By Alison Harding-Hlady
In a few days, I’ll be leaving Canada for a very special assignment in Kigali, Rwanda. A few months ago, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Rwanda Archives and Library Services Authority (RALSA) to provide training in professional activities, international standards and best practices. Along with Karl-Xavier Thomas, an archivist at LAC, I’ll spend a month living and working with the staff of RALSA.
I was honoured and thrilled to be chosen to represent the “library” side of LAC, and I’ve been hard at work for months preparing for the trip. I’ll be sharing expertise with RALSA’s librarians and have been asked to focus on bibliographic description—that is, cataloguing and classification. As a cataloguing librarian who has spent her entire career developing these skills (16 years at LAC and counting), I couldn’t agree more that these are the fundamental building blocks of librarianship. All other library activities—making acquisition decisions, serving researchers, answering reference questions, digitization projects, exhibitions, conservation, and more—depend on a well-organized catalogue with clear, detailed descriptions of every item in the collection. You have to know what you have and where it is before you can do anything else! Although it’s sometimes dismissed as boring, I would argue instead that cataloguing is often misunderstood. A fascinating, vibrant and ever-changing field, the work is always focused on the goal of providing the best possible access to the collection. Every day brings a new challenge, and new opportunity to learn, as every item that we catalogue requires research and thought, to understand how best to classify, describe and connect it to other parts of the collection. It’s this philosophy, and the tools needed to achieve it, that I hope to share with my library colleagues in Rwanda.
Over the four weeks that I’m in Kigali, I’ll be tackling such topics as the international standard for description (RDA), how to create and use name authorities, different classification systems, navigating the public and staff view of the integrated library system (ILS), and more. A lot of time will involve hands-on work, cataloguing books together and discussing the challenges and intricacies of each individual item. There’s always a challenge, even in what seems like the most straightforward book to catalogue! My goal is that at the end of the four weeks, RALSA will have all of the tools needed to provide access to their collection and to support all of the important and valuable work by RALSA in Rwanda. And even after I return to Canada, I’ll always be only an email away and can continue to act as a support and resource!
So the training materials are almost all prepared, the vaccination shots received, the tickets booked, the suitcase packed. There’s an enormous challenge before me, but it’s also the most exciting opportunity of my career so far. The pressure’s on, both in developing four weeks of curriculum and instruction, which is not part of my day-to-day job, and in the international travel (22 hours and three flights, here I come). But I’m confident that I can rise to the challenge and do LAC proud. The opportunity to share my expertise and passion for librarianship and cataloguing with new librarians in another country is an exciting and inspiring one
Alison Harding-Hlady is the Senior Cataloguing Librarian responsible for rare books and special collections in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.