Encoding Standards Subcommittee: MLA Report 2021

Minutes, Cataloging and Metadata Committee

Encoding Standards Subcommittee Business Meeting

Monday, March 15, 2021, 2:00-3:25 ET (via Zoom)


Members in attendance: Karen Peters (Chair), Jim Alberts, Ethan D’Ver, Matt Ertz, Chelsea Hoover, Rahni Kennedy, Jeff Lyon, Felicia Piscitelli, Tomoko Shibuya, Amy Strickland, Damian Iseminger (LC representative), Jay Weitz (OCLC representative).

1) Welcome and introductions

The Chair welcomed attendees to the meeting and asked the Subcommittee members to introduce themselves.

2) ESS Chair’s report (Chair)

The Chair briefly pointed out the links in the Agenda to her reports on the June/July 2020 and January 2021 MARC Advisory Committee Meetings (in lieu of the usual ALA reports); acknowledged new (since the last meeting) Subcommittee member Jeff Lyon; thanked outgoing Subcommittee members Matt Ertz and Felicia Piscitelli for their past service; and issued a call for applications from new members.

3) LC Liaison report (Iseminger)

Damian Iseminger reported that he is currently a member of the Library of Congress MARC Group, which provides comments on the MARC proposals and discussion papers submitted for consideration at upcoming MARC Advisory Committee meetings. Much of the updating in the MARC formats is currently being driven by changes to RDA or by BIBFRAME conversion requirements. LC catalogers are continuing to test BIBFRAME, and LC has a goal of having most of its catalogers working in BIBFRAME by the end of 2021—with caveats: as far as Damian knows, all authority work will continue to be done in MARC because of the shared nature of that work and the distribution and use of the resulting authority records. Also, the Library of Congress will continue to distribute MARC bibliographic records, although these may look a little different than they do currently: for example, the MARC 007 field may no longer be present, as the same information can also be encoded in the MARC 34X fields. LC has been putting some effort into BIBFRAME to MARC conversion so that BIBFRAME descriptions created by LC catalogers can be made available in MARC for distribution to those who still want MARC records. LC will continue to ingest MARC records as well, but will presumably convert these into BIBFRAME. Finally, the database of record for LC will continue to be its Voyager Integrated Library System, with the result that there will be no noticeable change when searching LC’s catalog on its home page.

In spite of LC’s goal of having most of its catalogers working in BIBFRAME by the end of the year, there may still be certain groups of catalogers who will continue working in MARC. The Music Division and MBRS will make an independent assessment regarding when to make the switch to BIBFRAME based on the resolution of certain issues affecting music materials. Until these issues are resolved, Music Division and MBRS catalogers will continue to catalog in MARC.

4) Report of the Metadata for Music Resources Task Group (D’Ver)

Ethan D’Ver, leader of the Metadata for Music Resources Task Group (MMR TG), presented the results and an initial analysis of the MMR TG’s Usability Test which the TG administered with the goal of determining the best way to improve the Metadata for Music Resources (MMR) website. The test/survey consisted of three sections: a preliminary questionnaire, a card sort activity (built using Usibilitest), and a prompt for final comments. The test/survey was opened on November 9, when invitations were sent to the MLA, MOUG, and CMC lists. As of the cut-off date of February 12, 66 respondents had completed the preliminary questionnaire; only 22 went on to complete the card sort activity, however, with an additional 7 providing incomplete responses; and 6 people responded to the final comments prompt. For details, please see the report, which is linked to the business meeting agenda.

The MMR TG has decided to extend the testing period and will continue to collect results over the next couple of months. After that, it will conduct a more extensive analysis and produce a set of recommendations for structural revision of the website, which it will then work with CMC’s Webmaster to implement. Once the restructuring has been completed, the MMR TG will continue working to keep the website up-to-date.

5) Report of the MARC Cataloging Inefficiencies Task Group (Ertz)

Matt Ertz, leader of the MARC Cataloging Inefficiencies Task Group (MCI TG), presented a preliminary report on the results of the Task Group’s survey of 7 selected inefficient/redundant cataloging practices. The goal of the survey was to gauge the impact of possible recommendations to MLA’s Best Practices for Music Cataloging Using RDA and MARC21, recommendations that would aim to improve cataloging efficiency. For each practice, respondents were asked two questions: how would the recommendation impact display, search, and retrieval in their institution’s discovery system; and if the impact was not negative, would the practice have a beneficial impact on the institution’s cataloging procedures. The survey was open from January 25-March 7, 2021 and garnered 47 responses, including many interesting and potentially useful free text observations. For details, please see the report, which is linked to the business meeting agenda.

