5. Bibliographic Control and Access

Chapter 5 of Managing Microforms in the Digital Age

Because microforms cannot be browsed in the same way as printed materiaks, bibliographic support in the form of finding aids or catalog records is vital to browsing and accessing microform collections. Collection managers are encouraged to plan for appropriate bibliographic control at the point of selection and acquisition.

Microforms, like other library collections, should be made accessible via comprehensive bibliographic control. Detailed bibliographic description helps clarify the content of large microform sets, which in turn helps increase the visibility and subsequent use of these specialized research collections.

Providing bibliographic control for microform collections is important because it facilitates access to specialized research materials and reduces duplicative purchases. Unfortunately, prior to the 1980s, microform collections were not given the same level of attention as their print counterparts. Several factors contributed to the inadequate bibliographic control of microform collections. First, many microform sets contained hundreds of titles. Many of these titles had not been cataloged as hard copy; therefore, each microfilm title required original cataloging. Institutions acquiring these sets simply did not have the human resources or, in some cases, the special subject expertise to properly address these unique materials. Nor did they have the time to use readers to painstakingly review each title. Many libraries had no choice but to set aside this costly task. This lack of bibliographic control sorely handicapped access to microform materials. As a result, many valuable and expensive sets were unfortunately underutilized, since their existence was not readily apparent to the public or even to library staff. The problems inherent in these hidden collections are myriad and include the costly duplication of materials, the unnecessary processing of interlibrary loan requests and, ultimately, the devaluation of an institution’s role in support of scholarly research.

Types of Bibliographic Access

At one time, access to microform collections was limited to the use of commercial microfilm lists, consortial holdings lists, printed guides, or finding aids. With the emergence of online catalogs, the behavior and expectations of researchers have changed over the years. Researchers prefer easy access and quick results. They appreciate what the online environment has to offer. It has become clear that the use of printed microform guides, which at one time played a vital role in microform usage, has become outdated. Researchers now consult them only as a last resort.

The minimum expectation today is that a unique bibliographic record for each title in a microform set or series resides in the online catalog. As the divide between the local online catalog and the World Wide Web diminishes, patrons increasingly expect to locate titles through the Internet. Bibliographic control continues to evolve to meet these research expectations.

The following subsections illustrate various methods that have been used by libraries over the years to provide access to microform collections.

Microform Title Lists from Micropublishers

Commercial microform lists prepared by micropublishers may provide individual titles within a set, or specific serial title/issue runs with or without reel or fiche numbers for each title. One drawback is that the quality of these lists varies considerably. Some guides may have good descriptions for each title and may provide corresponding reel or fiche numbers. Others may contain less-than-full information or employ a poor organizational system. In some cases, useful access points (e.g., author, subject indexes) are limited or not provided. Few institutions have the time or human resources to perform extensive verification upon receipt of a microform set with accompanying guide; therefore, the quality of these lists is rarely assessed.

Commercial Microform Guides

Many microform guides are regularly published by commercial indexing companies. This type of finding aid usually covers a large range of microform publications made available during a specific time period. Similar to other index resources, libraries that have acquired the guides might not necessarily own all the sets listed in the guides. Since publishers of this type of guide are reputable professional indexers, their products in general contain information of good quality.

Institutional Microform Guides

In the past, it was popular practice for libraries to prepare institutional guides to microform sets owned by the library to serve their local users. These locally compiled finding aids serve as inventories providing information such as set publisher, date of publication as well as a brief description of each set. Some inventories provide more detail, listing individual titles with a title description and general subject terms.

Compiling such guides could be very time-consuming. Knowing this, some libraries make their guides available to other institutions. This mechanism started a trend of interlibrary cooperation, which improved microform access.

Consortial Holdings Lists

Consortial holdings lists are typically compiled and used by libraries in the same geographical area. Like serials union lists, microform union lists serve interlibrary loan and collection development purposes. They are usually regularly updated although the information provided in union lists is usually brief. Individual titles in microform sets are not typically provided.

Individual Bibliographic Records in Online Catalogs

Unquestionably, providing analytic bibliographic records has proved to be the most effective approach for microform access. Its resulting ease of access outweighs the labor that has to be invested in taking such an approach. Recognizing the merits of providing analytic bibliographic records, collaboration among libraries to create such records for large microform set as described below has become the current trend.

Historic Bibliographic Control

The importance of bibliographic control of microform materials has been recognized and acknowledged since the mid-twentieth century. Effective action was not taken until the early 1980s, when several institutions and agencies started to steadily and systematically catalog microform sets of hundreds of items.

