Library of Congress: Study of the North American MARC Records Marketplace

October 2009
In January 2009, the Library of Congress (LC) contracted with R2 Consulting LLC (R2) “to investigate and describe current approaches to the creation and distribution of MARC records in US and Canadian libraries”, with a primary focus from a primarily economics perspective on “in effect” mapping “the marketplace for cataloging records, including incentives for and barriers to production” of these records. One especially critical aspect of the project has been to assess the degree to which sources other than LC create records in significant quantities, and to determine the extent to which “all roads lead to DLC/DLC.” From a quick read, it appears that RDA and FRBR may it have been afforded sufficient treatment in this Study. Those interested in this topic will certainly want to re-visit the article by Joni Cassidy and members of her staff, AACR Move Over! Here Comes RDA

The following posting includes an excerpt from the Introduction to the resultant Study issued in October 2009 followed by a link for downloading the entire text of the Study.

From the Introduction:

In January 2009, the Library of Congress (LC) contracted with R2 Consulting LLC (R2) to investigate and describe current approaches to the creation and distribution of MARC records in US and Canadian libraries. The primary focus is on the economics of existing practice, in effect mapping the “marketplace” for cataloging records, including incentives for and barriers to production. The underlying question is whether sufficient cataloging capacity exists in North America, and how that capacity is distributed. This project was designed to be descriptive rather than prescriptive, seeking to understand in detail the ways in which cataloging records are produced and distributed, as well as who bears the costs and who realizes the value. We are not attempting to offer solutions or suggest changes, though some have become obvious as we’ve looked at the data. One especially critical aspect of the project has been to assess the degree to which sources other than LC create records in significant quantities, and to determine the extent to which “all roads lead to DLC/DLC.”

The goal is to achieve the best possible understanding of current circumstances and practices:

What is the overall cataloging capacity in North America?

Where does it reside?

What are the primary distribution pathways and channels for sharing records?

How much redundancy is there?

What can we predict about cataloging capacity over the next 5‐10 years?

What is the estimated need/demand? How does this compare with capacity?

What is the relative importance of authority control to libraries?

What is the current reliance by North American Libraries on LC cataloging?

Over the course of six months, R2 employed a number of information‐gathering techniques. First, we developed a social network called Bibliographic Record Production: which ultimately attracted more than 800 members. This forum was used to develop and refine surveys, to assure that we were asking the right questions, and to enlist proportionate representation from all market segments. We performed a literature search as highlighted in the bibliography. We developed two extensive surveys, one for libraries and one for vendors, and worked diligently to assure the participation of school, public, academic and specialized libraries, and of Canadian as well as US libraries. We took special care with the school and small public library markets, as they are often under‐represented in such studies, and rely almost exclusively on records produced by LC, even if those records reach them through other channels. We also interviewed key people by phone, and made a site visit to the Library of Congress.

The surveys were released in April and completed in May 2009. There are a handful of areas where gaps exist, but the response was proportionate to the size of the respective markets, a factor that gives us confidence in the results. Overall, survey responses were strong, with 972 libraries and 70 vendors participating. Results are summarized in sections II and III of the report; Library and Distributor responses respectively. Note that the survey questions themselves can be found online at: Questions ‐ Libraries.pdf Questions ‐ MARC Systems, Distributors, and Service Providers.pdf

Despite many revisions and our best efforts to achieve clarity in the survey questions, it is apparent that a common understanding does not apply across all market segments. There is, in fact, not really a shared understanding of what constitutes a MARC record, since it can serve purposes other than cataloging. In addition, the distinction between creating a record (which ideally occurs once for each title) and distributing a record (where the same record may be provided to multiple customers) proved confusing to some respondents. This has made quantitative comparisons unreliable, and we have introduced them only in cases where the data are relatively unambiguous.

