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Staff Spotlight: Katherine Rankin

By Michael Yunkin on August 21, 2013 9:27 AM | Permalink

Staff Spotlight: Kathy Rankin

Position:  Special Collections Catalog Librarian

Length of Service:  24 years

Hometown:  Port Clinton, Ohio

What she does:
UNLV Libraries’ Special Collections is the world’s premier repository of the history and culture of Las Vegas and the gaming industry. With holdings that surpass 50,000 items, Rankin plays a key role in organizing this rich conglomeration and makes it easy to find. She compiles information on these materials, produces a bibliographic record that identifies every book, archival collection, map, and document in detail—from the author, title, subject and publication data of a book to the many components associated with donated personal and corporate collections. “One of the most unique items I was asked to catalog was a piece of copper cable from Hoover Dam,” she recalls.  

Before the advent of computers, this detailed work was recorded in typewritten form on index cards. Today Rankin’s work is done by capturing this information as metadata on a computer. This makes it possible for you to search for and access research materials online.

The way here:
Rankin received a bachelor’s degree in education with a major in Spanish from Arizona State University. She worked as a teacher for Saint John’s Indian School at Gila River Reservation, outside of Phoenix. “I realized I am not a very good teacher,” says Rankin. Having also worked as the school’s librarian, she decided to enroll in the library science master’s program at University of Arizona. It was there that Rankin discovered the science—and art—of cataloging. “My cataloging professor, Dr. Margaret Maxwell, noticed my affinity for detail and she encouraged me to work as a cataloger. I think I was probably born to be a cataloger because as a child I had to know the name of every flower in my grandmother’s garden, and I liked to organize and identify my collections of things such as leaves and rocks,” Rankin recalls.   

Soon after receiving her master’s degree Rankin accepted the position of audio-visual materials cataloger at Pan American University in southern Texas.  Seven years later she became special collections cataloger at the University of Texas at Arlington.  “I cataloged material primarily on the Mexican War and on Texas history,” she explains. Rankin recalls the interesting and often unexpected objects that would come to her department, such as a buffalo head, saddles, a barbed wire collection, and some guns. “My husband used to say I was well-protected, as the guns and a sword were shelved near my desk,” she laughs.

Rankin joined UNLV Libraries in 1989. “My husband and I had wanted to move to another city and kept our eyes open for employment opportunities,” she says. “We subscribe to American Libraries Magazine, where my husband saw an ad for an audio-visual material cataloger position at the university in Las Vegas.” Rankin was hesitant about moving to Southern Nevada but ultimately decided to apply. She was offered the job by Billie Mae Polson, who was UNLV’s head cataloger. Now, twenty-four years later, Rankin says it was the best decision. In that time she has seen the Libraries grow its physical spaces, collections, and programs. And along the way she has also learned to integrate new cataloging technologies that enhance user services. Rankin says “it has been exciting to witness the tremendous developments in library science, and to have been a part of it.”

Professional affiliations:
Rankin also catalogs maps for both the general map collection and for Special Collections. She is active in map librarian groups, especially the Western Association of Map Libraries; and she has hosted its meetings twice, served as president, was the editor of a book review column in its journal, offered numerous presentations at its meetings, and has written articles for its journal. Rankin is currently the association’s liaison to the map librarian group in the American Library Association. She also maintains memorial pages on its website for members who have passed away. “I find this work to be very rewarding,” she says.

What she loves about her job:
“I love working with such a variety of interesting collections,” says Rankin. “And to be able touch and study things that many people don’t have an opportunity to see.” She also enjoys the process of seeking new books about or set in Las Vegas, so they can be made available to students and researchers from around the world.

For fun: 
“My hobbies are needlework—counted cross-stitch and needlepoint, reading—especially ‘cozy’ mysteries, and traveling,” says Rankin. She enjoys exploring the Western United States. “My husband and I particularly like traveling by train, and are going by train to Minneapolis this month, then on to Glacier, Seattle, and LA, then home by bus,” she explains. “Our honeymoon (in June 1985) was a train trip around the West.” They have their own special collection of pins from the places they have visited, which are displayed at home on a cloth wall map of the United States. Rankin and her husband also belong to a gourmet group that was once part of the UNLV Faculty Club. “He’s the cook, and not I,” she exclaims with a laugh.