Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Geographic Coordinates in MARC Authority Files

According to a message posted on June 30 to the Maps-L list, MARC Proposal 2006-06 was passed to include geographic coordinates within MARC authority records.
This has the potential to be a really big deal.

This proposal was passed by the Machine-Readable Bibliographic Information (MARBI) Committee, the body within the American Library Association who is responsible for developing official ALA positions on MARC (define MARC) record standards.

That sure was a marbled mouthful of words. What does this mean, you ask?? Libraries use a standard format called MARC (Machine Readable Catalog Record) to store bibliographic information (metadata). Authority records are used within the MARC system to provide standardized forms and cross-references for names, subjects, and sometimes titles. When you go to your local public or university library, and hop on a computer to search for a book or article (or map) you are searching the public interface (OPAC) of the library's MARC records.

So what has this to do with you? Why should anyone care whether geographic coordinates can be included within library MARC records?

Well, libraries catalog, index, and organize most of the world's books, journal titles, various special collections and archives, multimedia, artwork, and yes of course maps. Geographic coordinates will embed a geographic tag in all of these items. This will give us three major breakthroughs (as I see it):
  1. Cross-References
    • Cross-references are used to generate see-also references. Imagine the power of a library catalog that can refer users to similar resources based solely on the record's geographic coordinates.
    • This is much more powerful and precise than relying on a controlled vocabulary set, such as the USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS).

  2. Integration With Existing GIS Tools & Geospatial Catalogs
    • This is the most intriguing possibility that set the fire in my belly to write this blog post. Existing geospatial catalogs (such as FGDC metadata catalogs) use decimal degrees as geographic coordinates. If library records also contain geographic coordinates in decimal degrees then these two disparate databases can point to eachother's records (using a see-also) and perhaps even integrating into some sort of single search interface that can search both MARC and GIS metadata simultaneously!

  3. Additional Geographic Access Point
    • Online catalogs may add a new geographic access point (way to search). Imagine being able to search your favorite library's catalog and search for materials by entering a lat/long coordinate? Similar to FGDC metadata catalogs. That's pretty powerful!
    • The MARC Discussion Paper No. 2006-DP01 points out that coordinates are indeed present in note fields (field 670), but that "it would be difficult to utilize the information for a coordinates-based search in the context of the note." Of course, appropriate connections between the bigliographic record and the authority file will have to be made.
Now, I think this is some pretty hot stuff here and am extremely impressed and happy with the work the MARBI folks have accomplished thus far. The message I picked up via the Maps-L list pointed out one major challenge that is still being tackled: What format should the coordinates be stored in the authority records? Here are the pros and cons regarding DDs and DMS as copy/pasted from the message.
Degrees, minutes, seconds format
-Format most often printed on maps
-Familiar to most people
-Easy to quality review
-Format most often used in bib records

-Not format used by GIS search engines

Decimal Degrees
-Format used by GIS search engines
-Can harvest data from GIS tools

-Not as easy to quality review
-Not as familiar a format to the average person
My opinion? Decimal degrees. As is evident from my enthusiasm in breakthrough #2 above, the ability to integrate GIS resources with MARC authority files are very exciting and outweigh any of these cons as listed.

Now, I want to state here that I am not a cataloger and so my understanding of these matters might not be as sophisticated or accurate as professional map catalogers.


CarolH said...

Dear Mapz

I am currently investigating the feasibility of adding geographic coordinates associated with place to authority records for geographic subject headings and would like to learn from other library’s experiences.

I am interested in hearing from any libraries that have already begun to add geographic coordinates to authority records in order to find out what your experiences have been, and in particular, whether you were able to use automated processes to add this data.

Any information or advice would be gratefully received.

Carol Hamilton

Collection Management Division
National Library of Australia

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