At this point, the rest of the MCI TG will be given an opportunity to consider the survey results, which due to time constraints it has not yet been possible. Once this is done, the MCI TG can proceed with making recommendations if such are determined to be advisable, and may also decide to continue the work of identifying and proposing solutions to other cataloging inefficiencies. Alternatively, it may decide that recommendations are premature at this time due to the changes to MARC currently taking place as a result of BIBFRAME development activity and changes to RDA—in which case, it might be best for the MCI TG to go on hiatus and reconvene or re-form at a later date. In any case, as mentioned earlier, Matt will be rotating off the Encoding Standards Subcommittee at the end of this meeting, and a new MCI TG leader will be needed.

In the discussion that followed, additional ideas for further action (aside from recommending changes to best practices) were suggested by attendees: CMC might consider drafting a document or statement for vendors, recommending changes to discovery systems. The MCI TG might recommend changes to MLA’s Music Discovery Requirements document. Finally, creation of a document or training videos dealing with how best to convert legacy data might help alleviate one of the major concerns expressed by the survey’s respondents: the fate of legacy data if newer fields were utilized in their place.

6) Updates on MARC development this year (Chair)

  • The Chair noted that at the CMC Town Hall earlier this month she gave a “very rapid fire” outline of the changes to MARC over the past year and would now take the opportunity to elaborate a bit.

a. The Chair noted that MLA responses to MARC proposals and discussion papers (linked to from the agenda) are submitted to the MARC Advisory Committee (MAC) ahead of its meetings so that MAC members have a starting point for discussion. At the most recent meetings last January, MAC considered 10 proposals and 6 discussion papers. 9 proposals passed; the remaining proposal will be modified, and the 6 discussion papers redrafted as proposals, for consideration at the next round of MAC meetings in late June.

b. Details on some proposals and discussion papers of special interest:

i. Prior to the January MAC meetings, 3 “fast-track” proposals were approved by the MARC Steering Group. One of these, No. 2020-FT03, Adding Subfields $0 and $1 to Field 384 of the MARC 21 Bibliographic and Authority Formats, came from MLA. The proposal was suggested by Adam Schiff, who, since he had drafted a similar proposal previously, offered to write it for us. The idea was to make a simple change to MARC that would allow the key in field 384 to be linked to the Wikidata item for that key. The Chair’s brief mention of this change to field 384 at the Town Hall, however, raised a lot of questions from attendees. In particular, attendees wondered if would be possible to link instead to UNIMARC or other (controlled) vocabularies.

At the moment, field 384 only permits recording of “The pitch name and the mode (e.g., major or minor),” so nothing further in the way of controlled vocabularies is really necessary. But the Town Hall attendees’ response suggests that there needs to be further discussion, perhaps with those responsible for MLA’s Cataloging Best Practices document, in order to determine what it is that we would like to accomplish by making the encoding of broader vocabularies available. Note that doing more than simply linking to the Wikidata item for a key would require proposing addition of subfield $2 (Source of term code) to MARC 384, and then requesting that codes for the desired vocabularies be added to the Genre/Form Code and Term Source Codes list. Further discussion of this issue was postponed until later in the meeting (see under agenda item 7 below).

ii. Regarding MARC Proposal No. 2021-05, Renaming Field 348 and Defining New Subfields for Form of Musical Notation in the MARC 21 Bibliographic Format, the code “rdafmn” has now been added to the Genre/Form Code and Term Source Codes list and so will be available for use when the changes to field 348 are published as part of the next MARC update (no. 32) later this year.

There now remains the issue of subfields $b and $d, intended to hold codes corresponding to the terms used in subfields $a and $c, respectively. Field 348 is an outlier: none of the other 34X fields are designed to hold such codes; but when field 348 was first defined for encoding format of notated music, somebody (not MLA) requested that a code be added “just in case” somebody might want to use it. OCLC data indicate that very few people have using 348 $b codes, and those who do seem not to understand how the subfield should be encoded; yet the MARC Advisory Committee refused MLA’s request to deprecate or redefine subfield $b. It would seem that having the ability to use subfield $2 and linking in subfields $0/$1 should obviate the need for a subfield $b code, but it will be up to those responsible for the Cataloging Best Practices document to decide if coding subfield $b is to be recommended.

iii. Regarding MARC Proposal No. 2021-06, Accommodating Work and Expression Dates, and Related Elements, in Bibliographic and Authority Field 046, once MARC update 32 is published, we will be able to indicate whether the date coded in field 046 is for a work, expression, or manifestation. There is no provision, however, for encoding dates for representative expressions, as the drafters of the proposal were not envisioning this need, but any changes needed to permit this can be proposed.

iv. Regarding MARC Proposal No. 2021-07, Defining a New Subfield for Sound Content in Field 344 of the MARC 21 Bibliographic Format, encoding sound content (“sound” or “silent”) in the newly-defined subfield $i would seem to increase redundancy and inefficiency in the cataloging of music materials, as there are already sufficient references to “audio” and “performed music” in bibliographic records for sound recordings (and nobody has suggested that “silent” should be recorded in bibliographic records for print materials, including scores). In official RDA, encoding this element is an option; the relevant LC-PCC PS indicates that “cataloger’s judgment” should be used to determine whether or not to code the element. It will thus be up to the writers of our cataloging best practices to make a recommendation in this regard.

