My Job at the Library: Cataloging Children’s Literature

This interview with Ann Sullivan was first published in the September–October issue of LCM, the Library of Congress magazine. The issue is available in its entirety online. After reading the interview, make sure to take the quiz that follows!

Ann Sullivan. Photo by Shawn Miller

How would you describe your work?
I catalog children’s books at the Library of Congress. This involves adding the usual suspects, such as author, title and publisher, to the cataloging record, plus elements unique to children’s cataloging — including a 30- to 35-word summary and special subject headings for children and teens. Most of my time is spent determining the headings and composing the annotation. Summary writing is not for sissies. How do you capture the essence of a book in 35 words? It is both challenging and satisfying. In addition to cataloging incoming materials, I meet with colleagues to write cataloging policy — the rules we follow to use the headings consistently.

How did you prepare for your current position?
At the Library, I worked briefly in the National Union Catalog filing unit; the Prints and Photographs Division, where poster curator Elena Millie gave me the cool project of cataloging the Artcraft collection of three-sheet Broadway theater posters; and in the Subject Cataloging Division, where I worked as a shelf lister, completing the call number. It was a great introduction to the bibliographic record. I also shelved books in my mom’s school library, took children’s literature courses at the University of Maryland and earned my master’s in library science.

What have been some of your most memorable experiences at the Library?

  • In the 1980s, encountering Jacqueline Onassis’ name and business phone number on the Cataloging-in-Publication application form. She was an editor at Doubleday, and her contact details were listed in case a Library cataloger needed to call the publisher with questions about submitted galleys. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to talk to Jackie — her galleys were always perfect.
  • Discovering the variety and depth in children’s literature and noting the trends over the decades, from farting dogs and celebrity authors to meta picture books and young wizards saving the world. I can honestly say that in 32 years, I have never been bored.
  • Meeting wonderful people all over the Library as a Library of Congress Professional Association volunteer and board member.
  • Proofreading the Library’s Gazette staff newsletter on Tuesday night (production night) back in the day when Peter Braestrup, the newsletter’s founder, brought us a bucket of popcorn popped in suspicious oil from nearby Gandel’s liquor store. Peter would kick back, light up a cigar and call me that “nitpicky cataloger” whenever I spotted a typo.

What are some of your favorite collection items for children?
My favorite children’s books are stories by authors who respect children. As author Mo Willems says, “Children are shorter, not dumber.” I love books in which children make discoveries about themselves and the world. Books that say it’s okay to be different. Books that make you laugh and cry. And books with the message that no matter how small you are, you can make a difference in the world.

Name That Book!
Can you guess the titles and authors of these books just by reading the summaries from their Library of Congress bibliographic record?

  1. When a bus driver takes a break from his route, a very unlikely volunteer springs up to take his place.
  2. Mr. and Mrs. Mallard proudly return to their home in the Boston Public Garden with their eight offspring.
  3. The family routine is upset during Ramona’s year in second grade when her father unexpectedly loses his job.

Answers

  1. “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus,” by Mo Willems
  2. “Make Way for Ducklings,” by Robert McCloskey
  3. “Ramona and Her Father,” Beverly Cleary

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