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Systems and Cataloging

Recently I blogged a wee bit about RDA on the web and digressed into a “systems versus cataloging” paragraph or two. Céline commented

 I have recently started having some thoughts/conversations where I definitely see a crucial disconnect between systems and cataloguing, sadly.

Tis true, both “crucial” and “sadly”.    This is not a recent disconnect. It has been there quite a long time. Systems do not always understand MARC and Catalogers do not always know how to program. Some do though, on both sides, which gives me hope.

Jason Thomale’s article in the recent Code4Lib, Interpreting MARC: Where’s the Bibliographic Data?, is a wonderful place to start to see how the Systems person “sees” cataloging.  It is clear as you read the article that Jason did not understanding how MARC worked, the interdependencies, the meanings of the fields/subfields (and the ‘common’ interpretations versus the actual definitions) when he first created algorithms to search the catalog.  He did a marvelous job, his thinking was sound and he tried (which is more than many will ever do). He concludes acknowledging that his knowledge initially was lacking and thus problems occurred in his algorithms.

Back in a library I worked in (name shielded to protect the innocent), the previous cataloger had insisted that keyword searching should only search the 6XX tags. OMG. Really? Yes. Really. When I came aboard in cataloging (to replace said cataloger) I was told the online catalog was basically worthless and not really utilized. I discovered the search problem and worked with Systems to repair the search algorithms. Our hit rate hit the roof (well, in comparison to previously).

Catalogers and Systems need to work together to ensure the best possible searches are executed. Catalogers need to learn how to explain MARC to Systems and Systems needs to understand the Cataloger can help.

So – how will RDA help us make better catalogs? Can anyone explain that to me? I’m seriously lost on how changing the cataloging rules will help the ILS get better.

  1. September 26, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    That was a really solid article about MARC.

    What was the rationale for keyword searching just the 6XX fields?

    I’d like to echo your RDA comments, and add that I think we need to (shudder) move away from MARC if we really are going to improve the ILS and the OPAC. It’s what, about 50 years old now, and so outmoded to be almost comical. How Byzantine is it to try and describe an electronic resource with MARC? For that matter, what on earth uses the 043 field?

    (Puts soapbox away)

  2. September 26, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    I agree, Thomale nailed it.
    The ‘rationale’ for 6xx only? That is an interesting word to describe that previous cataloger (oh do I have stories!)…best I can figure she thought everyone should know the authoritative subject headings and use them only. It was true, back in the old card days, that knowing the subject headings was essential but now? Not so much. I still think a structured vocabulary is important but I also think a structure vocabulary should link the searcher to broader, narrower, and related terms. I think tags could play a great role in this…but I too will step off the soapbox (for now).

  3. September 27, 2010 at 5:28 am

    I couldn’t agree more (as you already know!).

    I think it’s more than just getting cataloguers to explain MARC to systems people and getting systems people to understand that cataloguers can help. I think it cuts both ways. Where I see the disconnect, I see that cataloguers are muttering away at their computers (or on Twitter 😉 ) about the uselessness of the OPAC or the problems with the system people not “getting” MARC or not listening to/asking cataloguers about records. But I also see and frequently now hear about systems people muttering away at their computers about the hopelessness of library catalogue records, the frustrations (many and varied as outlined in that great Code4Lib article) of dealing with MARC and refusal of the cataloguers to move away from this encoding format that is so difficult for systems to work with. Cataloguers need to also understand what the systems people are trying to do and accept the limitations of MARC and maybe start looking for a way forward.

    RDA unhitches us from MARC in potential if not in reality. I think instead of navel-gazing about RDA/cataloguing rules so much there needs to be more effort on the part of cataloguers into looking ahead to a future for cataloguing which is free or at least free-able from MARC. Looking at the *data* not just the *record* as being what cataloguing is about. There’s some great stuff on these themes from Saskia at All things cataloged.

    Now I need to find some systems people to have this discussion with – let’s stop being frustrated with each other and find ways to all get what we want out of our work!

    (Obviously this is all widely generalised as there are plenty of cataloguers who are also system people or v interested in linked data, doing clever things with our library data and vice versa but I think the general points are valid across the board)

  4. September 27, 2010 at 7:42 am

    @Céline & Jason, Yes, ok, I do understand MARC needs to be ‘freed’ – or that data needs to be moved into another format that is “friendlier” than MARC but how does RDA do that? RDA are the rules, MARC is the format. How will moving to RDA whilst still using MARC do us any good? Why was MARC not addressed instead? Why have we not got a new format or ISO or something instead of MARC? Yes, MARC has been around for 50-odd years and as I’ve posted, it was cutting-edge at the time. It was never taken into account as technology improved. We continue to use it, we continue to teach it. Until we can come up with a replacement AND one that brings in the legacy data (at least the majority of that data) AND that the ILS build into their systems…I don’t see a change.

    What projects are out there to do this? I’m serious here, what is being done and how is RDA to help that endeavor?

