It's been almost four years now since Roy Tennant's rallying cry of "MARC Must Die" and little has been done to further that goal. It seems pretty clear that the MARC format will not expire of its own accord, so it may be time to contemplate murder. (I'm not usually taken to violent actions. Perhaps I've been reading a bit too much medieval history of late.)
There's understandably a great reluctance to tackle a change that will have such a wide-ranging effect on our everyday library operations. However, like all large tasks, it becomes more manageable when it has been analyzed into a number of smaller tasks, and I'm convinced that if we put our minds to it we can move on to a bibliographic record format that meets our modern needs. I'm also convinced that we can transition systems from the current MARC format to its successor without having to undergo a painful revolution.
The alternative to change is that library systems will cobble on kludge after kludge in their attempts to provide services that MARC does not support. It will be very costly for us to interact with non-library services and we'll continue to be viewed as adhering to antiquated technology. Since I don't like this alternative, I propose that we begin the "Death to MARC" process ASAP. It should start with a few analysis tasks, some of which are underway:
a) Analysis of the data elements in the MARC record. I have done some work on this, although as yet unpublished. But I will share here some of the data I have gathered over the past few years.
b) Analysis of how the MARC record has actually been used. This is underway at the University of North Texas where Bill Moen and colleagues are studying millions of OCLC records to discover the frequency with which data elements are actually used. This data is important because we absolutely will have to be able to transition our current bibliographic data to the new format or formats. (Yes, I said "formats.") Another aspect of this would be to investigate how library systems have made use of the data elements in the MARC record, with the hope of identifying ones that may not be needed in the future, or whose demise would have a minimum impact.
c) A functional analysis of library systems. There's a discussion taking place on a list called ngc4lib about the "Next Generation Catalog" for libraries. In that discussion it quickly becomes clear that the catalog is no longer (if it ever was) a discrete system, and our "bibliographic record" is really serving a much broader role than providing an inventory of library holdings. This was the bee in my bonnet when I wrote my piece for the Library Hi Tech special issue on the future of MARC. I'm not sure I could still stand by everything I said in that article, but the issues that were bugging me then are bugging me still now. If we don't understand the functions we need to serve, our basic bibliographic record will not further our goals.
If there's interest in this topic, perhaps we can get some discussion going that will lead to action. I'm all ears (in the immortal words of Ross Perot).