Biblios.org Cataloging is a new open source web based metadata tool for libraries. For more information, check out their About page, or, listen to this interview with Josh Ferraro. There is also this video, presented at the Code4Lib 2008 conference.
In Norman Oder’s Library Journal review of biblios.net, As ‡biblios.net Emerges, a New Opportunity for Catalogers (and Competition with OCLC)?, he praised the new LibLime project as a great opportunity to enforce and promote open access to cataloging data. He pointed out how crucial open access is these days in particular in light of OCLC’s move to implement a policy as to use and transfer of its records. In contrast to this move to enforce access to data created by librarians, most of the records in biblios.net come from the OpenLibrary. This reiterates the idea that library data should be shared and openly accessible. In short, this article outlines the why, what, and how of biblios.net at the same time that it talks about its limitations such as only being able to support 1 ILS, KOHA.
For a more detailed account of the back-end structure of biblios.net, read this article by one of the founders, Chris Catalfo, ‡biblios: An Open Source Cataloging Editor.
From the beginning, I was very interested in biblios.net. Even before reading Oder’s review, I was curious to see if this was the cataloging tool for the 21st century. More specifically, I wanted to know if OCLC Connexion disappeared, could I still do my work with biblios.net.
To answer my question, I first consulted Nicole Engard’s fabulous how-to series on biblios.net. Her videos cover each major aspect of biblios.net. With this information as well as perusing the documents on biblios.net, I set off to work.
1. How easy was it to catalog an item?
There was definitely a learning curve involved. I would suggest reading the documentation and watching Nicole’s videos! The interface is so completely different from Connexion that it is worth taking the time to learn this new biblios environment. Part of my frustration in the beginning was learning just how to use the system, in particular for formats that are new such as streaming videos.
On the whole, it was fairly easy to catalog any type of item. Biblios.net provides convenient boxes, drop down menus, a help function for each field, and the very basic functions that can be found in Connexion.
2. Drawbacks to cataloging
a. When entering a name in the 100 field (an author to a book I cataloged), biblios.net instantly searched LCNAF for that name. The biggest disappointment here was that because the search list appeared in a very narrow window, I was not able to see the entire string for the controlled form of the name. It was like guessing in the dark. Luckily, I had checked the form of the name for my author before going to biblios.net. Though it could be helpful to have biblios.net instantly check for authority files, I would have preferred to control my headings after completing my record.
b. For some reason, the pop-up boxes for the fixed fields did not work correctly on my MAC but only on a PC… Haven’t figured that one out yet.
c. There is not reformat and validate functions like in Connexion. This is a disservice.
d. At first, I wasn’t too clear on where to put my punctuation. I actually had to search for examples in biblios.net to learn how others were doing it.
e. There is no spell check. This is really something that needs to be added. There was already some discussion in the forums about adding this feature.
f. The summary field does not form a box for easy reading. If you enter a large summary (i.e. more than 1 sentence), then the box provided for the 520 field just extends on that same line. This really makes it difficult to see the entire record for those final read overs before saving it as completed or a draft.
g. I wasn’t able to find a way to add accents or special characters to my letters. This is a definite drawback.
f. When something goes wrong, I encountered 3 scenarios. 1) the screen froze -not my preferred scenario ; 2) a rather useless message appeared in the right hand corner “saved failed” -there was no further explanation; 3)nothing happened -this was on my MAC were for some reason I was unable to input information into the fixed fields (I would put it in, click save and nothing would be saved but it would save if I used a PC).
g. The 007 field was just not intuitive. I was not able to enter data that I wanted for my streaming video. One of the problems was that with the drop down menu that lets you input information, there were no subfields. I was also unable to add any subfields to this 007 field; the same was true for the 006 field (I tried to enter not just TYPE but also File-you can only add TYPE).
Conclusion: Yes I could use bilbios.net but I wouldn’t be happy. This is not yet the cataloging tool for the 21st century.
Oder mentioned in his article that OCLC needs to focus on its services rather than trying to close off data in reference to OCLC’s policy and the use of its records. While I was cataloging in biblios.net, I realized just how loaded Connextion was with services. Beyond that, there is the list-serv OCLC-cat, which is a very active list-serve. When there is a problem with Connexion, OCLC-cat explodes with messages. OCLC is good about getting out a statement of the problem and when that problem was resolved. These services all have the option of RSS so I and others can just read them in our readers. Of course biblios.net just started and the number of users is still very small. However, I saw one question in a Forum post from last December that had no replies as yet! In my job, that would not work!
Though biblios.net offers the ability to catalog several different formats (tied to those described in AACR2), I found that it is still easier to catalog print material in comparison with non-print and in particular materials such as streaming videos. I was also worried that too much focus was directed to format given FRBR and hence RDA’s change of direction from format to function.
In short, play around with biblios.net. Use it to catalog your home collection. It’s fun. I love the color schemes! GO BLUE. But it has a far way to go to be able to compete with Connexion. Because of this, biblios.net is not the cataloging tool for the 21st century until it becomes more powerful, more flexible, and re-evaluates its format-centric approach.