February 17, 2018

Report on Bibligraphic Control Calls for Collaboration, Decentralization, and Nimble Web Presence

By Norman Oder

There’s little more than two weeks available to comment on the Draft Report of the Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control, organized by the Library of Congress (LC), and there’s a lot of food for thought, as hinted in interviews with LJ after the draft was publicly presented at LC on November 13. The opening paragraph of the report, issued today, is stark: 
“The future of bibliographic control will be collaborative, decentralized, international in scope, and Web-based. Its realization will occur in cooperation with the private sector, and with the active collaboration of library users. Data will be gathered from multiple sources; change will happen quickly; and bibliographic control will be dynamic, not static. The underlying technology that makes this future possible and necessary—the World Wide Web—is now almost two decades old. Libraries must continue the transition to this future without delay in order to retain their relevance as information providers.” 
Currently, LC serves as “the primary source of bibliographic data for many libraries in the United States and beyond,” but, the report notes, LC is neither mandated nor funded to be a national library, and receives no funding specifically aimed at bibliographic services for U.S. libraries. Indeed, the report says, LC’s pricing should be reevaluated to reflect its actual costs. 
Guiding principles 
While “bibliographic control” is often seen as a synonym for “cataloging,” the latter refers to one access route, while the former should apply to a wide range of resources and venues. The report states:
“Consistency of description within any single environment, such as the library catalog, is becoming less significant than the ability to make connections between environments: Amazon to WorldCat to Google to PubMed to Wikipedia, with library holdings serving as but one node in this web of connectivity. In today’s environment, bibliographic control cannot continue to be seen as limited to library catalogs.” 
To take advantage of new sources of data, bibliographic control must be a distributed rather than centralized activity. And just as the library community has relied on LC, in some areas, LC “may need to be able to rely on the work of others.” The group asks “LC to identify areas where it no longer need be the sole provider of bibliographic data and to create partnerships to distribute responsibility for data creation.” 
Some recommendations 
The report’s findings and recommendations are grouped in five areas. Some brief excerpts. 
1) Increase the efficiency of bibliographic production. This requires more flexibility in using bibliographic data earlier in the supply chain, repurposing of existing metadata, and reexamining the current economic model for data sharing.
2) Enhance access to rare and unique materials. LC should shift resources to support discovery of such materials, with the notion that some, rather than comprehensive access, may be a realistic goal 
3) Position our technology for the future. MARC is antiquated, so a new, web-friendly “carrier for bibliographic information” is needed. Work on Resource Description and Access should be suspended until more testing and analysis proves its value. 
4) Position our community for the future. Just as Amazon.com and LibraryThing allow users to add or manipulate data, so should the catalog interact with records from outside sources; otherwise, users will “continue to bypass catalogs in favor of search engines.” Also, while Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) “have great value in providing controlled subject access,” the vocabulary “is often out of synch with common terminology.” LCSH should be made more flexible and be provided for use “by library and non-library stakeholders.”
5) Strengthen the library and information science profession. Given inadequate measures of the costs, benefits, and value of bibliographic information, LC and stakeholders should try to provide such analysis and support ongoing research. Changes must be incorporated into LIS education. 
The period for public comment is open until December 15, 2007; the group intends to submit the final report to LC by January 9, 2008, before the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting. Comments can be submitted via the web site. Alternatively, comments can be mailed to Olivia M. A. Madison, Dean of the Library, 302 Parks Library, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011-2140.