:: Digital Libraries Columns


Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant

Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date. :: Digital Libraries Columns

Bibliographic Control Future


   Standing in front of Google's main lobby, I'm unimpressed. The building
   looks like any other corporate building in this Mountain View business
   park. But I also feel like Dorothy standing before the portal to Oz.
   Here, I think to myself, is where all the magic happens. Here, for
   today at least, is where we will talk about the future of bibliographic

   This meeting, "Users and Uses of Bibliographic Data," is the first of
   three organized by the Library of Congress's Working Group on the
   Future of Bibliographic Control. The next meeting in Chicago, May 9,
   will cover structures and standards, and the last, in northern Virginia
   on July 9, will address economics and organization. If you're
   interested in our bibliographic future, you may want to consider
   attending, or submit your written comments to the Working Group by July
   15, 2007.

   Too complex for words

   Longtime readers of this column know that, in the past, I have taken
   our existing infrastructure for bibliographic description (i.e., MARC
   and AACR2) to task for being a barrier to achieving the type of
   bibliographic infrastructure we now require (see "[123]MARC Must Die,"
   LJ 10/15/02). What I think we should achieve can be found in "A
   Bibliographic Infrastructure for the 21st Century" (Library Hi Tech,
   Jun. 2004, p. 175-181). The meeting at Google did nothing to dispel
   these notions, and there was much to support it.

   Bernie Hurley (UC-Berkeley) and Andrew Pace (North Carolina State)
   brought up the overcomplexity of MARC. In fact, very few of the fields
   are actually used. And now, we have more than anecdotal evidence that
   this is the case.

   With over 2000 fields and subfields, the MARC21 format has grown into a
   complex set of options for recording bibliographic information. Bill
   Moen and his research team at the University of North Texas evaluated
   the entire WorldCat database (over 56 million records, provided
   courtesy of OCLC) and discovered only ten fields and about 20 subfields
   were commonly used.

   "When only 10-20 percent of the available MARC fields and subfields are
   used by catalogers," Moen bluntly states, "what's the point of such a
   complex metadata scheme? Has MARBI (Machine Readable Bibliographic
   Information) produced something that addresses idiosyncratic cataloger
   needs rather than the needs of users to find, identify, select, and
   access resources that may be relevant to them?"

   Overhaul overdue

   The implications of the group's work and the changes they will bring
   are many and significant. How we describe our collections and the
   resources to which we wish to point our users to will be different and
   in some cases dramatically so. The tools we will require and the
   procedures we will need to use are even now only beginning to be
   created. These times are challenging but also inspiring to those of us
   who believe that our bibliographic infrastructure is overdue for an

   I've already voiced some misgivings that the Resource Description and
   Access (RDA) process will make the kind of changes that are necessary
   (see LJ 3/15/07). We may carry too much useless baggage into our
   bibliographic future if we try to make the legacy data transition easy.
   We must take care not to make ourselves irrelevant to a growing base of
   users who need our advice and assistance with bibliographic description

   Forcing relevance

   I saw many metaphors in Mountain View that day. The meeting was held in
   a room that had recreational equipment (ping pong anyone?) and a
   kitchen area. Google staffers constantly walked around the perimeter,
   making espresso and talking to colleagues or on their cell phones. "You
   may be discussing your future," Google seemed to say, "but we couldn't
   care less. You will have very little or nothing to do with the future
   we envision." If we can't get our bibliographic act together, and make
   bibliographic control easy and effective without being overly painful
   for too little return, Google may, unfortunately, be right.

   For more on the wired library, see the netConnect supplement mailed
   with this issue and with the January, July, and October 15 issues of LJ

   Link List
   A Bibliographic Infrastructure for the 21st Century
   [124] Karen Coyle's Summary
   MARC Content Designation Utilization
   Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control