Our primary observations and conclusions are described in the two subsequent sections of the report:

III. The Conflicted Market IV. Economics of Cataloging
Conclusions are based on careful consideration of survey results; interviews and conversations with practicing librarians and vendors; discussion among members of the Bibliographic Record Production social network; extensive reading; participation in the OCLC/NISO Metadata Symposium (April 2009); and our own direct experience with cataloging production and distribution. Primary conclusions include:

1. Library of Congress cataloging continues to be widely valued: Libraries, vendors, and cooperatives speak with their actions. There is heavy reliance on LC’s output throughout all segments of the profession and industry. This is demonstrated by 500,000 searches per day against LC’s Z39.50 servers and WebOPAC; by extensive re‐sale and re‐use of records distributed by the MARC Distribution Service (MDS); and by the variety and scale of use across all library sizes and types, and all vendor sizes and types. LC records are the cornerstone of the entire market. School and public libraries are especially reliant on them, but all market segments have built services on the foundation of inexpensive and easily obtainable LC records.

2. The Library of Congress subsidizes portions of the market: LC catalogs many titles that ultimately are not retained in its collections. As a result, LC bears significant costs from which it receives no direct benefit, for activity that is not explicitly in support of its core users. The 1902 law that governs distribution of its records deliberately excludes the cost of production from the pricing for those records. There is no revenue to offset those costs, other than the value of the free copies of the CIP books provided by publishers. The market relies to a surprising degree on LC’s willingness to bear these costs and forgo this revenue. If LC were to redirect its catalogers’ efforts solely to materials deemed necessary by its users, CIP production would diminish significantly. Other organizations would need to assume those costs. At present, libraries and vendors enjoy the largely unrecognized benefits of an LC subsidy.

3. LC records are significantly underpriced: Not only does LC bear a disproportionate share of the costs associated with producing records for titles it may not retain, the law governing its sale of those records allows only the cost of distribution (plus 10%) to be recouped. The cost of production is assumed to be part of LC’s ongoing operations. Such low prices contribute to the impression that cataloging should cost less than it actually does.

4. Cataloging backlogs continue to grow in many areas and market segments: As outlined in the library survey responses, non‐Roman languages, maps, and DVDs pose particular problems. But to our surprise, many libraries are also losing ground on mainstream materials such as English‐language monographs.

5. There is adequate cataloging capacity in North America to meet the collective need: This finding surprised us, especially given the aging of the profession and imminent retirements. However, a conservative interpretation of survey data shown on pages 9‐10 strongly suggests that there are more than enough catalogers to handle everything. In the academic market alone, for instance, the survey indicates that more than 8,000 original catalogers are employed. If each original cataloger produced on average one record per work day (or 200 per year), that would indicate capacity for 1.6 million original records annually. Unfortunately, that capacity is not well distributed, disciplined, or coordinated, despite decades of experience with cooperative cataloging.

6. Cooperative cataloging has not realized its full potential: Shared catalogs, bibliographic utilities and other tools make cooperative efforts more convenient and effective. The Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC)’s BIBCO initiative contributed more than 76,000 records in 2008. But BIBCO and CONSER each have fewer than 50 members, and ten BIBCO libraries contributed nearly 2/3 of all records produced in 2008.

7. The market for cataloging records is conflicted: The library market must accommodate both community values and commercial values. In most elements of the market, this works well, but cataloging brings the two into conflict. Libraries operate within a “community” value system that prizes openness, accessibility, and free access to information. Vendors operate within a “commercial” system that creates sustainability, growth and profit.

8. The market provides insufficient incentives to stimulate additional original cataloging: Since backlogs continue to grow in many areas, it is curious that so many libraries choose not to participate in cooperative cataloging programs. It is equally curious that vendors do not see opportunities to serve as cataloging agencies. For some reason, neither commercial nor community incentives have much effect. Is it possible this is because the cost (and therefore the price) of cataloging has been understated? Or does the profession as a whole no longer believe original cataloging is worth what it actually costs?

9. 80% of libraries edit records for English‐language monographs in their local catalog: Most editing is performed “to meet local needs”; such as re‐Cuttering, adding workmarks, or removing unwanted subject headings. There is still widespread resistance to the idea of simply accepting the work of another library.

10. 78% of libraries are unaware of any restrictions on MARC record use or redistribution: In part this stems from the perception that cataloging records are free, or perhaps community‐owned. While this is true for LC records, it becomes problematic for those records where the cost of production has not yet been recovered. This erodes the market.

Click here to download the entire Study

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