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Smarter Libraries through Technology: Opportunities for Cooperative Catalog Enrichment?

Smart Libraries Newsletter [December 2016]

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This issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter features some new services available for libraries to enrich the presentation of materials through their online catalogs or discovery interfaces. In developing this article, I am struck by how much of the information expected to be presented through library interfaces for books and other materials is not part of the core bibliographic record, but must come through commercial sources.

Libraries have engaged in systematic cooperative cataloging for at least 5 decades. OCLC was established in 1967 to coordinate the creation and sharing of bibliographic records. Other national libraries and organizations have managed programs in this area for at least as long. While there are costs involved, in general terms, libraries can obtain bibliographic records for most published materials inexpensively. A library, for example, can use a Z39.50 client to obtain MARC records from the Library of Congress or other major university or research libraries with no direct cost. Many libraries receive MARC records bundled with materials that they purchase from suppliers. This cooperative model provides the bibliographic records in standard formats that libraries need to populate their integrated library systems and their associated online catalogs or discovery interfaces.

While the standard bibliographic records created in MARC21 formats and following current cataloging conventions, such as AACR2 or RDA, provide a great deal of detailed information regarding collection items, they do not fulfill all the needs that libraries have for discovery and presentation. Most major libraries take additional measures to enrich their catalogs with additional visual or descriptive elements. In the context of the current visually rich environment of the web, a purely text-based catalog display without cover images would seem unappealing. Therefore, libraries or their online catalog vendors almost always make some arrangement to embed these images through links from an external service.

Libraries also value additional descriptive or evaluative textual information beyond what is usually available in a MARC record. A short summary of the work or its table of contents can provide additional access points and useful information to the patron. Professionally written reviews are another category of value-added content.

Having worked closely with catalogers throughout my career, I understand the issues and challenges in creating bibliographic records. There is much frustration already with minimal- level records that partially populate bibliographic services. While these basic, often vendor-supplied, records provide at least some access, many libraries prefer more complete and consistent records with full authority control.

Despite these challenges, I also worry that much of the bibliographic description needed by libraries remains in the domain of proprietary commercial services and not part of the cooperative cataloging process. Given that libraries make large cumulative investments in catalog enrichment products, it seems that there might be an opportunity for an open access approach as well. I am not necessarily suggesting that the routine cataloging process be expanded to include all of the additional elements provided through catalog enrichment services. However, it does seem that there could be some process and repository for libraries that are able to create these value-added visual and textual descriptive elements to deposit and make them freely available to the community. There would also need to be extensions to the bibliographic standards and transfer protocols to efficiently distribute the data.

I am not necessarily optimistic that such an open access approach would be feasible. The commercial services are well established and offer both the content and the increasingly advanced technical delivery mechanisms. There is currently a fairly vigorous level of competition in this area, with involvement from at least three major companies. In these times when interest in open access content and open source software is becoming ever more intense, it will be interesting to watch whether such interest will ever address this domain of catalog enrichment content and services.

View Citation
Publication Year:2016
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 36 Number 12
Issue:December 2016
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smarter Libraries through Technology
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:22265
Last Update:2022-11-14 05:43:38
Date Created:2017-02-17 09:04:13