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British Library, Library of Congress, and National Library of Canada Achieve Major Milestones in Format Harmonization


The British Library (BL), the Library of Congress (LC), and the National Library of Canada (NLC) have reached a major milestone in the harmonization of their MARC formats. Agreement has been attained on full harmonization of USMARC and CAN/MARC. In addition a technical meeting held at LC in January 1997 made significant progress on alignment with UKMARC.

The benefits of a harmonized format include easier and more efficient record exchange between the users and producers of MARC records, elimination of the need for conversion programs, and potential reductions in the expense of format maintenance and documentation. Whereas full harmonization of USMARC and CAN/MARC has been accomplished, the three libraries recognize that UKMARC must retain certain features of particular value to the UKMARC user community, and therefore full harmonization is not achievable in the short term. Partial alignment is being pursued immediately with full harmonization as a long term goal.

Meetings of representatives of the BL, LC and NLC were held in Washington on December 2, 1996 and February 18, 1997. It was agreed that over the next few months, LC and NLC will formulate mechanisms for the coordination and approval of future format development as well as determine a schedule for implementation. To facilitate the continuation of the harmonization process with UKMARC, a MARC Harmonization Coordinating Committee was also established. The committee is interested in the following developments:

In addition, a technical panel will meet regularly to discuss issues relating to the formats.

Associate Librarian of Congress Winston Tabb noted: "The MARC Harmonization Coordinating Committee will promote future opportunities for format convergence and ensure that future developments will continue to bring the formats closer together. The complete harmonization of USMARC and CAN/MARC into a single format is a signal achievement which will facilitate record exchange throughout the United States and Canadian bibliographic communities and beyond."

Adds Ingrid Parent, Director General, Acquisitions and Bibliographic Services at the National Library of Canada: "Although there are many benefits of format harmonization, perhaps the most significant is the potential for reducing the cost of cataloguing. The elimination of format differences across national boundaries will increase the pool of catalogue records available to libraries for copy cataloguing and resource-sharing activities."

Stuart Ede, Director of Acquisitions, Processing and Cataloguing at the British Library, welcomed the progress made, saying: "It was always going to be difficult, given the philosophical differences between UKMARC and the North American formats, to achieve full harmonisation in the short term. What we have achieved is a balanced outcome: on the one hand, coordinating development across the Atlantic; on the other hand, preserving the underlying compatibility of UKMARC with other national and international formats, which will facilitate co-operation with European partners as well."

For further information, please contact Sally McCallum, chief, Network Development and MARC Standards Office, Library of Congress, LM639, Washington, D. C. 20540-4102 (phone: 202-707-6237; fax: 202-707-0115; eMail: [email protected])


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