Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Guide to MARC21 – Book Review

CMRLS recently purchased a copy of Guide to MARC21 For Cataloging of Books and Serials. The bib record’s been added to the C/W MARS catalog. I finally had a chance to read through this book and I have mixed feelings about its usefulness.

The book is written and edited by people whose first language is not English. I’m sure if I attempted to write even a paragraph in Spanish or French, the results would not be nearly as successful as Asoknath Mukhopadhyay’s book. Still, I found it distracting to be reading along and not have articles in places where I expect them to be, or have articles where I would not expect them. (“In early 1960s the Library of Congress … ”) Word order is sometimes a little unusual such as “Why MARC is needed when …?” since a born English-speaker would say “Why is MARC needed when …?” Like many people who have learned English as a second language, Mukhopadjyay’s vocabulary is excellent. However, his writing style is somewhat stilted or overly-scholarly sounding and requires paying careful attention. Maybe that's good.

The book has a copyright date of 2007. Details of MARC have not changed much in the last 2-3 years, but the attitude toward the format has. Mukhopadhyay’s “Wow! MARC is so great” perspective contrasts sharply with the “MARC is dead” crowd on the NGC4LIB and AUTOCAT discussion lists. Even I, a devoted fan of MARC can see that MARC is beginning to outlive its usefulness and that XML or other formats probably offer more for 21st century data transmission.

The book contains lots of URLs for further reading and research. Early on I noticed a typo: dektop. Even when I corrected it to desktop, I still received an error message. After some searching, I realized the URL was also missing a /. I found some URLs that no longer existed. I was able to locate Kyle Banergee’s Cataloging Calculator at an entirely different site. Too bad no one had left a forwarding URL when the site was moved. The 2007 publication/copyright date means there are some pieces of information that are out-of-date such as the contact information for Sagebrush Corporation which was bought out by Follett. As I found these mistakes or changes, I annotated the CMRLS copy of the book.

Guide to MARC21 does have positive points. If you need clarification of what data belongs in a particular MARC sub-field, you will likely find it in this book. Despite the typos and out-of-date URLs, this is a one-stop-shopping guide offering a wealth of information on all sorts of cataloging-related topics. There are selective lists of MARC codes, lots of examples of bib records, a list of form subdivisions, a glossary, a list of sources for MARC records and cataloging information, and information on barcodes. While there is nothing in the book that says so explicitly, the several pages of Romanization Tables for Indic Languages lead me to believe the primary market is intended to be India and adjacent countries.

Inside the back cover, there is a disc that contains cataloging software which I did not install on my computer. I think that Guide to MARC21 and its accompanying disc are intended for libraries in developing countries that don’t have Integrated Library Systems like most of the libraries with which I’m familiar. Mukhopadhyay is providing librarians there with a way to create a usable catalog and also to be able to exchange bibliographic records with the rest of the world.

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