Thursday, March 3, 2011

RE: Standards (Was: Subjective Judgements in RDA 300s????)

Posting to RDA-L


Karen Coyle wrote:
<snip>
Standards are only enforceable if they are measurable. There is no way to enforce a standard on transcribed data elements. The more that our data allows for free text input, the less we can do to ensure that standards are followed.
</snip>
What people are calling "free text" does not necessarily mean that you are free to enter the text you want. It is *text*, certainly, but anything but *free*. For example, the ISBD rules of exact transcription of the title page has the result that the information in the 245 is *not* free at all, although as with every rule or standard, there is naturally a little bit of wiggle-room, and the more experience you have, the more wiggle-room you can find. Still there are limits, so there is no way that any standard could e.g. allow for the preliminary title the author chose when first writing a book, and by the time the book was finished, the author had changed the title into something quite different, to then say that the preliminary title should be accepted as the final title of the book makes no sense. This would be like putting the title "Trimalchio on West Egg" on Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/jan/19/1000-novels-top-10-trivia-rejected-titles-mullan. Sure, the title may be of interest and someone may want to record it, but it is *not* the title of the book.

All of this can certainly be measured, and has been a lot, as any cataloger (including myself) can testify who has undergone the (often humiliating) scrutiny of strict revisers. Those revisers would have kicked me out of the places I have worked if I had given them a record like this: http://chopac.org/cgi-bin/tools/az2marc.pl?ct=com&kw=0521348358
For this item:
http://tinyurl.com/4s2rlke
(and you can even compare the scan! http://www.amazon.com/Cicero-Cambridge-History-Political-Thought/dp/0521348358)

Practically every field needs updating. There are far worse records than this one. Still, such things *can* be measured and are, every day.

I also don't see that even in the 260$b it's all that "free". The terms and abbreviations used there have been strictly controlled over such a long period of time, and I have a suspicion that a good perl programmer could probably work out a routine to display "ill." or "illus." as "illustrations" or in whatever language you would want. Doing this should be child's play. There are just not that many abbreviations, even historically. So, it wouldn't surprise me if it turned out that those abbreviations could perform essentially the same function as computer codes, maybe not quite so perfectly, but it would be far more flexible (different languages) and in any case, a better use of the cataloger's time than the tiresome-Sisyphean task of typing out all of those abbreviations in full (and would only make the programmer's job more complicated), or wishing that the creators of MARC had made special codes and click boxes for everything.

The headings are not free-text, by definition. The only place where there is true "free text" is in the note fields (I know--there are probably some others I've forgotten), but not all the note fields. There is nothing wrong with some free-text fields, and they are vital for a cataloger to do the job properly. And Google Translate has demonstrated in amazing fashion how much you can do with transforming true free-text.

It would be so much more fruitful to concentrate on the powers that the computer systems give us and to work with what has been given to us in new and powerful ways. We need to work with what we have. Our traditional controlled terminology should be exploited for all it is worth.

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