A major effort towards the improvement of microform access in the early days was the establishment of the National Register of Microform Masters (NRMM). The NRMM, undertaken by the Library of Congress was established to provide bibliographic control for microform masters and was published annually between 1965 and 1984. Its purpose was to establish a clearinghouse for the bibliographic control of microforms. It can also be considered the starting point of intensive progress in and development of bibliographic control of microform in the United States.

In 1984, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) conducted a survey to identify microform sets that the survey respondents wanted to see cataloged. The survey results indicated that machine-readable bibliographic records were not available for many important microform sets. Based on the survey results, some libraries received grants to develop a cooperative cataloging project. Some libraries used their own resources and contributed to regional cooperative projects. Many micropublishers (like UMI) also joined this movement by providing cataloging records either through OCLC or contracted out for other libraries to catalog microform titles. This trend significantly changed and unquestionably enhanced the world of microform bibliographic control. It was then that comprehensive bibliographic control for microform materials started to become a reality.

In 1986, through grants from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and NEH, the Library of Congress and ARL launched the NRMM Retrospective Conversion Microform Project. In 1990, OCLC started to convert records in the NRMM into machine-readable format for the international community to access. The project was completed in December 1997. Approximately 579,000 records, representing monographs, serials and music scores, were converted. They are now available on OCLC.

In addition, OCLC also undertook its own Major Microform Project as part of its WorldCat Collection Sets initiative. This was an effort to catalog institutional microform collections on OCLC on a large scale in order to make worldwide access to these records possible. This continuing endeavor has made hundreds of microform set records available on OCLC.

Current Trend of Bibliographic Control

The current trend is to acquire MARC records of individual titles in microform sets and download them into institutions’ local catalogs. Besides OCLC set records, many major micropublishers or vendors also offer MARC record sets for purchase. Some vendors’ records are available on OCLC, while others are only available in the vendors’ internal databases. Typically, these vendors do not allow libraries to upload the proprietary records to OCLC.

The benefits of using vendors’ set records are numerous. Instead of spending an immeasurable amount of time searching, identifying, selecting, and downloading hundreds of thousands of records, one by one, from the utilities into local databases, today’s technology allows batch receiving and downloading collection set records remotely via file transfer protocol (FTP), thus making bibliographic records of microform sets available for public access within days or even hours.

Since the quality of these bibliographic records can vary greatly by vendor, it is best to evaluate a group of sample records before purchase. Some customization work may be needed before the records can be loaded, depending on local integrated library system conventions. Sometimes the vendor will agree to do this, if minor, and sometimes the library will need to do it themselves either manually (for small numbers of records) or by having a programmer write a script that will automatically perform the necessary functions to customize the records to fit local needs. Recently, open source MARC editing tools, such as MarcEdit, have become popular for libraries to perform batch changes of MARC records. For identification, batch changes or deletion purposes, it is also a good idea to flag purchased records in some way within your local catalog, such as using a separate location code or adding a local note field identifying the vendor or adding a prefix to the record control number.

Microform Cataloging

Since improvements in technology in the late 1990s made batch processing of record sets possible, many libraries have adopted this mechanism and have started to load hundreds of records all at once into their local online catalogs. Rarely do libraries check the large quantity of records before batch process. To maintain the quality of the record sets created either by individual libraries or commercial publishers or vendors, certain guidelines are needed for quality and consistency. In 2005, ALCTS published Guidelines for Cataloging of Record Sets: Reproductions (Microform and Electronic) and Original Sets.1 This publication instructs cataloging institutions to follow Library of Congress Rule Interpretations (LCRI) and MARC21 format for bibliographic data standards. Cataloging records for reproductions based on existing records should be created in a consistent manner. Title-access level records, rather than set-access level records, should always be provided for easy retrieval of reproduction sets.

Cataloging microforms, like the cataloging of other types of materials, entails bibliographic description and providing access to resources. In general, a bibliographic record contains descriptive data and access data. Descriptive data consists of descriptions transcribed or supplied by catalogers, such as author, title, imprint information, physical description (pagination, illustrated matter, dimensions) and other related information that will help researchers find, identify, select and obtain the resource. Access data, such as names and subjects, is indexed data that is normally assigned by catalogers and used for retrieval purposes.

