MARC is a very annoying data format, no question. And it's true that
when it was designed, catalog cards were still state of the art.
From a teensy bit of searching on the 'net: the MARC pilot project
final report was published in 1968.
It was apparently designed to work well on tapes (as a backup medium,
and for data transfer). It predates relational databases. It was at
least timely in the sense that it was pretty much universally adopted,
at least in USA/Canada, as far as I know.
On Jun 26, 2008, at 5:46 AM, Eric Lease Morgan wrote:
> On Jun 25, 2008, at 7:27 PM, Hahn, Harvey wrote:
> I appreciate that MARC is really a data structure. Leader.
> Directory. Data. Thus using alpha characters for field names is
> legitimate. This demonstrates the flexibility of MARC as a data
> structure. Considering the environment when it was designed, it is a
> marvelous beast. Sequential in nature to accommodating tape.
> Complete with redundant error-checking devices with the leader, the
> directory, and end-of-field, -subfield, and -record characters.
> Exploits the existing character set. It is nice that fields do not
> have to be in any particular order. It is nice that specific
> characters as specific position have specific meanings. For the
> time, MARC exploited the existing environment to the fullest.
> "Applause!" A computer science historian, if there ever will be such
> a thing, would have a field day with MARC.
> But now-a-days, these things are just weird. A novelty. I'm getting
> tired of it. Worse, many of us in Library Land confuse MARC as a
> data structure with bibliographic description. We mix presentation
> and content and think we are doing MARC. Moreover, I don't
> appreciate ILS vendors who "extend and enhance" the "standard"
> making it difficult to use "standard" tools against their data. This
> just makes my work unnecessarily difficult. Why do we tolerate such
> I won't even get into the fact that MARC was designed to enable the
> printing of catalog cards and the profession has gone on to use it
> (poorly) in so many other ways. If we in Library Land really want to
> live and work in an Internet environment, then we have some serious
> evolution to go through! The way we encode and make available our
> data is just one example. I feel like a dinosaur.
> Eric Lease Morgan
> University of Notre Dam
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