Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Defense of MARC

Today I decided to work on the procedures that we will use in the future to create finding aids. I'm trying to keep things loose and relatively flexible, so I'm creating a form that will have space for typing in all the things we need in a finding aid, and making each heading a combination of both the DACS elements and the MARC field that one would associate with those elements. This way someone else could conceivably take a finding aid and turn it into a cataloging record without me there.
Anyway, so I'm looking through the DACS crosswalks, using the DACS/EAD/MARC table. And here's what I see:
2.1.5 Country identifier COUNTRYCODE

The MARC21 format does not contain a straightforward mapping for this DACS subelement value.
And, in another place, a footnote: The two-character country code is found in the latest version of ISO 3166-1 (Codes for the representation of names of countries and their subdivisions). While EAD requires the use of the ISO 3166-1 standard for names of countries, the MARC 21 standard has not yet adopted this code list. Use the code appropriate to the output system for a given description. The MARC Code List for Countries is used in archival cataloging (e.g., mixed materials) to indicate the country of the repository in the 008 field.

So, the first part made me really angry, and the footnote kind of makes me upset as well. First of all, there is indeed a very straightforward way of noting the country in MARC. The issue seems to be that DACS doesn't trust its poor archivists to read or interpret the MARC country code list. It's not that hard; any fool can google MARC country code list and find it. Plus, why not help archivists understand what MARC is doing and how it relates, rather than just throw up your hands and say "well, its in the 008 field; what can we do?"
And as to the footnote: if you're wondering why MARC hasn't adopted the ISO-3166-1, it's probably because the ISO standard does not allow you to represent the individual states of the United States in the code like MARC does. Which, for an archival system like DACS that is pretty much just for Canada and the U.S., you'd think they would embrace this functionality.

I know I've harped on this before, but I get so tired of people treating MARC like it's a junk standard. It's NOT. It's brilliant. It packs more information into a few lines than most of these standards could ever hope to include, and it does it in a language and system-neutral way. I guess this functionality is what makes it scary, I don't know. I remember being afraid of MARC in graduate school because of its immense complexity. Most of the archives people treated it like a black box, and the cataloging professors were teaching AACRII, and used MARC as its framework, rather than taking the time to show us how MARC supported and built upon AACRII rules.

I'm sure that someday we will give up MARC entirely. No standard lasts forever. But I don't like that people are throwing it over with so little thought, and treating its flexibility as a liability.

No comments:

"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.