It’s (semi) official: MARC is dead, although the MARC Advisory Committee continues to maintain the format ,and MARC records are added to the massive pile every day. The library profession is looking ahead and imagining a bright future of interconnectedness and interoperability, a concept/goal known obliquely as the Semantic Web. The term “Semantic web” was defined in a 2001 article in Scientific American as “an extension of the current web in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation.”
But how will we get to this golden era of seamless resource and data linkage? The authors mention some promising software built for the new era of cataloguing and metadata.
The intellectual doom of MARC dawned with the emergence of RDA (Resource Description and Access) from the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, as a standard for assigning metadata to resources in the digital age. The profession realized that the “flat,” one-dimensional format of MARC records was inadequate in expressing the relationships between bibliographic entities foreseen in the RDA and FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records).
The current state of library catalog data is an ill-fit with the goal of the semantic web. That’s an unavoidable artifact of MARC. MARC records don’t translate to the web — the records are treated as blocks of text by search engines. The authors say that details of catalogs must be “of the web and no longer just on the web….Libraries must upgrade not only their technology but also their conceptual framework.”
The fields of MARC records, which identify and document specific pieces of metadata are constructions connected with the resource and provide descriptive data about it. But that’s not sufficient in the world of the Semantic Web — data must not only be able to be processed by computers, but to be interpreted by them as well. The structures of successful metadata create meanings from the underlying resources they describe, and vitally, their relationships with other resources.
The Library of Congress hailed the Resource Description Framework (RDF) as a basic data model, serving to ratify the transition from the traditional web to the Semantic Web. I think of MARC like a flat-file database, in one dimension, and the new RDF-inspired software as a relational database, which can slice and dice data searches into many facets.
Authors Guerrini and Possemato examine some software solutions to the challenge of the Semantic Web (including RIMMF,BIBFRAME and OliSuite/WeCat) which offer ways to conceptualize sharable metadata that is consistent with RDA.
BIBFRAME offers a simple data model, inspired by FRBR. Some of the new guidelines include: a high level of analysis and identification of the data; an emphasis on relationships; widespread use of controlled vocabularies. That allows sharing of the description outside the library community and also allow sharing the task of attributing metadata among different cataloging agencies.
The new digital world marks the end of the old-fashioned, flat “record.” The future of information will be more like a series of statements linked by identifiers. To me it can all be summarized by the word “linking,” a grand collocation of things that share traits, parsed into ever-tinier “facets.”
In the future, the authors say, this data linkage will be characterized by: a greater division of single aspects (elements of description) in structuring information; the use of controlled vocabularies; perhaps most important, the creation of as wide a network as possible of connections between different entities, to ensure each is connected to others with different specified relationship terms.
How will we get there?
RDF in Many Metadata Formats (RIMMF) is an RDA-oriented software that’s fairly new (2015). It’s a data visualization tool that can help cataloguers train themselves to think conceptually in terms of RDA/FRBR rather than the flat-file format of MARC.
OliSuite/WeCat (a European-born system) software will help users make the transition from the MARC format into something more compatible with RDA concepts — an open-source, “object-oriented” metadata system that identifies and describes elements and not records, a la the Semantic Web concept.
It’s all part of the transition from the MARC-dominated era to the golden vision of the Semantic Web.
It was nice to see the reappearance of RDA and FRBR concepts, after learning about them in LS500 (I think) – some modes of conceptualizing cataloguing seem to have their few moment in the spotlight and then wither away, but perhaps these have staying power. I would have appreciated more visible screenshots in English as part of the demonstration of how RIMMF, et al., actually work.