William E. Moen, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Shawne D. Miksa, Ph. D. (email@example.com)
Corrie Marsh (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Texas Center for Digital Knowledge
PO Box 311068
Denton TX 76203
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (11 May 2005)
LIBRARY CATALOG RECORDS UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
DENTON, TX – University of North Texas School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) Professors Dr. William E. Moen and Dr. Shawne D. Miksa are studying library catalog records, but not for the purpose of finding books. They are examining how books and other library materials are represented through electronic codes in online library catalogs. The project, entitled MARC Content Designation Utilization: Inquiry and Analysis, is the largest scientifically-based study of coding practices in electronic library catalogs. During the course of the 2-year project, Drs. Moen and Miksa, Fellows at the Texas Center for Digital Knowledge (TxCDK), will investigate the extent of catalogers’ use of MARC 21, the mark-up language used by catalogers worldwide to create electronic catalog records. SLIS Ph.D student Serhiy Polyakov and Masters students Amy Eklund and Gregory Snyder serve as Research Assistants on the project.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), an independent Federal grant-making agency dedicated to creating and sustaining a nation of learners by helping libraries and museums serve their communities, is funding the project with a National Leadership Grant of $233,115 to the University of North Texas-TxCDK.
MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging) records provide bibliographic information and descriptions of items in library collections, including books, sound recordings, computer files, and visual materials. The data elements of MARC records form the foundation of most electronic library catalogs used in North America today, as well as in libraries around the world. Development of the MARC format was begun almost forty years ago by an initiative of the Library of Congress and evolved into the current format, MARC 21, which emerged in the late 1990s. The MARC 21 format for bibliographic data is maintained by the Library of Congress’s Network Development and MARC Standards Office and the National Library of Canada’s Standards and Support Office.
To obtain catalog records for the study the researchers turned to the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC, www.oclc.org), the largest online catalog record source in the world. This nonprofit computer library service and research organization maintains the WorldCat database which contains unique bibliographic records shared and contributed by more than 50,000 libraries in 84 countries and territories around the world. OCLC initially agreed to supply 1 million library catalog records from the WorldCat database for the researchers. After recent discussions, OCLC agreed to provide the researchers with all of its approximately 55 million catalog records. This new development will significantly increase the accuracy of the research results.
Dr. Moen explains that current MARC 21 specifications define nearly 2000 fields and subfields available to library catalogers working to create catalog records. In the 2003 IMLS-funded study entitled the Z-Interoperability project, Moen discovered that very few of these fields are being used. In fact, Moen discovered that only 36 of the available MARC fields accounted for 80% of all utilization. These preliminary findings have important implications for library catalogers and other library and information science professionals, and form the basis for the current study.
An important goal of the project is to create tools for the future study of catalog records. Dr. Miksa describes how this project will provide research strategies to examine MARC records as artifacts of the cataloging process. She emphasizes that resulting data will greatly inform cataloging education and curricula which is critical to the continued development and improvement of information retrieval systems in libraries worldwide.
The project’s findings ultimately will lead to improved access to information in library catalogs. Dr. Samantha Hastings, SLIS Interim Dean, describes this project as “just the type of funded research that leads to core developments in our field…the first of its kind that will be an important contribution to what we know about how content in library catalogs is actually being coded for organization and access. How the information is organized directly influences how people get the information they need.”
Details of the project can be found at http://www.mcdu.unt.edu, a website created and maintained by SLIS Masters student Bryce Benton.