Conference Report: On the Record, One View of the Future—Library of Congress Report on the Future of Bibliographic Control

Pamela Bluh, Thurgood Marshall Law Library, University of Maryland School of Law

Editor's Note: On May 29, 2008, ALCTS President Dina Giambi, past-ALCTS President Pamela Bluh, and I (as well as a number of ALCTS members) attended one a one-day conference “The Future of Cataloging,” which was co-sponsored by PALINET and ALCTS. The conference included four breakout sessions, including “On the Record, One View of the Future – Library of Congress Report on the Future of Bibliographic Control” by Nancy Fallgren, Digital Access/Metadata Librarian, The Johns Hopkins University. Pamela Bluh’s summary of this session follows. More information, including presentations, is available online.

Nancy Fallgren began with a disclaimer, explaining that while she participated in the Working Group’s deliberations, her role was that of consultant to the group and she is not responsible for the content of the report and the opinions expressed in her presentation are hers and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the working group. She also explained that her presentation will not be exhaustive but rather will focus on a few of the report’s key points.

In January 2005, Deanna Marcum, LC’s Associate Librarian for Library Services made a presentation at the EBSCO Leadership Seminar in which she outlined her thoughts on the future of cataloging ( http://www.loc.gov/library/reports/CatalogingSpeech.pdf and http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/alcts/resources/lrts/archive/50n1.pdf). Although this was more than a year before LC’s ground-breaking announcement that it would cease performing series authority work, it was clear that changes in the bibliographic landscape were on the horizon. After the 2005 announcement, which set off a firestorm of criticism, LC, in an effort to regain public trust, appointed the working group and charged them with conducting a thorough review of the bibliographic landscape.

After a year of study, during which the working group conducted public meetings, received testimony, and engaged as many stake-holders as possible in the process of discovery, the group issued its final report, “On the Record,” in January 2008. The final LCWG report is a consensus document developed for broad audience. It deliberately does not prioritize the recommendations but provides a vision of a bibliographic future which is collaborative, decentralized, global in scope, web-based, and responsive to the needs and desires of users. The report’s ultimate goal is to “facilitate discovery, management and access to information resources.”

Rather than proscriptive, Fallgren explained that the recommendations are designed to establish a climate of trust in which redundancies are eliminated and the process of creating and enhancing bibliographic records is shared among numerous groups and organizations. Instead of continuing to create ”perfect” records the report concludes that access to information is crucial and some access is preferable to no access at all.

The most controversial component of the report concerns the recommendation to suspend work on Resource for Description and Access ( RDA). This recommendation was designed to bring attention to the RDA development process so that the community could undertake additional study to make sure that the foundation upon which RDA is built is truly sound. The May 1, 2008 announcement by LC about a cooperative venture with NAL and NLM to study and test RDA addresses this recommendation.

Another key component of the report emphasizes the need to ”strengthen the library and information science profession.” This is an area ALCTS is well suited to address and the association has already earmarked a number of areas for consideration.

Throughout her presentation, Fallgren continually emphasized that the authors of the report visualized the document as a “call to action” designed to foster collaboration in the information community. Although the report poses a number of difficult questions and touches on some possibly disturbing concepts it is meant to challenge all of us, in libraries large and small, rich and poor, to articulate the value of our work.

Fallgren provided an excellent overview of the background to Library of Congress Working Group Report as well as an explanation of the group’s methodology, reactions to the report and implications for future development. The oral presentation as well as Fallgren’s Power Point slides are available at http://www.palinet.org/futurecatsym.aspx.

LC issued an official response to the LCWG report on June 1, 2008. The text of the response may be found online. http://www.loc.gov/bibliographic-future/news/LCWGRptResponse_DM_053008.pdf)

Links to many of the documents related to the LCWG report and other comments about the future of bibliographic control may be found on the ALCTS web site under “Issues and Advocacy.”