Saturday, June 23, 2007

Informing the future of MARC: An empirical approach

Bill Moen (UNT) and Shawne Miksa (UNT) presented a research study in which they examined the use of MARC by catalogers in order to provide empirical evidence of that use and contribute to a discussion within the profession about future uses of MARC. Bill and Shawne presented their research and some results. Sally talked about “MARC Futures”.

Moen and Miksa's strictly empirical approach is interesting to me in light of the book I’ve been reading lately, Research Methods for Information which emphasizes qualitative research being more accessible to practitioners in information professions than qualitative research.

Detailed information about the study is available at will include the program ppt and handout. Bill noted that they will be making the record parser and MySQL database that they used for this project in an open source environment so that other researchers could work with their own record sets and ask some of the interesting questions that the audience raised.

Some of the areas and characteristics of MARC in which Sally McCallum expects to see change are:

Its granularity; there is the potential for a reduction in the number fields and subfields.

Its versatility; MARC has the potential for “community profiling” (by which she means models I think), in other words it could be used in subsets for specific purposes like FRBR, MODS, etc.

Extensibility; this seems pretty similar to versatility to me, but I think she means not just creating subsets of fields but using them for new purposes, e.g. extending their use. For example, it has the potential to link rights information to a bib record.

Hierarchy support: MARC has a little but not much ability to define hierarchies; she predicts the development of other means of doing this.

Crosswalks (data element mappings): they are expensive in terms of time required to create and maintain them.

Tools: the MARC tool kit provides the tools for transferring records from another format to or from MARC but not between each other and Sally envisions development of additional tools using MARCXML.

Cooperative management: there is already a lot of participation in MARC via lists and she expects that to continue

Pervasive: MARC is used globally and will probably continue to be so through XML.

The interesting thing about this presentation was the juxtaposition of what were basically two presentations, Moen and Miksa’s MARC research project and McCallum’s predictions about its future. It seems to me at first glance that the two were pretty much in agreement with each other in terms of the future of MARC as a standard for making bibliographic description available to users that supports their needs. This basic purpose is unchanging even while MARC itself will continue to evolve in reaction to advances in technology and newly developing needs like the ones that Sally mentioned crosswalks, improved description of hierarchies, and bringing together of disparate data.

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