Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

The Many Faces of a Catalog Record: A Snapshot of Bibliographic Display Practices for Monographs in Online Catalogs

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

The Many Faces of a Catalog Record: A Snapshot of Bibliographic Display Practices for Monographs in Online Catalogs

Article excerpt

Full-level displays in thirty-six North American online catalogs of bibliographic records for five monographs were analyzed and compared for both layout and content with the International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD) and traditional catalog-card display practice for headings and tracings. This report presents a taxonomy of display characteristics found in the sample, including completeness, visual layout, data sequence, label specificity, and integration of description and access points. The relationship of display technology and practice to current standards for creating catalog records is discussed, with emphasis on the need for content standards reflecting the modular nature of machine readable records.

One of the hallmarks of online catalog technology is the variety of forms a bibliographic record can now take. Not only are there dozens of catalog software packages on the market, each offering its own style of interface, but most of these packages also enable libraries to customize their bibliographic displays by mapping MARC fields to locally defined labels and determining which fields to display and in what order. As a result, records created under AACR2 and printed in the citation-style format prescribed by the ISBD often look very different online, in content as well as format.

Previous research by Wool et al. characterized this customization process as "machine translation," identified problems resulting from this process in one catalog (at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, or UNL), and explored possible implications for cataloging practice and standards. Issues highlighted include the blurring of the AACR2 distinction between description and access points, the potential for inaccurate labeling of data, and the emergence of data redundancies.(1) To obtain a sense of how widely relevant such issues might be, the present study was devised to examine bibliographic record displays in research level online catalogs throughout North America. The focus of this study was on records for monographs, since these represent the vast majority of library catalog records (over 80 percent of records in the OCLC database are in the Books format)(2) and thus the dominant data structure within catalogs.

Literature Review

Wool et al. were able to identify only one previous study of online bibliographic record reformatting, and that one did not address the relationship of such reformatting to cataloging standards and practice, concentrating instead on visual appeal and convenience.(3) It was found to be supplemented by a number of articles offering recommendations and principles for online record-display design.(4) Wool et al. also made reference to a more extensive body of literature on issues related to record reformatting such as (1) the role of authority-controlled headings in general, and the main-entry heading in particular, in online catalogs; (2) the nature, role, and future of ISBD; and (3) the possible need for a new cataloging code.(5) In addition, they noted evidence of a dawning awareness of the relationship between machine reformatting and cataloging practice, mostly in listserv postings, conference presentations, and a task force charge.(6)

Discussions of bibliographic single-record displays continue to be scarce in the literature of OPAC interface design and--for the most part--all too brief. A possible justification for this can be found in Curwen's survey of the background and development of ISBD, which he maintains was intended to serve as a standard for the exchange of information, not for its display to end users.(7) He sees the rearrangement and labeling of record elements in OPACs as an issue needing discussion, but nevertheless views it as a welcome move toward user friendliness.(8) Brunt, on the other hand, sees in the adoption of new display formats a gradual abandonment of AACR2 and proposes changes to the rules to make them more relevant and functional in the online environment. …

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