MARBI Matters

MARBI Meeting Saturday, June 25

By way of introduction, I’ve been a MARBI watcher and participant since about 1988, rotating back and forth from the “Big Table” (as Liaison from the American Association of Law Libraries and LITA Representative) and the “Peanut Gallery” (the audience section, often consisting of a considerable proportion of ex-denizens of the “Big Table”).

In the old days, MARBI was the ALA home base for the data geeks, and there were often three half-days of meetings every six months. The agendas were full and the documentation for the meetings, when printed out (we didn’t bring laptops then) often approached an inch or more piled up. That was in the days before the distractions of MODS, METS and such, when MARBI was still lively and fractious. Now the issues are generally a bit niche and often ho-hum, and there are few in the room below the age of forty. There’s still a lot of candlepower, however, and those of us nostalgic for good discussions about data flogging still hang around. Occasionally we’re rewarded for our loyalty.

Adam Schiff is the chair this year. Like most MARBI chairs of recent memory, he was appointed from outside the MARBI community. (Why that is so has been a point of some speculation.) He’s a competent chair, though, and keeps the meeting moving, with respect for diverse opinion.

John Attig (Penn State), eminence gris and unofficial historian of MARBI, presented the first proposal, having to do with a change in coding instruction for languages in 041. [Proposal 2005-07: Revision of Subfield $b in Field 041 in the MARC 21 Format for Bibliographic Data http://www.loc.gov/marc/marbi/2005/2005-07.html] This issue arose as DVD’s with both captions and subtitles, sometimes in multiple languages. The restriction imposed by the current instructions make unambiguous encoding impossible. Rich Greene (OCLC) pointed out that this would remain a problem for legacy data, since records could not be retrofitted. Everett Allgood (NYU) suggested that summary and abstract information is quite different from subtitles, and perhaps deserved a separate subfield.

Subsequent to this, others brought up examples of other auxiliary text that might also be in other languages. John Attig suggested that trying to straighten out the whole mess of languages in multimedia might take a lot of time and effort, and AVIAC (who made this proposal for a simple fix) seemed to be concerned about opening up the proverbial can of worms and ending up with no improvement at all. Karen Coyle suggested that this simple change could be made now, and the large problem could be revisited later, if the group desired. Adam Schiff mentioned that there was a comment made online about the ambiguity of the word “subtitle” in this context, and suggested the substitution of “subtitling” instead. Others in the room were not convinced that the change was necessary. “Summary, abstract or subtitles” was suggested as an alternate wording, and the proposal was passed.

Rebecca Guenther (LC) introduced Proposal 2005-4/R: Hierarchical Geographic Names in the MARC 21 Bibliographic Format [http://www.loc.gov/marc/marbi/2005/2005-04R.html], explaining the tangled history of this, the fourth iteration of the proposal. The issues brought up by this proposal are interesting, in that the practices and points of view of two different communities have continually clashed over this seemingly innocuous proposal. To some extent, the problem is more fundamental than the proposal implies, given that the approach seems to push past the realistic limit of text strings, particularly when you throw in indexing considerations. The separation of 6XX and 7XX to express “aboutness” and the attempt to provide other discovery options relevant to place, while retaining some notion of standard hierarchy seemed often a bit rarefied. Some of the discussion about cities on various planets (and the piling up of “what if” scenarios with more arcane possibilities–moons in other galaxies, for instance) began to sound almost surreal.

The discussion came down, finally, to the need for a flexible compromise and acceptance of ambiguity, letting the thesaurus chosen drive the hierarchy decisions. Ultimately, of course, any text string solution seems somewhat doomed, even with as much ambiguity wrung out of it as possible. Oh, for a solution that dispenses completely with text strings and refers directly to a geographic thesaurus (letting the thesaurus manage the hierarchy)! Not likely anytime soon, and the lack of a $w in the proposal means that when it is possible, there’s no clear upgrade path.

The proposal passed after a clutch of wording changes were incorporated (see the official minutes for full details—they’ll probably be posted by Midwinter, give or take a month.)

Paul Cauthen introduced Proposal 2005-08: Changes to Accommodate IAML Coded Data in Bibliographic Fields 008/18-19, 047 and 048
[http://www.loc.gov/marc/marbi/2005/2005-08.html]. He described the love/hate relationship that the music community has had with these fields, and the decision to come back to add codes maintained by someone other than MARC. The proposal would incorporate IAML form and genre, and medium of performance codes in MARC 21. Most of the discussion revolved around the practicalities of using non-MARC codes without adding ambiguity. Some very detailed discussion of the examples and alternatives ensued, which I will not repeat here. The vendor community was concerned about variable fields with trailing blanks, pointing out that assigning meaning under such circumstances is an exercise in futility, and that option was nixed in favor of either 2 character MARC codes or 3 character IAML codes.

Then the tide turned. It was pointed out that there were only 2 008 bytes, and potential more than one coded 0XX field to characterize. After some additional discussion, including the suggestion that the codes just be added to MARC, and the proposal was sent back for reworking and further discussion in the music community, splitting out the 048 portion of the proposal, and passing that portion only, with a change in the indicator position.

In the business portion of the meeting, Sally McCallum (LC) reported on updates to the MARC 21 documentation and MODS and MADS (for authorities). LC will be moving to the Unicode version of the Voyager system soon, and certainly the fact that RLG and OCLC are also moving closer to Unicode implementations has heated up the discussions of Unicode issues.

Everett Allgood, the CC:DA Representative to MARBI, reported on the efforts towards a new cataloging code, which will certainly be reported elsewhere. A joint meeting of CC:DA and MARBI (always an interesting clash of cultures) is proposed for next summer, when there will likely be more substance to discuss. Everett asked if the group would like to see the drafts as they appear. Karen Coyle expressed her strong feeling that the technology people need to be discussing the issues at the same time that the cataloging code is discussed, in order that the concerns about system changes not provide a drag on the efforts for change. John Attig opined that, at least for part I, there might not be big changes required—but changes should be considered even if not explicitly required.

The chair discussed some ALA Council proposed changes to the ALA 2006 Conference Schedule that will begin with Midwinter San Antonio. The big issue is that there are no three hour meetings (horrors!) and breaks are mandated after two hours. This problem caused much consternation, old habits dying hard (especially for aging librarians), and the most well received suggestion was to shift the longer scheduled meeting from Saturday to Sunday and retain the Monday meeting time if needed. Much grumbling was heard about 8 am meeting times and the notion of having to schedule four hour meetings when three hours were needed.

The last item on the agenda was a resolution by Jim Agenbroad (LC, retired) aimed at the ALA Membership Meeting on “Equal Access to Nonroman Resources.” Jim has long been on a laudable, if somewhat quixotic quest to improve the situation for non-Roman script materials (and special characters—he’s also supported my own quixotic effort, dating from the early 90s, to get the section symbol approved for MARC), and can be counted on to comment on Unicode proposals and reports where few others do. Adam Schiff described the process that the resolution would encounter. Karen Coyle noted that without a section in the resolution suggestion how ALA might play a leadership role, it was unlikely to go anywhere, even if passed. She noted that there are lots of interesting questions around this issue, and it’s possible that this might go somewhere if the right people were in the room, addressing practicalities. Some additional discussion is expected tomorrow when a Unicode report is on the agenda. Stay tuned.

The last announcement was that Martha Yee (an old MARBI hand) would be next year’s chair. Good luck, Martha … 😉

Diane Hillmann
Cornell University