The Market, the Commons, and the Library of Congress
The strongest part of the report is its description of "economic confusion" regarding the market for MARC records. The report describes a market that incorporates suppliers, customers, and other players who operate under two sets of values: community values and commercial values. While in most situations, these values do not lead to conflict, in some cases they have.
R2 points to one influence on this disconnect - the lack of knowledge about the costs of creating catalog records. The distorting effects on the market by certain forces - the Library of Congress' subsidy of MARC cataloging, the availability of free records from some sources and not from others - are poorly understood or inaccurately discussed due to this blind spot. The report suggests that increased visibility and honest discussion of the economics of the marketplace - starting with the acceptance of speaking about library work in those terms - is necessary to move the profession forward.
Below is an intriguing diagram, from page 32 of the report, showing different "tiers" of the marketplace. Of particular interest is the fact that many institutions span more than one tier, making interactions between and among them more complex. [click image for a larger version in a new window]While the report makes a reference to a guiding assumption that MARC records will remain important for "5-10 years," it does treat the cataloging world as somewhat of a fixed entity. The current developments in RDA and catalog front ends mean that discovery is changing; analysis of web traffic shows that users prefer means other than MARC records for access to many types of materials; and seismic changes in delivery, storage and availability of information resources mean that the paradigm of the local catalog is under stress as well. Even granting the assumption that MARC will remain relevant in the next decade, it is clear that the relationships between record, cataloger, catalog, and user will be in flux.
Navigating these changes will require a clear view of the forces at work. The Library of Congress should be applauded for taking steps to illuminate this area, and R2 commended for their excellent report.
Edited 31 October 2009 to correct link.