Friday, December 17, 2004

Problems in the Catalog

The Murky Bucket Syndrome by Roy Tennant appears in the latest Library Journal. He describes the problems of standardization of large historical datasets, like our catalogs. "As we try to do things programmatically, the structure and content practices really matter in ways they might not have before (FRBRization, data mining, etc.)…." However, greater uniformity in content pratices means more rules in AACR and greater granularity in structure means a more complex MARC. He has in the past argued that things are too complex already. The XML version of a MARC record is much larger and complex than the MARC version, for example. The experience of Dublin Core shows the probelms in trying to make something simple and easy to use. Those records are even more of a problem than our MARC records, and they have only been created over a few years not decades.
I've been hitting on metadata issues hard in this column, especially in recent months. I am increasingly disturbed by our inability to get this right, at least given today's needs. The library profession seems fond of assuming that its bibliographic infrastructure is the best ever devised, worthy of respect and admiration. There is some truth to that but also some self-delusion. If this is the best bibliographic infrastructure ever devised, then we (and, more importantly, our users) are in trouble. We must fix it, and soon.

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