I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. – Antony, in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare
My esteemed colleague Thom Hickey, who knows the MARC format more intimately than I ever will, has penned a defense of that venerable metadata format. He was kind enough to cite a column I wrote in 2002 for Library Journal. But even back then, my opinion had changed such so that I wrote a much longer and thorough piece that laid out the bibliographic future I wished to see. The journal in which it was published thought highly enough of it to award it the paper of the year award. I think my bribe helped.
Thom’s post lays out a pretty compelling use case for MARC, and that’s awesome. Frankly, if MARC wasn’t as good as it was it would not have lasted as long as it has. And let’s be clear, it’s far from dead.
But that is a fairly specific use case, and such specific use cases may still apply long after MARC is replaced with BIBFRAME (which is the intent of the Library of Congress). Or, perhaps, something else yet to be determined.
But I’m more concerned about the broader ecology of library bibliographic data, and how we fit within the even larger ecology of non-library bibliographic data. And there MARC is showing its age. I still think we will likely need to have a fairly complex metadata element set for library work, and a much simplified version for syndicating out in the world. And I think that a very good choice for that much simpler format for syndicating is Schema.org. At least that’s what we’re presently going with.
Meanwhile, we at OCLC will be consuming and offering MARC as well as other formats for some undetermined length of time to come. I come to neither praise nor bury MARC. I come to help create a bibliographic infrastructure that will take us into the future by accommodating many strategies, tools, and formats.
Roy Tennant works on projects related to improving the technological infrastructure of libraries, museums, and archives.