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The world of cataloguing has become incredibly exciting this year.

We may soon be saying farewell to AACR2 and MARC, the cataloguing rules and mark-up languages that have served librarians and their users for 40-odd years.    New guidelines intended to replace AACR2, Resource Description and Access (RDA) are being tested.  They are based not on the old catalogue card as AACR2 was, but on modelling relationships between things like works or items, people and subjects/places.  The Library of Congress has announced a consultation on the future of MARC21, to conclude in 2013.  The blogosphere is alive with discussion and the MARC must die meme (from the seminal article by Roy Tennant in 2002) ubiquitous.

So is it goodbye and thanks to our old friends AACR2 and MARC?  I think so.

I have fond feelings for both.  I can just remember cataloguing onto cards.  The choice of access points was such a big deal.  If you didn’t make a card for a person, subject or idea, no-one would ever make the connection between it and the book.  But you couldn’t go making any card you fancied because there wasn’t time and they wouldn’t fit in the card catalogue.  (I can also remember the terrible moment when you dropped an entire drawer-full of cards on the floor and had to put them back in order.  But I digress).  So the rigidity of AACR2 made sense, and MARC formats were fab because they knew what punctuation to use and you moved away from the constraints of cards.  And when keyword searches came in = wow!

But this is ancient history as far as computing goes.  There have been incredible changes in what is possible.  We can do more to help users than just creating digital catalogue cards.  There is so much scope for linking and sharing data, and protocols to do it.  Library metadata can join in.  However, I’m not calling for MARC to die.  It doesn’t need to.  It needs to be tweaked or replaced by something that exploits this potential to bring metadata out of its sector and organisational silos. I remember being thrilled by EAD about 10 years ago and wondering why we couldn’t catalogue our books using something as simple and flexible (OK, I always get excited by new stuff as it may be the solution to something – but I still love EAD 10 years on).   As I said before, exciting times.

I’ll be writing more about these developments as the implications for Special Collections become clearer.  You can find loads more reflections on these blogs: Cataloging Futures, Cataloguing and Indexing Group blog, and Planet Cataloging (which aggregates lots of catablogs). Oh, and Library Marginalia, by Anne Welsh, a fellow Facet author who publishes a book on Practical cataloguing this autumn, which looks really useful.