Figgy Formats

Figgy Formats: the MARC Formats Interest Group (MFIG), Saturday, January 21, Palacio del Rio, Del Ray North

The MFIG meeting, as is its custom, was focused on a particular issue for its meeting: “Authorities: What’s the Future?” The speaker, Mary Mastraccio, Cataloging and Authorities Manager, MARCIVE, Inc., approached her topic with the assumption that her audience was varied, and aimed at the middle of the range. Sadly, the first thing I noticed about her presentation was the use of an odd Powerpoint template with a moving object in the background—the epitome of useless animation. She used various other PowerPoint animation techniques further on, none of which enhanced her presentation.

I was initially confused by her use of the term “database design” which seemed to be used in a very idiosyncratic way—maybe “data design” would have been a better term.
I was disappointed some other ways: she spent too much time ‘resolving’ a vaguely defined, and, in my opinion, a false conflict between “natural” and “structured” approaches—really, is there any argument anymore about this? I surely hope not! Haven’t we been using structured data for decades? Maybe she meant something I didn’t understand by this (always a possibility).

She managed to include some good points about the emerging ‘tagging’ community (a.k.a. folksonomies) but inexplicably ignored totally all the work being done in the space between MARC and tagging—the incredibly important knowledge organization work being done outside of libraries. Many of her comments suggested that she was unaware of this work, and how it should affect the planning going on in library authorities for the future. In quoting some of the ‘social taggers’ who have recently been discovering the utility of agreement on common terms, she suggested that they should learn from us the best way to do this. Maybe it wasn’t just me that thought this was more than a bit condescending?

The speaker presented a fairly extensive demonstration of issues around publisher names, which focused almost entirely on problems of variant transcription, but suggested some very MARC-centric approaches to ‘fixing’ the problem. I wondered why the approach used by archivists—who are perhaps the experts on the management of organizational entity names and have a very different approach—was not mentioned?

The discussion was interesting, however, and ranged from traditional-type cataloger questions to some definitely more informed and interesting comments (am I biased? Yep). I made one comment on the discussion going on in digital library circles about the impossibility of linking resources to creators via authority records, given that the authority record is not the person. One audience member made an intriguing leap, suggesting that the relationship between the person and the authority record was somewhat analogous to that between a work and manifestation.

I think I’d be panicking if I thought that the level of understanding and analysis evidenced by this well-intentioned speaker was truly driving the discussion at the planning level for the use of authority data in the future, but I’m an optimist at heart. Perhaps not enough of one to continue to pay minimal attention to what’s going on in this area, but that’s a thought for another day.