In Roy Tennant’s “MARC Must Die” article, he rails against MARC as an aging and cumbersome standard, saying “no other profession uses MARC or anything like it.” Given that the task of the information specialist is to study and organize the document forms of other disciplines, this lack on the part of other professions seems to be the reason why MARC exists in the first place. The rigidity of its field descriptions and its complicated syntax seem to be a feature rather than a flaw. As the “Understanding MARC” article puts it, “MARC enables libraries to acquire cataloging data that is predictable and reliable.”
In my experience, poring through an institutional database can often seem like an archaeological dig: you can almost see striations in the data where conventions and cataloging philosophies were adopted by various users at various points in time only to be revised or built over by their successors. Having a predictable conduit for tagging documents like MARC taxes the encoders but it does save users effort retrieving information. Tennant may be right that MARC does not have the extensibility to account for future changes in the form of shared information. His suggestion that a MARC record cannot store cover graphics among other things does not make his point for him. These features would be better collected in a home-grown system specific to the institutions as an authority for visual data is very difficult to establish.