Weekly Response 2 — Diana Rosenthal

Though I had heard about MARC records before beginning library school, this week’s readings are my first exposure to the history of MARC, how it works, and why the system is in place. I had absolutely no idea it dates back to the 1960s, though it does seem to look like a lot of early computing, complete with symbols and codes!

I found the Library of Congress reading What is a MARC record, and why is it important? to be the most helpful in clearly laying out the basics of MARC and defining the various terms and rules. It helped me visualize the need for MARC records by considering them as guides to bibliographic data, as discussed in Part II.

The one thing I kept thinking about through all the readings was the rigidity of the MARC system. Though it is necessary for many reasons to create rules, it seems as though many of the rules may need to be explained (often!) to the casual cataloger or interested user. I am truly on the fence about whether a strict system that creates standardized records ideal for sharing outweighs the quirks of fitting all types of items in varying subjects within an inflexible system.

I enjoyed Roy Tennant’s MARC Must Die article because it directed my thinking on this subject to larger issues about keeping libraries up to date, the complicated nature of adapting a long-living system, and the concept of technological obsolescence. Tennant argues that merely “capturing the paper catalog card in computer form” is not enough to make a digital catalog function at the level that technology is capable of today. I agree with him, but wish he had mentioned specific “exit strategies” instead of merely suggesting we need them. I also thought his brief mention that the MARC system isn’t “pretty” is indicative of the expectations of users (and maybe of modern librarians, too); most of us have become accustomed to sleek websites with user-friendly interfaces, which likely wouldn’t be the description of a MARC record.

I agree with many of my classmates that the MARC system seems like one best practiced rather than just read about. I’m not sure if this is common practice, but the AMNH library catalog allows users to view records in “MARC display” or “normal display.” I’ve found that it’s useful to flip between the catalog record I’m used to looking at and the MARC record to truly understand how it all fits together.

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About Diana Rosenthal

Scientific publications editor and archivist at the American Museum of Natural History with a Master of Science in Library and Information Science from Pratt Institute. New York City enthusiast.

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