Catalogers who create bibliographic records are strongly encouraged to follow established cataloging standards, namely, contents standards and data standards. The purpose of using standards is twofold. First, standards ensure a level of consistency so that bibliographic descriptions can be understood by users in different libraries. Second, such cataloging records can also be shared electronically among institutions over different libraries’ integrated systems. This is important, as acquiring vendor-supplied records for large microform sets has been, and will continue to be, the primary method of providing bibliographic access to library microform materials.

Cataloging Rules and Practice

Although catalogers in the United States follow the Anglo American Cataloging Rules (AACR), for many years the cataloging of microform reproductions has been done in two substantially different ways.

Cataloging Based on the Reproduction

The main difference lies in the standards that are followed in creating bibliographic descriptions. The second edition of AACR, AACR2, asks that bibliographic descriptions of microform be based on the reproduction in hand, a practice that is at odds with the rules in the first edition. Libraries that follow AACR2 argue that the bibliographic description should always be based on the item in hand because this reflects the bona fide manifestation. Some libraries disagree, arguing that original-item information is more helpful to library users than its reproduction. Researchers look for certain editions of publications. A lack of specific original-publication information will handicap user access and scholarly research. Also, it is more cost-effective to copy an existing bibliographic record of the original publication and provide additional reproduction description.

Cataloging Based on the Original

The latter practice, begun most prominently by the Library of Congress and marking a departure from the AACR2 rules, was later officially listed in the Library of Congress Rules Interpretation (LCRI) and adopted by many libraries in the United States. In recent years, several guidelines on cataloging of microform reproduction have been based on the LCRI, namely, Guidelines for Cataloging Microform Sets; Guidelines for Bibliographic Records for Preservation Microform Masters; Guidelines for Cataloging of Record Sets; and Reproductions (Microform and Electronic) and Original Sets.2 All of these guidelines ask catalogers to follow the LCRI for descriptive data and AACR2 for choice and form of heading.

Resource Description and Access

Resource Description and Access (RDA) is the new cataloging content standard that was recently developed under the stewardship of the Joint Steering Committee for Development of RDA. RDA will gradually replace AACR2 when libraries across the world begin to implement this new standard in 2013.

RDA was developed under the framework of Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) in an effort to provide a more structured and user-friendly library catalog. FRBR, a conceptual model developed by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) in the 1990s, identified basic levels of bibliographic elements that a bibliographic record should contain in order to fulfill user tasks (that is find, identify, select, and obtain library materials). The FRBR model uses entity relationships to present the four levels of entities in a bibliographic record, that is, work, expression, manifestation, and item. The purpose of adopting the FRBR model was to make bibliographic records more logical and intuitive, with distinctive entity-level bibliographic elements, thus facilitating the user tasks. Under the FRBR framework, a microform reproduction is considered a reproduction of another manifestation and cataloged as such, as described in RDA chapter 27.

RDA continues the AACR2 practice of instructing catalogers to base bibliographic descriptions on the reproduction and the current piece in hand rather than the original item. It also asks that catalogers provide bibliographic links to various versions (formats or manifestations) of the same expression of the work and/or title. During the RDA draft commenting period, according to the RDA online discussion list, some catalogers asked for the option of adding bibliographic information for the original manifestation to the reproduction record or piece in hand. Others asked for the option of providing both “reproduction piece in hand” information and the “original manifestation” information in parallel fields in one bibliographic record. This reflects the single-record practice for publications in multiple formats.

The Library of Congress undertook a comprehensive reassessment of policy for cataloging microform reproductions under RDA during the RDA testing period. A white paper on the treatment of reproductions under RDA was issued and outlined in the Library of Congress Policy Statement Final decisions are yet to be made.

RDA and General Material Designation. Unlike AACR2, RDA discontinues the practice of using the general material designation (GMD) to denote the format of a non-print material and replace it with three elements: content, media and carrier. Three different MARC fields (336, 337, 338) have been defined for these three elements. Providing GMD in the title proper field has not been an ideal practice. This is especially true in an online environment as it interferes with title indexing and access. According the MARC standards, GMD should be placed between the main title and the subtitle. All integrated library systems that are currently available on the market index GMD as part of the title. This impedes title phrase access when an item has both a main title and a subtitle. Furthermore, GMD cannot fully describe the content and carrier aspects of an item, thus creating confusion when users try to access materials in multiple formats. Using separate elements to describe the content, media and carrier aspects should eliminate the access issue and provide more information to facilitate the FRBR user tasks.