v. Finally, two discussion papers—No. 2021-DP04, Defining a New Subfield for Original Sound Capture and Storage in Field 344 of the MARC 21 Bibliographic Format; and 2021-DP05, Terms and Definitions in Field 007/13 for Sound Recordings in the MARC21 Bibliographic Format—explore changes needed to facilitate conversion between MARC and BIBFRAME, which aims to do away with field 007 and provide that the elements currently encoded there have a place in the 34X fields. The papers also take the opportunity to consider clarification of some of the terms and definitions associated with sound capture and storage that appear not to be well understood, as well as to stress that this information applies to the original recording, not to the manifestation being cataloged. Furthermore, based on ESS/CMC wiki discussions, it seems that many people—including some music catalogers—believe that capture and storage are two different operations, which they are not. ESS will be watching the fate of these discussion papers carefully as they are turned into proposals for consideration at the MAC meetings in June, and expect that we will be asked for input before these proposals are finalized.

7) New work for the upcoming year: possible changes to MARC for consideration.

a. Recently, Rebecca Belford noticed that the definition of serial number (subfield $a) in MARC 383 doesn’t accommodate the situation where a single numerical sequence applies even when medium of performance is not the same throughout. John Zagas at NDMSO has suggested that a request to correct this definition could be submitted as a fast-track proposal. The Chair will draft such a proposal and post it to the wiki for comment prior to submitting it to NDMSO.

b. On hold from 2020

i. Particularly in light of the recent approval of Proposal No. 2020-FT03: do we want to expand MARC 384 subfield $a (Key) beyond its current definition of key as “The pitch name and the mode (e.g., major or minor)”; and if so, what else do we want to include? RDA doesn’t speak to this issue, but the two MARC discussion papers on sound capture and storage technique remind us that not everything that we encode comes from the content standard we use. One of the reasons this issue was raised last year was the intention to explore possible encoding for music based on twelve tone rows, microtonal music, and such like.

The possible need to provide for separate encoding (different subfields) of pitch and scale/mode was raised, as was the issue of an appropriate controlled vocabulary for keys and modes. There doesn’t appear to be a controlled vocabulary at present that includes all of the possible modes that might be encoded if field 384 were to be expanded beyond major and minor tonality. Although UNIMARC does have a list of terms for the church modes, there remains the issue of non-Western modes and organizational structures such as 12-tone rows. One of the ideas connected with the fast-track proposal permitting links to Wikidata items is that if a term that is not in Wikidata is needed, a Wikidata item for that term can be created on the fly and put into use. Alternatively, the Vocabularies Subcommittee might be asked to create and maintain a controlled list of scales and modes in use, but that list could become quite extensive if it were to accommodate non-Western modal systems.

Any expansion of field 384 to permit the encoding of non-Western modes would require that care be taken to respect these musics’ concepts, avoiding the temptation to “shoehorn” them into MARC definitions that are based on Western art music concepts. For example, the way “key” is defined in MARC is very specific and doesn’t even accommodate the ecclesiastical modes, let alone non-Western modal systems. On the other hand, some have spoken of the need to broaden our structures in order to better accommodate popular and non-Western musics.

Some discussants suggested that prior to making changes to MARC to accommodate features of non-Western musics, we should first look into how concepts of musical structure (key being only one of these) might be accommodated in RDA. We need to think about this issue more holistically and really understand what we would be trying to accomplish by such an expansion beyond Western music concepts. Only when these concepts are accommodated in our content standard will we be in a position to tackle these issues in MARC, which suggests that this is an issue that first needs to be taken up by the Content Standards Subcommittee or the broader CMC, which should begin by determining if this is an issue that should be pursued right now or at some point in the future after the current changing environment settles. Another suggestion made was that a “whole task force could be formed to explore core attributes of non-Western musical works and how to best cover them in our metadata” (Casey), and also that IAML should perhaps be involved in such a project.

ii. In July 2008, A BCC Working Group issued a Final Report that, among other things, indicated it would be desirable to encode the structure of a piece of music in an authority record. This raises the question, does MARC need to be modified to permit this? The answer is no: it is already possible to link authority records for parts of a work to the record for the larger work by using relationship elements (in subfield $i) in the 5XX fields. Doing so, however, is optional, so this becomes a question of whether or not the cataloging best practices should to be modified to encourage this linking, which is a matter for the Content Standards Subcommittee to investigate.

c. No other ideas for changes to MARC were raised in the (insufficient in any case) time remaining.

8) No new business.

9) The meeting was adjourned.