Tuesday, January 02, 2007


There are two interesting documents on RDA that are being presented to the MARC standards group, MARBI, at ALA in Seattle.

The first is a "crosswalk" from the MARC format to RDA. Those of us who think about the MARC standard have been rather anxiously awaiting a look at MARC from the RDA perspective. We're still waiting, because this document is a look at RDA from the MARC perspective. It concludes that with a few "tweaks" you can fill in a MARC21 record using RDA data. By this same token you could show that you can fill in a Dublin Core record using RDA data. That's backwards, of course -- MARC is supposed to allow markup of the cataloging record, the cataloging record is not supposed to fit into MARC. But given how strong the MARC culture is, I wouldn't be surprised if some people consider "fitting the cataloging rules to MARC" to be a logical step.

This report is comforting because it appears to show that MARC does not need to change. The forthcoming report that maps from RDA to MARC will be considerably less reassuring. Even some of the suggestions in this report, such as
RDA has elements that are recorded using terms for an English language context, e.g., publisher unknown. It may be useful to identify such elements through MARC 21 encoding.

could have significant implications for the MARC record.

The document suggests that the various code and authority lists in MARC21 might be better managed as part of the RDA standard. I'd go this one further and say that values in authority lists should not be part of either standard. One of the big problems with MARC21 today is that it takes a change to the standard to add values to a list. Because the standards process is slow, by the time you've added a new physical format to the appropriate list, you've got two years of cataloged materials that you have to go back and add the code to. Code lists should be managed by the communities for whom they are relevant. There should be a process for updating them and a standard location for them on the net. Just like there is for the larger lists managed by Library of Congress for geographical names, languages, and others.

Note: this document refers at points to sections 9-13 of the RDA draft. This appears to be Part B of RDA, which I cannot find on the JSC site. If anyone knows where it is, please let me know.

The second document is a work in progress to categorize media types for resources. This was developed in conjunction with the publishing industry standards group that has produced the ONIX standards. The problem tackled is what is often referred to as "content versus carrier." (See recent article by Gorden Dunsire in D-Lib on this project.) These two have become rather hopelessly muddled in the MARC format, so this is an opportunity to get it straightened out. The level of abstraction here is high, so an item's content can be described as being of Character=language, SensoryMode=sight, ImageDimensionality=two-dimensional, Interactivity=non-interactive, and the carrier could be StorageMediumFormat=sheet, HousingFormat=binding, BaseMaterial=paper, IntermediationTool=not required.

In the end, however, users will come to the library catalog looking for a book, or a DVD, or a music CD. I hope we can present the catalog data in the user's language. Note that today's MARC21 record does not unambiguously identify books. The closest it gets is "language material" plus "Monograph/item". Unfortunately, things other than books fit that bill, including pamphlets and digital documents. Many library catalogs extrapolate the designation "book" from that coding because that's right most of the time. But we really need to keep the users in mind when we start categorizing materials.

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