  5. September 27, 2010 at 7:50 am

    Oh, and Céline, I agree, we as catalgers tend to freak out whenever someone says “MARC is going away”. Totally understandable given the time it took to learn MARC and the investments we have in MARC. However, I think if we show how the newer format (if there is one) would work – explain it in a jolly manner with concrete examples, the majority would be happy to imbide.
    For me, my “Ah ha!” moment came when I looked at traditional database sorting/searching and then at the MARC 300 (thanks to Karen Coyle for showing me that light). If you understand something it is not so scary, if you understand how it will function you can get excited about the possibilities. If you simply say “MARC is a dead format and no one should use that icky silly format” then you will get mucho resistance.

  6. September 27, 2010 at 8:54 am

    I do agree so much.

    RDA doesn’t help with the MARC issue. But it potentially offers something which can be encoded and displayed in other ways and breaks down the record into the kind of data that will work in this kind of environment.

    I was at a conference 2 weeks ago where the explanation (from someone on the JSC) was given that it’s a chicken and egg thing, we had to start somewhere and so we started with *rules* that were free of the requirements of MARC and then we can do the encoding next. And also some acknowledgement was given that possibly changing *both* at the same time might be too much… Just some thoughts (no time to write more detail on that but will come back to it again as I have more detailed notes of what was said).

    And yes, I don’t think it would take much to demonstrate with practical examples what the benefits of a different encoding format would be. Unlike RDA where I still am unsure how to really demonstrate the benefits to people (cataloguers and non-cataloguers)

  7. September 27, 2010 at 11:35 am

    I think you are right, it’s not AACR2 or RDA that are the problems, it’s MARC. And, as much as it pains them for me to say this, libraries in the USA are not going to adapt a new standard to replace MARC until OCLC and LC are on board. I think LC especially doesn’t want to acknowledge this, but they have positioned themselves to be the arbiters of all things cataloging for many libraries in the US.

    Until there is a mature, developed, and consistently deployed alternative to MARC (with wide/enforced adoption), MARC will still be around, with all the problems associated with it.

    I can’t speak to RDA directly – it’s anathema in libraries I have spoken with to this point, and I have yet to see a record with RDA used for metadata generation. Beyond that, there’s not even a code for the “Desc” fixed field in OCLC to indicate RDA. Odd.

  8. September 27, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    Psst Jason, Librarians NO WHERE will adopt a new standard to replace MARC without buy in from the USA National Libraries. Germany just recently MOVED to MARC21. And excellent catch on that little trap on Desc (aka Leader position 18 or 000/18).

    @Céline – some benefits of RDA are easily shown: the rule of 3 which should have died long long ago. Spelling out instead of abbreviating (again, should have gone long ago). Other items are not so easily explained.

    I think I have to post again. Dang you people make me think (and type).

  9. September 28, 2010 at 2:12 am

    True about rule of 3 though I’m less sure about abbreviations – definitely good points from the user perspective which is the most important. My only issue there is that precisely those two things (rule of 3 and abbreviations) are ones that are less popular with *cataloguers* but also with *managers* because they will require more time (more keystrokes, more transcription and also more authority work) and make each record in RDA take slightly longer than currently (in my opinion, not yet done enough actual cataloguing in RDA to prove this theory)

    I really do need to post my own thoughts about this but then you keep writing posts that I can’t resist!

  10. September 28, 2010 at 8:26 am

    LOL, you are doing the same to me Céline.

    I have to disagree with you regarding abbreviations and rule of 3. I got rid of those long ago in my catalog (back when I headed tech services). I thought it was silly to limit my catalog to only “3”. Also, believe it or not, abbr. became a problem with the kids of today – they didn’t understand that “no.” meant number (but why Miss? There isn’t an “o” in number!). Then again, I am an abnormal cataloger. You should have seen what I did to local holdings records – totally disregarded the rules locally (oh I put it right in OCLC, no worries) and was lauded for it since it meant they could easily tell what we did/did not have.

  11. September 29, 2010 at 9:43 am

    While I very much liked Jason Thomale’s article too, he did overlook a few points from the cataloger’s point of view. I posted a comment there, and copied to my blog at: http://catalogingmatters.blogspot.com/2010/09/re-interpreting-marc-wheres.html

    I also agree that 99% of the problem is with MARC, but then we should focus on using the powers of the modern tools to create what we need and want. For example, abbreviations could be updated on the fly with current tools. Take a look at what I did in my Koha open-source catalog with a Google Translate plugin: http://www.galileo.aur.it/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?bib=24697. In the right-hand column, after a second, you can use Google Translate to do something absolutely amazing!

    To implement this only took me about a minute.

    Something similar should be child’s play for abbreviations; apparently there is an API abbreviations.com out now (http://www.abbreviations.com/abbr_api.asp), but I haven’t had time to play with it.

    These are what I think are the ways into the future. It’s exciting.

    And fun!

  12. October 4, 2010 at 8:58 am

    Hi James –
    I so agree! Abbreviations should not be an issue, they should resolve via the ILS. Then again, I could rant a bit about the current ILS and how catalogers are forced to know MARC (oh wait, I did!).
    thank you very much for the links and comments – I enjoy reading your take on the issues.

  1. September 28, 2010 at 8:38 am
  2. October 4, 2010 at 6:17 am
  3. October 11, 2010 at 8:46 pm

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