"The existing Z39.2/MARC “stack” is not an appropriate starting place for a new bibliographic data carrier because of the limitations placed upon it by the formats of the past." p. 24
The recent report from the RLG/OCLC group Implications of MARC Tag Usage on Library Metadata Practices comes to a similar conclusion:
"5. MARC itself is arguably too ambiguous and insufficiently structured to facilitate machine processing and manipulation." p.27
We seem to be reaching a point of consensus in our profession that it is time to move beyond MARC. When faced with that possibility, many librarians will wonder if we have the technical chops to make this transition. I don't have that worry; I am confident that we do. What worries me, however, is the complete lack of leadership for this essential endeavor.
Where could/should this leadership come from? Library of Congress, the maintenance agency for the current format, and OCLC, the major provider of records to libraries, both have a very strong interest in not facilitating (and perhaps even in preventing) a disruptive change. So far, neither has shown any interest in letting go of MARC. The American Library Association has just invested a large sum of money in the development of a new cataloging code. It has neither the funds nor the technical expertise to take the logical next step and help create the carrier for that data. Yet, a code without a carrier is virtually useless in today's computer-driven networked world. NISO, the official standards body for everything "information" is in the same situation as ALA: it cannot fund a large effort, and it has no technical staff to guide such a project.
It seems ironic that there have been projects funded recently to develop library-related software based on MARC even though we consider this format to be overdue for replacement. The one effort I'm aware of to obtain funding for the development of a new carrier was rejected on the grounds that it wasn't technically interesting. In fact, the technology of such an effort isn't all that interesting; the effort requires the creation of a social structure that will nurture and maintain our shared data standard (or standards, as the case may be). It requires an ongoing commitment, broad participation, and stability. Above all, however, it requires vision and leadership. Those are the qualities that are hard to come by.