Wednesday, April 21, 2010

FW: [NGC4LIB] After MARC...MODS?

Posting to NGC4LIB

<snip>
I will add that bringing in views from outside the community of specialists is a good thing. They offer something fresh. The present ugly kludge that is MARC is a product of inbred thinking and cruft accumulated over decades. Such finely grained definitions of what a title is looks a little ridiculous in the real world. I see little of value in the byzantine complexity.
</snip>

While in many senses, I agree with this, bringing in new views must be done with care, otherwise they can also offer naivete. It's always rather easy to see a highly complex practice and proclaim that it should be gotten rid of. So, while it may seem ridiculous to have so many definitions of a title, you need to find out why. In this case, it is because that there really are so many different types of titles. This is one of those things you don't realize until you think about it more closely.

So, while it may seem that it is catalogers who are imposing a "Byzantine complexity" on materials that in themselves are clear, and therefore is just not worth the effort, from another point of view, catalogers state that we are imposing order and clarity upon materials that, in themselves, are essentially chaotic.

Now, once this is understood or at least accepted, the debate can begin. Do we want to lose this kind of control over the different types of titles? If so, what would be the consequences? And the small group cannot answer these questions on their own, since the only people who can know what the consequences would be are those who use your system. I am at least open to the possibility of dropping all of it, although I am skeptical.

Here is a concrete example of what may seem to be a small change can erupt into a huge complexity. One rule in subject cataloging is that you have one heading for one concept. In the 1990s LC decided for various reasons to change this excellent rule for the case of the "Soviet Union" when everything fell apart. Suddenly, there was a choice of three possibilities: Russia, Soviet Union, or Former Soviet republics. Seems small and simple enough--that is, until you had to do it.

Suffice it to say, these were some of the most mind-numbing complexities I have ever worked on in my life. We had some of the most experienced catalogers in the country perplexed. Finally, I made some guidelines myself, gave a workshop and then was asked to put it online in my Slavic Cataloging Manual (which I gave to ACRL and Indiana University) at: http://www.indiana.edu/~libslav/slavcatman/rsufsr.html If you want to see some of the complexities, read it.

Little changes can have huge consequences in a catalog. I agree there may be alternate solutions but care must be taken before introducing them.

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