15: Cataloging final exam panic

woman whose hands are bound with rope

On the night of my (early) cataloging final exam – my Very, Very Last Thing To Do In Library School – I nearly had a panic attack.

I studied for two hours the night before the exam, and two hours the night before that, and two hours the afternoon before that. And yet I was convinced I was going to fail. Convinced!

I got to class three hours early so I could (you guessed it) study for two hours. I was going to be taking the exam in the library while the last lecture took place. As the start time grew near, I became morose.

The professor held office hours before class and a half hour before start time, I went searching for him: the classroom, the library, the snack shop. I was so convinced that I was going to fail that I sought to warn him, reassure him that even if I couldn’t catalog I was a still a decent sort of person, and seek a means of extra credit. He was nowhere to be found.

My mood grew pernicious (as it happens, the Dictionary.com Word of that Day meaning: highly injurious; deadly; destructive; exceedingly harmful).

As I was searching for the prof, a classmate saw me. “Ready for your final?” She asked cheerfully.

“No,” I said seriously (dare I say perniciously). “I cannot do this.”

I went back to the library. One of my fellow students asked if I was “OK.”

“I can’t do this. I know nothing about cataloging!” I told them.

a cemetery of crosses

I informed them that the class average was 2.5. That’s a failing grade. My grade was one tenth of a point below the class average going into the final.

Failing cataloging meant I wouldn’t graduate. No party. No pineapple upside down cake transported all the way from Lake Erie. No degree. I would not become a librarian and wear a cap and gown in three weeks.


OK, the class average was actually a very low three point based on the exams, and the paper we’d all turned in had pushed the average to a high three point, including mine. Nevertheless, it FELT like the class average was a 2.5, and that we were all going to fail, including me.

a crying baby

It was a very convincing feeling, OK?

My classmates gave me a look that told me they didn’t know whether to walk away quickly or give up the game and run.

The moment of truth finally came. My professor handed me the exam. As I read over it, I was afraid I was going to faint from a seated position. For a moment I was afraid I was going to have to leave the room with an anxiety attack. I reminded myself to breathe.

The scariest part is that I am not exaggerating any of this. Who would make up this level of high-stakes drama over cataloging?

The exam was very difficult, but not impossible. It took a full two and a half hours but I double-checked all of my answers three or four times, making corrections with each pass. The professor had tried to lighten the mood by having us catalog such classics as the

French riot

Encyclopedia of the Guillotine.

The LC subject heading for this lively topic can be found here:

HV Social Pathology, Social and Public Welfare, Criminology

  • 8551 Forms of punishment
  • 8552 Beheading
  • 8555 The headsman
  • 8558 Guillotine
  • 8558 Boiling in oil
  • 8561 Breaking on the wheel
  • 8564 Burning at the stake
  • 8569 Crucifixion
  • 8572 Drawing and quartering

The funniest thing is, I was so darned entertained by my final exam that I still remember it. At the two hour mark, when it was clear that not only was I going to survive the experience but I was also going to pass the exam, I finally began to breathe again.

When I got home, I took a long hot, shower, and had a glass of wine. I needed both badly.

woman in a beautiful glade

It was true. I was going to be a librarian after all.

Published by Sonya Schryer Norris

Librarian :: Instructional Designer :: Blogger

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