Magazine article Online

Making Room for MARC in a Dublin Core World

Magazine article Online

Making Room for MARC in a Dublin Core World

Article excerpt

every year it seems the world christens a new application as Internet savior. Winners in past years include Java, push technology, cascading style sheets, and network computers. Some live up to the hype, others fade into obscurity. Either way, the hands-down favorite for this year's award is metadata, and the model getting the most attention is the Dublin Core.

The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative is an international standard for describing information resources [1]. It consists of a set of 15 elements, each repeatable, none required. It was conceived in 1994 by Stuart Weibel, an OCLC research scientist, and since that time has prompted six workshops, the latest held at the Library of Congress in November 1998 [2]. The deployment of Dublin Core in various projects around the globe, in addition to the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) impending finalization of a metadata Resource Description Framework (RDF), has spawned widescale discussions about the future for this flexible and robust standard.

Although Dublin Core can be used to describe materials in traditional formats, its developmental thrust has been as a means to adequately describe Internet resources. In fact, one of the most controversial uses of Dublin Core would be as a replacement to MARC. This emerging debate exists only within the library world, since the rest of the information community knows little and cares less about Machine-Readable Cataloging. However, to librarians, the thought of abandoning this proven standard, which has millions of records already invested, is heresy. Nonetheless, the need to establish an enhanced means of access to online resources, combined with the prohibitive cost of cataloging the Internet in traditional MARC, has turned attention to the Dublin Core. (Editors Note: For an in-depth look at metadata, the Dublin Core, and other standards, refer to Jessica Milstead and Sue Feldman's articles, "Metadata: Cataloging By Any Other Name..." and "Metadata Projects and Standards," in the January 1999 issue of ONLINE.)


As the Internet has developed into an information behemoth, the MARC standard has evolved to meet the challenges presented by this networked environment. System Requirements and Mode of Access notes (MARC 538) have assumed additional responsibilities in the catalog record. Computer File Characteristics (MARC 256) and Type of Computer File or Data Note (MARC 516) have emerged as compulsory tags for the bibliographic description of Internet resources. Furthermore, the Electronic Location and Access variable field (MARC 856) and the creation of the Web OPAC have fundamentally altered the catalog's scope [3]. These changes have occurred as a direct result of the Internet, and catalogers have assimilated quickly.

As of this writing, OCLC's InterCAT project, a catalog consisting of MARC records with 856 fields, has over 70,000 records in it [4]. Although this is an impressive number of records representing what can be presumed to be quality Internet resources, it is infinitesimal in comparison to the hundreds of millions of Web pages available. Though no longer active, the InterCAT project, in addition to bibliographic records stored in local online catalogs not represented at the national level, prove that MARC is feasible as a descriptive agent in the Internet arena.


Like most metadata standards, Dublin Core can be embedded in HTML documents to presumably enhance retrieval in search engines. The empirical effectiveness of META tags remains uncertain however [5]. Search engine companies provide few specifics about the reliability of META-generated retrieval in Web pages, but most admit to indexing keyword META tags. Dublin Core is a rich structure that will provide for very specific retrieval if adopted by search engine proprietors. The motivation for AltaVista or Excite to adopt the Dublin Core syntax at present remains questionable. …

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