and the classes are Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays, with a practical application class on Thursdays. I’ll have every Tuesday off, but I bet you can guess where I’ll be…the library of course!

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“All the Memory in the World”

An interesting film by Alain Resnais from 1956 about the Bibliothèque nationale in France. It showcases the monumental effort to preserve, store and catalogue “all the memory in the world”.

It’s amazing to see how book cataloguing and processing has changed so much in the past half century.

(Music is by Maurice Jarre, the composer from the film “Lawrence of Arabia”.)

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October 5, 2013 · 10:03 am

What do Ricky Gervais and Gandhi have in common?

I had always planned on going to grad school…eventually. I didn’t know exactly when that would be, or which school I would go to, because for the time being, I was working comfortably at a library in Qatar, a country that until this year didn’t offer any programs even related to library studies. As luck would have it though, University College London had begun offering degree programs relating to the arts and culture sector here in Qatar the previous year, and were in the process of setting up a Library and Information Studies program that would commence in the Fall of 2013. I had first heard of the program after my friend Joey, an artist from New York who was completing the Conservation Studies MSc at UCL, recommended me to the recruitment manager for the university.

Joey Foster Ellis, you are the besets!

Joey Foster Ellis, you are the bestest!

I received an email from the recruiter in May, and responded with my interest in attending. I received another email from him at the end of August in which he informed me that the program would definitely be going ahead in October, and that UCL was now accepting applications, and would continue to until the end of September. I had one month to get my application together! I quickly set to work updating my resume, contacting my academic and professional referees, arranging for my transcripts to be sent, and composing my statement of purpose.

While I would like to think that my professional and academic merits were the only things that contributed to my acceptance into the program, I must acknowledge that the help of a few influential people speaking positively on my behalf definitely had something to do with it (you guys know who you are!). I’m also very grateful for their assistance in helping me secure the Hamad Bin Khalifa University Scholarship, which will cover my full tuition for the program.

So this is really happening now.  After tomorrow’s induction, I will be attending the same university that educated Robert Browning, Alexander Graham Bell, Gandhi and even Ricky Gervais… a university that recently ranked 4th in the world according to the QS World University Rankings. I expect the classes to be extremely challenging, but am happy for that, since those classes are usually the most beneficial.

This really is nothing short of a dream come true! Wish me luck!


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From Japan to Qatar

When we first moved to Qatar in 2011, I began looking for a job as a preschool teacher, as I had been teaching for the past 4 years in Japan. I had received job offers from a number of schools around Doha, but upon visiting them, soon learned that the role of a preschool teacher here was quite different than what I was expecting. While teaching at Kinder Kids in Japan, our priorities revolved around helping the students become independent, confident and well prepared for entering elementary school, as well as being bilingual in English and Japanese. In addition to teaching the English curriculum, there was a particular emphasis on nurturing self-sufficiency, so that the students relied less on teachers for things such as eating and dressing as they progressed through school.


My previous life.

I was disappointed (and shocked) to see that even some of the 4 year olds at the schools I visited in Doha still needed their teachers to feed them lunch! There was a chaotic atmosphere in the classrooms, as the children ran around screaming, and fighting a midst the disregarded protests of their teachers, who appeared to be little more than overworked (and similarly paid) baby sitters. I would later learn that many of the students that attended these schools came from homes where they had maids or nannies to do most things for them and were not often reprimanded for bad behaviour. I decided fairly quickly that I no longer wanted to teach preschool.

My husband Nabil had gotten a job in the strategy department at the Qatar Museum’s Authority, and soon informed me that the library in the Museum of Islamic Art was hiring. Naturally, I was thrilled since I had always wanted to work in a library. I got the job, and while my paperwork was being processed (something that takes an inordinately long time) I volunteered there 4 hours a day.


The Museum of Islamic Art, Doha Qatar.

Though I started as a reader’s guide — mostly just responsible for showing visitor’s how to use the library — it soon became apparent that I had an aptitude for cataloguing. I read everything I could find about AACR2 (Anglo American Cataloguing Rules) and ISBD (International Standard Bibliographic Descriptions) and became especially fascinated by how call numbers are assigned (eventually teaching myself how to do that as well). Within a short time, my duties expanded to cataloguing the large backlog of books at the MIA, doing quality checks on other catalogue records, and even designing workshops on how to create original bibliographic records. It didn’t take long before I was involved in almost every other area of the library’s operations, from handling research requests, to compiling bibliographies, to selecting and ordering new material for the collection. In the words of my former boss, Carole, I was “born to be a librarian”!

Working in a small library facilitated my sampling  the different areas of work librarians can be involved with ( ie. public services, technical services, collection development etc.) but I was extremely fortunate to have a boss that had enough confidence in me to allow me to try my hand at all of them. With her support and encouragement, I came to realize that this really was what I wanted to pursue as a career. One of my favourite pieces of Carole’s advice was “never stop learning, and never stop improving”. She was a perfect example of this philosophy in action, as was evidenced by her own immense knowledge concerning libraries and just about every other subject area. What was even greater though, was her willingness to share her knowledge, and her efforts to help those that worked for her improve themselves. It was on her advice that I began to seriously consider Grad school.

Another thing Carole used to like saying was that “books are like children…they’re all different, but they’re all the same”. Although I knew what she meant by this, I can’t help but wonder if she would still see similarities after visiting a Qatari preschool!

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Page one…

My very first trip to the library is a hazy memory. I don’t recall much, other than being immensely impressed by what was the biggest collection of books I had ever seen, and of course, the overwhelming pleasure of being told I could pick out any book I wanted to take home with me. Incidentally, the book I chose was this one:


I can’t say that a life long love of the Star Wars franchise grew out of this experience, but I am confident that this is when my love of libraries began. It shouldn’t be underestimated what an impact offering this amount of choice and self determination can have on a 4 year old’s psyche. As the youngest of 4 children, I often didn’t have a say when it came to choosing the T.V. programs or movies my family watched, but here in the library, I was free to make my own choices…and the possibilities seemed endless!

Now, 25 years later, and still infatuated with libraries, I’ve decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Library and Information studies, forever wedding myself to one of my earliest and truest loves.

This blog will chronicle my journey through library school, and allow me to share with you my experiences, insights and love of all things library!


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