BIBFRAME: Knocking Down the Machine-Readable Language Barrier

Library catalogs are always evolving to accommodate new materials and new technologies, but we are currently in a period of particularly ambitious change. We have transitioned from indexes to classification systems, from physical catalog cards to databases capable of holding unimaginably huge stores of data—at least more than librarians transcribing information onto cards years ago would have believed possible. Currently, catalogers are moving from AACRII (Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, Second Edition) to RDA (Resource Description and Access) and from MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging) to  BIBFRAME (the Bibliographic Framework Initiative). That’s a lot of acronyms, I know, but bear with me—it’ll be exciting (for a given and very nerdy definition of exciting) in the long run.

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MARC is a language apart from those used by programmers and app creators. BIBFRAME, when it happens (and it’s happening, sooner than you think!), will make the information stored in a library catalog interface much more easily with the syntax used by the non-library world. With that framework in place, we can knock down the language barrier between developers and catalogers and work together to create great things.

I and our Resource Description Head, Leigh McDonald, had the opportunity recently to attend a seminar hosted by the Potomac Technical Processing Librarians (PTPL) organization on the implementation of BIBFRAME. Beacher Wiggins, director of cataloging and acquisitions at the Library of Congress (LC) presented, as did four other librarians hailing from the LC, the National Library of Medicine, and the University of California, Davis. Wiggins provided an overview of the LC’s trial experience, in which they had a group of catalogers work on each record twice, once using their normal workflows, and once using the BIBFRAME toolkit. At this time, they have completed one six-month trial, with another set to commence at the beginning of 2017. Further details of this pilot program can be found on their Bibliographic Framework Initiative page, which includes comprehensive information on BIBFRAME, how it works, and downloadable file caches of their completed BIBFRAME records for reference. These records are not visible in the actual LC catalog, so this is currently the only way to see them. You can see a great side by side of a MARC record and a BIBFRAME record here (from Karen Coyle on the Web.)

It was surprising to learn just how far along LC’s program was, and that we are, in reality, growing steadily closer to the actual implementation of these concepts. I look forward to an update early next year on the success of their second trial.

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