On several listservs lately, there has been a lively discussion about the need to put MARC to rest. In other words, MARC must die. This is not a new topic. Christine Schwartz, in a recent blog post (http://www.catalogingfutures.com/catalogingfutures/) on Cataloging Futures, brings up the well-known article by Roy Tennant (http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA250046.html).
In the Library Journal.com issue from 10/15/2002, Roy Tennant explains how MARC doesn’t allow libraries to meet the needs of current and future user needs. Roy uses the categories of the time in which it was created, granularity, extensibility and language, and technical problems to look at the shortcomings of MARC. In short, the real problem, according to Roy, is that MARC is outdated and not used where are users are (namely on the web with xml). Roy continued (and continues) to write about MARC. See for instance, his “A bibliographic metadata infrastructure for the 21st century” at http://roytennant.com/metadata.pdf or his presentation “Life Beyond MARC” at http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=3774 (requires real player).
Since this article was written, a flurry of responses have come forth. In light of RDA, the flurry has increased. Christopher Cronin at the University of Chicago Library presented “Will RDA mean the death of MARC?: the need for transformational change to our metadata” (http://chicago.academia.edu/ChristopherCronin/Talks/33602/Will_RDA_Mean_the_Death_of_MARC_The_Need_for_Transformational_Change_to_our_Metadata_Infrastructures). The University of Chicago was one of the test sites for RDA. So this is a doubly interesting presentation. I enjoyed Christopher’s take on the subject. It’s not so much RDA as the changing nature of how users discover and access information. I think Roy and others echo this thought nicely (and since at least 2002 if not earlier).
What I find interesting in both Roy’s numerous articles, the responses, and Christopher’s ppt is that the technology is there already in the form of xml standards. In fact, librarians work with data in non-MARC formats all the time, think of EAD or Dublin Core. However, it is the library catalog that still has the majority of its holdings encoded in MARC. But how do we get that data out to users if it is not in an encoding format most widely used on the web. The discussion on RDA touches on that questions. Recently, the Library of Congress issued the statement, Transforming our Bibliographic Framework. The first paragraph of this statement summarizes nicely the back and forth discussions on many of the listservs on the topic of RDA and MARC’s death:
The recent publication of Resource Description & Access (RDA), and the US National Test of RDA that is now being analyzed, have come at a time when technological and environmental changes are once again causing the library community to rethink the future of bibliographic control, including the MARC 21 communication formats. The content and packaging of RDA itself attempt to address this question and in so doing have raised further issues. Quite apart from a decision about implementing RDA, we must evaluate the wider bibliographic framework.
Further down, the Library of Congress will address issues about which metadata encoding standards to retain, the semantic web, linked data, re-use of library data, relationships between entities (people, places, concepts, etc.), how to display metadata, and migrating metadata to newer systems. For those who felt left out of the RDA creation process, LC plans to gather opinions in different ways, one of which is an electronic discussion list:
The Library of Congress’s process will be fully collaborative. We will consult our partners and customers in the metadata community, standards experts in and out of libraries, and designers and builders of systems that make use of library metadata. We intend to host meetings during conferences of the American Library Association, specialized library associations, and international organizations, as well as special “town hall” meetings open to the metadata community, to gather input from all interested parties. We plan to establish an electronic discussion group for constant communication during the effort of reshaping our bibliographic framework, and we expect to host a series of invitational meetings of experts and stakeholders in 2012 and 2013.
This will be something definitely to keep an eye out for.