Library Science Term Paper

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Computers and Cataloging in the Modern Library

The library has come a long way from the days of gigantic filing cabinets packed with typewritten cards. Of course, the librarian of yore got a good deal of exercise running down into the basement and racing past those long cabinets until at last she arrived at the correct drawer. Yet, the job wasn't finished there. More often than not, finding the proper card meant hauling out the entire drawer and heaving it onto the nearest tabletop. This was then followed by the amusing chore of trying to force your fingers in between cards that were inevitably too tightly packed together to be moved. Well, at least the cards were in order...that is unless a patron had had the same trouble as you and had carelessly opened that long metal bar and thrown out the cards that were in his way. At least once you found the card, you would have all the information to find the book you needed - author, title, subject, Dewy Decimal Number. Yes, the Dewey Decimal System was a wonderful invention, too bad not everyone used it. The Library of Congress had its own system, as did various other libraries, and well, if you went overseas

Unfortunately, while computers have in many instances made cataloging large collections much easier than before, they are not foolproof. Systems such as OCLC and RLIN are not immune from human error, and numberless books have simply been "lost" as a result of not being cataloged. (Akey, 2000, p. 150) In fact, overwhelmed by the dauntingly enormous task of re-cataloging millions of books and periodicals, the Library of Congress has adopted what it calls "Core Level Cataloging." The system allows for a simplified entry of certain records that make it faster to get all of those entries into computer, but can often have serious repercussions for the research librarian, or person off the street who is looking for a particular item, or even worse, a particular passage in a particular item. (Akey, 2000, p. 150) Nevertheless, computers do have their advantages, and there are now many cataloging systems from which a library can choose. The Online Computer Library Center is the largest of these.

The Online Computer Library Center is a nonprofit consortium of 9,000 libraries, including the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library. The OCLC Online Union Catalog, with records on more than 19 million unique titles, is the result of the largest cooperative library venture in the world. The database contains descriptions of books, government documents, serials, audio-visual items, maps, microforms, and other library materials. Information is updated continuously through the day, and records also indicate which member-libraries own a particular title. (Lavin, 2000, p. 65)

In addition to OCLC, which was one of the earliest services, numerous other services have sprung up. There is the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services

ALCTS) that provides a variety of technical assistance to the librarian. (ALCTS, 2002) The American Libraries Online is allows its users to keep abreast of the latest news, especially as it concerns library operations and funding; both essential pieces of knowledge when it comes to deciding how and when to expand one's computer system. (American Library Association, 2002)

For those looking for more technical sort of advice on cataloging as well as various other issues that relate to the subject, an excellent choice is the Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, that is available online as well as in print.

Cataloging & Classification Quarterly is respected as an international forum for discussion in all aspects of bibliographic organization. It presents a balance between theoretical and applied articles in the field of cataloging and classification, and considers the full spectrum of creation, content, management, and use of bibliographic records. This includes the principles, functions, and techniques of descriptive cataloging; the wide range of methods of subject analysis and classification; provision of access for all formats of materials including electronic resources; and the policies and planning leading to the effective use of bibliographic records in modern society. (Carter, 2002)

On a still more technical note, Library High Tech offers a review of applications that are available for library purposes. It offers very good advice regarding the latest systems. Among the new applications it describes is a system called Z39.50 that allows the user to negotiate various different cataloging systems without having to learn his or her way around each individual screen.

Z39.50 is an American communications standard recently adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and supported by most library system vendors. As a standard it specifies the rules and procedures for two computer systems communicating for the purpose of searching databases and retrieving information. From a searcher's perspective, it standardizes the search process so that a single user interface (such as that of the local OPAC) can be used to search the local catalog as well as any other database system that conforms to the standard. No longer will the user have to become familiar with the unique screens and commands of each system accessed. Furthermore, Z39.50 permits communications between one library vendor's system and another vendor's system even though these products run different software and operate on different hardware. (Turner, 1998)

In addition, and very useful once you can jump from system to system without relearning everything you ever learned about searching are the Library of Congress's MARC Formats for the standardized communication and representation of bibliographical material. The latest version of the protocol is MARC 21:

MARC 21 is an implementation of the American national standard, Information Interchange Format (ANSI Z39.2) and its international counterpart, Format for Information Exchange (ISO 2709). These standards specify the requirements for a generalized interchange format that will accommodate data describing all forms of materials susceptible to bibliographic description, as well as related information such as authority, classification, community information, and holdings data. The standards present a generalized structure for records, but do not specify the content of the record and do not, in general, assign meaning to tags, indicators, or data element identifiers. Specification of these elements are provided by particular implementations of the standards. The following description of the MARC 21 record structure indicates the specific choices made for the MARC 21 implementation of the standards. (Library of Congress, 2000)

And taking MARC even a step further toward the creation of a genuine global community of information, is the plan to combine the various MARC systems of the English speaking countries. Talks began as early as 1994, and a series of complex technical negotiations resulted in the specific mechanics of the American and Canadian systems being brought closer together.

Although total harmonization of USMARC-CAN/MARC with UKMARC is not feasible at this time, the British Library's program to add USMARC-CAN/MARC fields to UKMARC has increased the congruency of these formats. The National Library of Canada and the Library of Congress have begun to work on joint maintenance procedures and plan to have joint documentation. (McCallum, 2000)

Soon, it may indeed be possible to enter a book or periodical's catalog information into a computer in New York, and have the document instantly available for searching to someone in London or Toronto.

Fitting neatly in with the now integrated bibliographic systems of MARC and Z39.50 are applications that take the work out of compiling that bibliography. The following is a review of two popular systems, Reference Manager and ProCite:

In terms of basic functionality, both products allow users to search Z39.50 databases, organize references, and format bibliographies. Each application allows unlimited references. Reference Manager allows thirty-five fields in each reference while the ProCite allows forty-five. In terms of reference type (monograph, journal, working paper), ProCite is the clear leader in this area with fifty predefined types and the ability to add more. Reference Manager has thirty-nine predefined types, but limited ability to add types.

Reference Manager and ProCite allow the user to enter citations manually, but their real convenience is the ability to import citations from databases. These two products will, via appropriate filters, import the results of these searches into the bibliographic reference manager. ProCite and Reference Manager have filters for more than three hundred Internet databases and online library catalogs. Additionally, the user can create filters manually. The search/import functions are not as mature as the formatting functions and require a significantly greater expertise and a steeper learning curve. However, a handful of selected data services allow direct export using a plug-in from ISI ResearchSoft. The Export Plug-in is a free download from the ISI Web site that installs a utility and import filter required to export references from ISI, Sea Change, and BioMetNet Web-based products into ProCite and Reference Manager. Most of these data services are within the ISI universe of products and exhibit a strong bias toward scientific literature. (Poehlmann, 2002)

There are thus a number of computer products available to help make a librarians work easier. Cataloging has always been one of the…

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