Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

The Distributions of MARC Fields in Bibliographic Records: A Power Law Analysis

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

The Distributions of MARC Fields in Bibliographic Records: A Power Law Analysis

Article excerpt

Library catalog systems worldwide are based on collections of MARC records. New kinds of Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR)-based catalog retrieval systems, displays, and cataloging rules will build on ever-growing MARC record collections. Characterizing the kinds of information held in MARC records is thus an important step in developing new systems and rules. This study examined the incidence and prevalence rates of MARC fields in two different sets of library catalog records: a random selection of bibliographic records from the Library of Congress online catalog and a selection of records for two specific works, Lord of the Flies and Plato's Republic. Analysis showed that most fields were used in only a small percentage of records, while a small number of fields were used in almost all records. Power law functions proved to be a good model for the observed distribution of MARC fields. The results of this study have implications for the design of new cataloging procedures as well as for the design of catalog interfaces that are based on the FRBR entity-relationship model.

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MARC records are at the center of library cataloging processes. The MARC format, developed in the 1960s, is unlikely to be replaced in the foreseeable future, both because of its proven utility and because of the legacy volumes of existing MARC records held by libraries around the world. While the MARC format may not be going anywhere soon, the ways that MARC records are created and used are in a state of transition. Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) outlined a conceptual model to describe the bibliographic universe. (1) Implementing the FRBR model in MARC-based cataloging practices and information retrieval systems has proven challenging. Numerous technical, structural, and institutional challenges must be overcome for libraries to shift to FRBR-based cataloging schemes and online catalog displays. Any new methods for cataloging and displaying library resources will be built from the existing MARC record databases. Thus understanding the state of the current data stored in MARC records is essential to the process of moving forward with new display systems and cataloging schemes.

This study serves the effort to better understand these challenges by more fully characterizing the kinds of information that can be found in MARC records. Specifically, this study aims to identify and characterize the patterns in the ways catalogers use MARC fields in bibliographic records by quantifying which fields are most commonly present in library catalog records. The author used two different samples of bibliographic records in this study. First, a random selection of bibliographic records from the Library of Congress (LC) online catalog were collected and examined. Second, a case study approach was used to analyze smaller samples of records from two specific works: William Golding's Lord of the Flies and Plato's Republic. This study tests whether a power law approach is useful in characterizing the distributions of MARC field in each sample and, if a power law distribution exists, what the implications are for the design of new FRBR-influenced cataloging schemes and catalog displays.

Background

This section describes the theoretical background for the analysis of MARC field use patterns reported in this study.

First, the motivation and importance of the study is discussed, then power laws are introduced and described with the goal of illustrating how they can be used to model many phenomena both inside and outside of the library and information science domains.

Motivation for This Study

The motivation for a study of MARC fields in bibliographic records stems from the desire to understand the kinds of information that are available to build more informative displays into online library catalog interfaces. The deficiencies of online catalogs have been well documented. …

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