Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The more things change...

I've just finished reading the short volume The MARC music format : from inception to publication / by Donald Seibert. MLA technical report, no. 13. Philadelphia : Music Library Association, 1982. The book is an account of the decision-making process involved in designing and implementing the MARC music format. I was both heartened and discouraged to read arguments in support of implementing MARC that mirror closely arguments I and others make today for moving beyond MARC.

The rationale behind the MARC music format reads full of hope, for improved access for users and higher quality data. Yet many of the improvements mentioned have not come to fruition. I'm heartened to see the vision represented here for the type of access we can and should be providing. Yet I'm discouraged to see more evidence that we haven't achieved this level of access in the time since the MARC format was implemented. I believe this serves to remind us that many factors other than database structure contribute to the success of a library system.

I also learned a valuable lesson reading this text that ideas and potential alone are not enough to convince everyone that any given change is a good idea. A large percentage of librarians out there have heard these very arguments before and seen them not pan out. I do believe, however, that this time can be different. (Yes, I know how that sounds...) Computer systems are much more flexible than they were when the MARC music format was first implemented, and can be designed to alleviate more of the human effort than before. We've learned a great deal from automation and implementation of the MARC format that we can build on in the next generation library catalog. We have a long road ahead of us, but I think it's time to address these issues head-on once again. I'd like to believe we can leverage the experience of those like Donald Siebert involved in the first round of MARC implementation, together with experts in recent developments, to make progress towards our larger goal.

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