Six impossible things before breakfast.

A library science student's perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Last semester I wrote about how out of my depth I felt during the beginning weeks of classes when my professors seemed to lapse into foreign languages full of complicated acronyms and unfamiliar terminology. After I eventually found my footing in the world of library lingo, I became more confident about my understanding of the principles and practices of information science. Since then I've been keeping up pretty well, despite the technical nature of two of my courses this semester, and I'm almost surprised how comfortable I feel with work models and the basics of XML schema. Ironically it's when we hit MARC, a 40 year old cataloging format, that I start feeling the water over my head again.

I know librarians love organizing and classifying things, making information neat and tidy, and lending an air of authority to it all, but the librarians who invented MARC must have been the most detail oriented, obsessive compulsive catalogers in the world. The technicalities of MARC data elements are astounding, and while the system has worked more or less since libraries began implementing it decades ago (though most of them, I dare say, don't understand all of its components), it seems like they made the whole thing far more complicated than it needs to be.

So after many years of revisions and changes, you can imagine that the problem has naturally gotten quite a lot worse. Today it is generally agreed that MARC is no longer serving the library as well as it used to. It remains to be seen if the research being done in the realm of Linked Data and the Semantic Web will yield more straightforward results, but the current problem is how to transfer all the MARC encoded data into a new format. It isn't very often that I spend hours reading a short article and realize at the end of it that I have absolutely no idea what they are talking about, but that's how I felt today.

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