Single-Record Approach

The single-record approach, practiced for many years by many libraries, involves using one bibliographic record to represent multiple versions of a publication of library holdings. In the case of microform reproduction, a record can have descriptions of the original print publication and use notes or a holdings record to indicate the reproduction aspect of its microform counterpart. In addition to saving catalogers time in creating bibliographic records for titles in both formats, this approach also consolidates holdings. Library users only need to consult one record for all the holdings of different formats of the same publication. It is especially helpful in dealing with periodical collections where holdings information is especially important and heavily used.

Multiple-Record Approach

Contrary to the single-record approach, the multiple-record approach set forth in AACR2 and RDA is also practiced by libraries. According to the above-mentioned cataloging rules, each manifestation should have a bibliographic record represented in the library catalog. If a library has a title that exists both in print and microform formats, two bibliographic records (one for the print and one for the microform) will be provided. Although it is time-consuming to create multiple full-level bibliographic records, users can get complete bibliographic descriptions of both manifestations, and the separate records will each individually supply essential access points which will enhance retrieval. This practice has become more popular since vendors began making available electronic batch-processing of the microform record sets that they supplied. Libraries can easily load large record-sets into their online catalog for public access. Records in the set are descriptions of microform publications. It aligns with the separate-record approach. Recognizing the benefits of batch processing record sets, libraries that previously adopted single-record practice have also started using this type of service allowing dual practices in their local databases.

Microform Use and Access

During the same time period when microform use was on the rise, literature reported on patrons’ dissatisfaction with and resistance of the various microformats, although microfiche seemed less unwieldy than microfilm.4 The difficulties with handling the physical pieces and manipulating the equipment led to resistance on the part of users. Long-term reading on dimly lit screens was also a deterrent, although that was aided by the development of reader/printers. The advent of interfacing of microform readers with desktop computers has helped reduce user avoidance of microforms. Effectively digitally scanning the microforms on demand, this technology also allows users to walk away with digital images stored in portable devices, not just printouts, and allows library staff to distribute the information through electronic reserves and courseware. The improved quality of the images also helps address user complaints about difficulty reading microform.

Despite these advances in microform reading technology, as recently as 2007 librarians were reporting that users considered microforms a resource of last resort. This is in line with some study reports. Based on the 2003 OCLC Environmental Scan and a 2007 study conducted by Oregon State University on user behaviors, researchers often select the most convenient way to obtain information, even if the information may be less useful than other resources.5 One of the questions in an online survey conducted by the authors in October 2008 asked participants to characterize use of microforms at their institution. The single most frequent response indicated a desire for patrons to make paper printouts from microforms. The next most frequent response was that undergraduates almost never use microforms and always prefer an online version. That was closely followed by the desire of patrons to make digital copies from microforms. Just over a third of the responses indicated that graduate students, faculty, historians, and genealogists use microforms frequently and have a tolerable comfort level with them, while undergraduates use them only sometimes. More than half the responses indicated that libraries permit self-service of microforms, while more than a third lend microforms to other libraries.

As the general populace becomes increasingly dependent on the ease of Internet access to resources, the requirement to have to visit a physical place and use a dedicated machine can be expected to continue to negatively impact the use of microforms except by the most intrepid of researchers. Inclusion of MARC records in online catalogs will assist discovery of these materials, but conversion to a digital format is needed to make them truly accessible.

Reference Notes

  1. Association for Library Collections & Technical Services, “Guidelines for Cataloging Record Sets: Reproductions (Microform and Electronic) and Original Sets,” 2006, www.ala.org/alcts/resources/org/cat/catrecordsets.
  2. Association for Library Collections & Technical Services, “Guidelines for Cataloging Microform Sets,” 1989, www.ala.org/alcts/resources/org/cat/guidecat; Crystal Graham, Guidelines for Bibliographic Records for Preservation Microform Masters, (Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries, 1990); ALCTS, “Guidelines for Cataloging Record Sets: Reproductions.”
  3. Library of Congress-Program for Cooperative Cataloging, "Reconsidering the Cataloging Treatment of Reproductions," 2010, www.loc.gov/aba/pcc/reports/reproductions.pdf; Library of Congress-Program for Cooperative Cataloging Policy Statements (2012) http://access.rdatoolkit.org/lcpschp27.html.
  4. Jean Walter Farrington, “The Use of Microforms in Libraries: Concerns of the Last Ten Years,” The Serials Librarian 10, issue 1/2 (1985): 195–99.
  5. Cathy De Rosa et al., The 2003 OCLC Environmental Scan (Dublin, Ohio: OCLC, 2003), www.oclc.org/reports/escan/introduction/default.htm.

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