This semester I’ve been learning about MARC records. If you’re a librarian you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you are not familiar with MARC but have visited the library I bet you’ve enjoyed the efforts of those who create the catalog records you use to locate books and other materials. To put is simply, a MARC record contains the vast amount of information about a particular book, recording, digital product, or whatever else the library may hold within its collection.
If you need to locate information you should be able to count on the records within the library’s catalog to help you simplify your search. Even if this means you have only a small amount of data to conduct that search, a great MARC record system should produce the most desirable results. For example if you need information about the type of food that a particular wild bird such as a blue-jay would find most desirable you wouldn’t want your search results to only point you in the direction of finch food. This would simply be useless and a huge waste of time.
So when an item is being recorded a well-developed MARC record should only present information about the item on hand. It should also provide a vast amount of information. Actually more information is always better. Think about your favorite hobby. Is your hobby one dimensional? Do you know or have you experienced everything within the realm of this interest? I bet not. I bet when you initially began your hobby you thought you could learn it all, but quickly realized that omnipotent knowledge was impossible.
Well an incomplete or low quality MARC record is like that beginning stage of a hobby. You may think you only need the basic information about an item in order to locate it within a catalog, but you would be wrong. This is because much like your favorite hobby each library holding contains many facets of identity. For example, a book of poetry isn’t just a book of poetry. It might actually be a tool used to help students understand the intricacies of the universe. In which case should a librarian catalog this book in the 808 section within poetry or would it be better to place this book in the 520 section with the rest of the astronomy collection? Which would provide the best access to patrons?
To help eliminate these issues a good MARC record would include information pertaining to the poetic and astronomical contents of the material, plus much more. In this way patrons would be able to locate the book no matter which section it was categorized within. Sounds easy, right? Yeah that’s what I thought too.
This semester has taught me to appreciate the efforts of librarians as well as the accuracy and girth of good records. Cataloging materials for the library is time-consuming, it is mentally exhausting, and it can be a treasure hunt. A librarian doesn’t simply pick up an item, give it a quick look, and instantly understand how to best record it within the catalog. No, a great librarian will dig into the material, scour databases, and seek additional information in order to present the most complete record. Like I said, it’s time-consuming and it’s mentally exhausting.
So the next time you enter the library, or search your favorite online bookstore (which by the way they use MARC records as well) for an item, I hope you pause to think about all the hours which went into helping YOU better locate what you are seeking. I know I will, and I’ll even give a silent thank you to the unknown great librarian when I can find that item quickly.