MARBI Matters

Saturday, Jan. 21, 10:30-12:30, Plaza San Antonio Marriott, Hidalgo A-B

Here we all sit, the MARBIes at the big horseshoe table arrangement, the Peanut Gallery ranged along each long side, preparing for yet another round of stimulating conversation about MARC. Martha Yee is doing her maiden voyage as MARBI Chair—as an old hand, she’s well aware of the prickly personalities she’ll need to herd and the likely byways to steer them away from.

The usual business stuff lead off, introductions, minutes approval, etc. Bill Moen of the University of North Texas was first on the agenda, reporting on the MARC Content Designation Utilization Project (IMLS funded). The project grew out of a previous project on Z39.50 interoperability, which looked primarily at indexing, but questions arose about what was actually used in the records, versus what might be ideal from an indexing point of view. The new project is now analyzing 56 million records from WorldCat, looking at the MARC record as an artifact of the whole cataloging enterprise. One goal is to provide an empirical base for discussion about what actually occurs in catalog records, and what catalogers do about access issues in the real world. Is there a core set of elements that seem to be most used in records, and has the use of MARC changed over time? They are also developing a methodological approach to get at the decision making process that catalogers use.

They’ve just released a statistical analysis in Dec. (8 million from LC; 48 million from other contributors), available from the Project website at: http://www.mcdu.unt.edu. The project is also looking at FRBR user tasks, and what data in the records support those activities, as well as what is missing that should support those activities. They plan to use Delsey’s mapping of elements to evaluate user tasks.

Proposal 2006-01
(http://www.loc.gov/marc/marbi/2006/2006-01.html): Changes to accommodate IAML form/genre codes in field 047 in the MARC 21 Bibliographic Format. This proposal was a follow up on a discussion held last June, for which the music cataloging community has made some choices of options and further recommendations. From the point of view of anyone who isn’t a music cataloger, this proposal is only of interest insofar as it highlights the issues of expansion of code use in MARC beyond those MARC-centric codes previously preferred. This is no small thing, since machine parsing of both legacy and prospective data requires that backwards compatibility of former strategies for fixed fields and variable fields be maintained—this sometimes requires the use of various “tricks” to tell parsers not to look ‘here’ but ‘there’ instead. The bibliographic utility representatives and various others who worry about how machines look at data (as distinguished from the cataloging types who care more about how catalogers will create the data) understandably would prefer that there be a minimum number of techniques for this, and that the choices follow some principle other than “don’t trust the data” (thanks to Gary Smith for that one!) The proposal passed with some small-ish revisions (see the official notes—whenever they’re distributed–for details) but a mind-numbing discussion of coding implications followed for several minutes more.

Proposal 2006-03 (http://www.loc.gov/marc/marbi/2006/2006-03.html): Standardized terminology for access restrictions in field 506 of the MARC21 Bibliographic Format. Robin Wendler introduced this proposal, representing the proposers, the DLF/OCLC Digital Registry Working Group. They would like to change the 506 from an exclusively free text field to one that supports controlled vocabulary or free text. Additional additions include a subfield code to indicate whether restrictions are being expressed or no restrictions as well as adding 506 to the Holdings Format as well as the bib format (Robin pointed out, rightly, that this is where it really belongs anyway).

A question was raised by Sherman Clarke, who wanted to know why codes weren’t used instead of text. Robin answered that ease of use was the primary reason behind the decision for text over codes. The proposal was passed handily.

Proposal 2006-02 (http://www.loc.gov/marc/marbi/2006/2006-02.html) Adding subfields for relator terms to X11 fields in the Bibliographic and Authority formats. The essential problem here is to accommodate Relator terms without making a mess by reusing an obsolete code (long a MARBI no-no). Sally McCallum mentioned that there was a suggestion that RDA might change the environment sufficiently that the proposal should not move forward at this point, though this comforting thought was later disputed. Sherman Clarke described the necessity as “a Rosemary Woods situation” where you kind of have to twist yourself around to make the case for it.

Joe Altimus of RLG spoke up against the re-use (the second option), even though all agree that there will be a relatively small number of records affected. He pointed out that one would never know when all old data was effectively “cleansed” and re-use would not be ambiguous. Gary Smith supported that point of view strongly. Marc Truitt proposed that Option 2 be taken off the table, and the committee supported that, effectively passing the proposal with Option 1, creation of a new subfield.

Proposal 2006-04 (http://www.loc.gov/marc/marbi/2006/2006-04.html): Technique for conversion of Unicode to MARC-8. Unicode issues are the ultimate geek issue for MARBI—one that silences the catalogers pretty thoroughly as a rule. There had been considerable discussion on the list of the proposal, with some rough consensus on the best possibilities. Given my rather rudimentary understanding of Unicode translation issues, I refer interested parties to the official notes for the real story (or ask Gary Smith, who’s the real expert on MARBI for these issues). At the end of the discussion, Gary opined that we would know a great deal more about these issues by the Summer meetings, as the utilities are just now getting data with UTF-8, and learning much about the nitty-gritty of translation.

The meeting was adjourned early—thank you Martha! [Time for lunch, which we figured wasn’t possible under the new, diet-friendly schedule.]