In their 2011 article, How MARC Has Changed: The History of the Format and Its Forthcoming Relationship to RDA,Michele Seikel and Thomas Steele discuss the history of MARC from its discovery to its current form as MARC 21 and the transition from AACR2 to RDA rules. MARC (Machine-Readable Cataloging) has been around since 1965; its creation came from a Library of Congress appointed committee of three women, “Henriette Avram, Kay Guiles, and Ruth Freitag,” who were tasked with “[creating] the standardization for the new machine-readable format” (Seikel & Steele, 2011, p. 324). In addition to its adoption by the Library of Congress and other libraries across the country, international library bodies, such as the United Kingdom and Canada, began using MARC as well. By 1969, a revitalized version of MARC, MARC II, had been implemented. MARC II became the cataloging standard for thirty years. Introduced in 1999, MARC 21 was a combination of USMARC (United States MARC) and CANMARC (Canada MARC); the intention of MARC 21 was to serve as an international standardized format. While today’s catalogers are still using MARC 21, the rules are slowly changing from AACR2 to RDA, which is causing MARC 21 to adapt to the changes.
The majority of changes to MARC 21, seen by new RDA rules, appear to come from the quickly expanding world of technology. Created before technology and the web truly took off, AACR2 and MARC 21 are antiquated and in need of revamping; RDA proposes to be that revamp. RDA intends to be a more detailed set of rules that can better adhere to the ever growing and morphing world of technology, and therefore the expanding number of “authors” and forms of published media.
Several new MARC 21 tags have been created to serve the purpose of making “name authority records much more granular” (Seikel & Steele, 2011, p. 330). These tags are mainly in the 37X fields (370s). Tags range from place of birth and death to occupation, gender, and affiliation. The 370 tag in particular is quite specific; it includes the “recording of places of birth, death, country, place of origin of work, and start and end dates of the association with that place, each in a separate subfield” (Seikel & Steele, 2011, p. 330). As I am not a cataloger, I cannot speak as to whether the addition of such specific information, and therefore additional work, is welcomed by the cataloging community. As someone who conducts research however, I believe the new information that the 370 field provides will be beneficial if it is something that end users can view.
Three new tags (336, 337, and 338) have been added with the intention of “[enabling] catalogers to more explicitly describe various types of media, their playback mechanisms together with their containers, and the contents carried within” (Seikel & Steele, 2011, p. 328). These tags replace GMD (General Materials Designator) and SMD (Special Materials Designator) fields, which were previously found in the 245 and 538 fields respectively under AACR2 rules. An example of the new 336, 337, and 338 fields shows “text” in 336, “computer” in 337, and “online resource” in 338; however, the 007 field already holds information that indicates if an item is electronic, such as the entry of “c” in subfield a, which indicates that the record is for an electronic item. Upon reading Seikel and Steele’s explanation of why these fields were added, one can understand the importance of having this additional information written out, but during my time entering a record for an honor’s thesis I immediately wondered why this redundant information was being added. As RDA has not fully permeated the cataloging community, it will be interesting to hear what catalogers have to say about these new fields.
For some time now many catalogers have been calling for a new system to take the place of the antiquated MARC 21 cataloging format, as well as a new set of rules that can better transform to ever-growing technology. Until a new cataloging format can be put into place, which could be a lifetime, catalogers will have to revisit cataloging rules and do their best to conform them to current and future cataloging needs.
Seikel, M., & Steele, T. (2011). How MARC has changed: The history of the format and its forthcoming relationship to RDA. Technical Services Quarterly, 28(3), 322-334. doi: 10.1080/07317131.2011.574519