Implications for archives in LOC’s Report on the Future of Bibliographic Control?

I had a topic in mind for today’s post, but then I ran across this document and wanted to ask some questions about it. The Library of Congress’s Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control has issued a draft version of its report for public comment (comments due December 15). The report contains findings and recommendations in five areas. One of them is “Enhance Access to Rare and Unique Materials.” The recommendations in this area are:

2.1 Make the Discovery of Rare and Unique Materials a High Priority

2.1.1 LC: Direct resources to support the discovery of rare and unique materials, including resources freed by the institution of economies realized in other areas.

2.1.2 All: Gather and share data on access paths that guide researchers to unique materials as a means to inform best practices for access in a Web environment.

2.1.3 All: Make finding aids accessible via online catalogs, and available on the Internet.

2.2 Streamline Cataloging for Rare and Unique Materials, Emphasizing Greater Coverage and Access to a Greater Number of Items

2.2.1 LC: Adopt as a guiding principle the provision of some level of access to all materials, rather than comprehensive access to some materials and no access at all to other materials.

2.2.2 All: Establish cataloging practices that are practicable and flexible, and that reflect the needs of users and the reality of limited resources.

2.2.3 LC: Encourage adoption of current rules and practices (e.g., DCRM(B) and DACS) for cataloging of unique and rare materials, including options for streamlined cataloging, and shared use of and creation of authority records across collections, as applicable.

2.2.4 All: Consider different levels of cataloging and processing for all types of rare and unique materials, depending on institutional priorities and importance and potential use of materials, while still following national standards and practices.

2.3 Integrate Access to Rare and Unique Materials with Other Library Materials

2.3.1 All: Integrate access tools (finding aids, metadata records, databases, authority files, etc.) for unique and rare materials into the information access structures that serve the institution as a whole.

2.4 Encourage Digitization to Allow Broader Access

2.4.1 LC: Study possibilities for computational access to digital content. Use this information in developing new rules and best practices.

2.4.2 All: Study usage patterns to inform digitization priorities.

2.5 Share Access to Unique Materials

2.5.1 All: Encourage inter-institutional collaboration for sharing metadata records and authority records for rare and unique materials.

2.5.2 All: Encourage libraries and archives to submit records for rare and unique materials to shared databases such as OCLC.

2.5.3 All: Examine financial and other incentives and disincentives to the sharing of records for rare and unique materials. Modify systems, practices, and agreements as necessary to increase incentives and decrease disincentives.

When I read these recommendations, I was unsure what the implications were for the archival community. Certainly there is a lot there that is consistent with our goals, but this is not my area of expertise, and I wondered if there were any potential problems hiding between these lines. I wondered what impact these recommendations will have for those of us not working at the LOC. What are the implications for archives when it says “all” should be doing something?

Have any archivists been consulted about these recommendations? Is any part of SAA reviewing them or providing comments? (Or was that done on a previous version?) Was there some previous discussion on this in the archival (or library) community that I’ve overlooked? Should we be thrilled that LOC is turning more attention to archival materials, or a little concerned about what this 800-pound gorilla has in mind? Or both?

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2 thoughts on “Implications for archives in LOC’s Report on the Future of Bibliographic Control?”

  1. I’ll throw in my two cents on this. Even though, as far as I can tell, no archivists are listed as members of the LOC working group, I think it’s clear that these recommendations are informed by debates in the archival community (led by the publication of “More Product, Less Process”), as well as the findings of ARL’s Hidden Collections task force, which involved archivists. And bridging the divide between general collections and special collections makes sense for many reasons, just as format integration for MARC cataloging made sense. It helps both for the people using the collections and the people responsible for the collections. There are wrinkles to be worked out, of course, but I think our primary reaction should be excitement rather than fear.

    I am all for our national institutions and funding agencies making strong recommendations, because I really think that’s one of the primary ways of changing professional behavior. It’s all fine and good to say we think improving access and streamlining procedures are good things, but until our funding and our jobs depend on it, it’s too easy to proceed along the same path as always. For example, NHPRC “enforcing” “More Product, Less Process” and requiring EAD in its new processing grant announcements may turn out to be more effective in the long run than all the conference sessions and workshops that have been held on these topics over the years.

    Now the problem is when leaders prescribe particular ways of doing things and then don’t provide a way for institutions of all sizes to accomplish them. For example, requiring EAD finding aids, but not providing an infusion of support for streamlined markup tools and development of national and regional systems that institutions can easily contribute those finding aids to (instead of having to create their own) is problematic. But the principles behind these recommendations and requirements are still very encouraging, in my view.

  2. For example, NHPRC “enforcing” “More Product, Less Process” and requiring EAD in its new processing grant announcements may turn out to be more effective in the long run than all the conference sessions and workshops that have been held on these topics over the years.

    Right on. Until a new system has teeth, it’s far too easy to do things the same old way; I am also very encouraged by this. In a world where the internet democratizes the search and access of information, the ability of libraries to provide original source documents of proven long term value is what will keep the institutions relevant to users. Sure, we’ll always have a kid’s reading section too; but it’s the upkeep of community cultural documents that will keep our libraries alive.

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