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MARC: Keystone for Library Automation
April-June 2002 (vol. 24 no. 2)
pp. 34-49

Libraries' most central and costly activity-cataloging material and maintaining the catalogs providing end-user access-had requirements that defied efficient automation until the mid-1960s, when the Library of Congress developed the MARC format for data records. The format became the foundation for automated systems for libraries that took data sharing to new levels and enabled exploitation of future computer developments to create today's online catalog environment.

1. While there were a few computers such as the Atanasoff-Berry Bell Labs Model I, and the Mark 1 machines in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the ENIAC in 1945-1946 is considered by many as the springboard for modern computer development.
2. In this article, I draw on my own lengthy experience with the more recent developments in MARC and my association over a long period at the Library of Congress with H.D. Avram, L.J. Rather, and others who led earlier developments.
3. An excellent source, used here, for computer development from 1945 to the late 1990s is P. E. Ceruzzi, A History of Modern Computing, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1998. Ceruzzi's volume of pre-1945 "computing" history is also recommended: P.E. Ceruzzi, Reckoners: The Prehistory of the Digital Computer, from Relay to the Stored Program, 1935-1945, Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn., 1983.
4. Extended Binary Coded Decimal Interchange Code (EBCDIC) is an 8-bit Latin character set that IBM introduced in 1964 with its IBM System 360 series of computers.
5. American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) is a 7-bit set with 94 graphic characters including upper- and lowercase Latin alphabet characters, numbers, punctuation signs, and a few symbols. ASCII was first approved as an American National Standard in 1968.
6. Another concern in 1965 was the deteriorating condition of card catalogs. A study of the New York Public Library catalog in 1963-1965 indicated that, of the 8,000,000 cards in that venerable catalog, 2,296,000 needed replacement, which would cost an estimated $2 million. Converting the data to machine-readable form was suggested, and the question was asked: "If the new catalog were automated, should output be in the form of cards or books or should the data be stored in such a way that they could be called up and displayed graphically on a cathode ray tube?" New York Public Library, Research Libraries, Library Catalogs: Their Preservation and Maintenance by Photographic and Automated Techniques, A Study by the Research Libraries of the New York Public Library, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1968, p. vi.
7. J.C.R. Licklider, Libraries of the Future, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1965. This publication is based on a study sponsored by the Council on Library Resources and conducted by Bolt, Beranek, and Newman between Nov. 1961 and Nov. 1963.
8. G.W. King et al., Automation and the Library of Congress, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 1963.
9. An article by H.D. Avram titled "Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC) Program" that was published in theEncyclopedia of Library and Information Science, Vol. 17,Marcel Dekker, Washington, D.C. (and later published in a revised form as a monographMARC: Its History and Implications,Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 1975), contains an excellent detailed description of the format development process from the 1960s through the early 1970s. It also contains an extensive bibliography that illustrates the immediate excitement and explorations inspired by the availability of MARC records.
10. L.F. Buckland, The Recording of Library of Congress Bibliographical Data in Machine Form; A Report Prepared for the Council on Library Resources Inc., revised, Council on Library Resources, Washington, D.C., 1965.
11. The participants in the pilot project, selected from volunteers, represented a diverse group of libraries: Argonne Nat'l Laboratory, California State Library, Cornell Univ., Georgia Inst. of Technology, Harvard Univ., Illinois State Library, Indiana Univ., Montgomery County Public Schools (Md.), Nassau County Library System (N.Y.), Nat'l Agricultural Library, Redstone Scientific Information Center, Rice Univ., State Univ. of New York Biomedical Comm. Network, Univ. of California Inst. of Library Research (Los Angeles), Univ. of Chicago, Univ. of Florida, Univ. of Missouri, Univ. of Toronto, Washington State Library, and Yale Univ.
12. H.D. Avram, "Implications of Project MARC," Library Automation: A State of the Art Review, Am. Library Assoc. (ALA), Chicago, 1969, p. 83. This publication contains papers presented at the Preconference Institute on Library Automation held at San Francisco, California, 22-24 June 1967.
13. H.D. Avram, The MARC Pilot Project, Final Report, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 1968, p. 8.
14. H.D. Avram, R.S. Freitag, and K.D. Guiles, A Proposed Format for a Standardized Machine-Readable Catalog Record; A Preliminary Draft, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., June 1965.
15. H.D. Avram, J.F. Knapp, and L.J. Rather, The MARC II Format: A Communications Format for Bibliographic Data, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., Jan. 1968.
16. In this article, the termMARCrefers to the continuously updated format that was originally called MARC II and is now called MARC 21. See also an explanatory paragraph about the changing name of the format in "The last decade" subsection.
17. Examples of such collaborations include the ALA Machine-Readable Catalog Format Committee that reviewed and approved MARC II prior to its release, and the ALA Standard Library Typewriter Keyboard Committee that helped develop the layout for the record input keyboard.
18. Am. Nat'l Standards Inst., American National Standard Format for Bibliographic Information Interchange on Magnetic Tape,New York, 1971 (ANSI Z39.2-1971). The standard has been reviewed and updated over the years and is now available asInformation Interchange Format(ANSI/NISO Z39.2-1994).
19. Int'l Organization for Standardization, Documentation—Format for Bibliographic Data Interchange on Magnetic Tape (ISO 2709:1973). The standard has been reviewed and updated over the years and is now available as Format for Information Interchange (ISO 2709:1996).
20. Interesting "at the time" discussions of the structure can be found in J.F. Knapp, "Design Considerations for the MARC Magnetic Tape Formats," Library Resources&Technical Services, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 275-284, and H.D. Avram, J.F. Knapp, and L.J. Rather,The MARC II Format: A Communications Format for Bibliographic Data, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., Jan. 1968.
21. It is remarkable that while the broader computer community had recently moved to a full set of Latin alphabetic characters, the MARC project was putting together the tools to implement a 56-character extension. The following article from 1968, the same year that ASCII was first standardized, describes the development process for the extended set and matches languages to characters: L.J. Rather, "Special Characters and Diacritical Marks Used in Roman Alphabets," Library Resources&Technical Services, vol. 12, no. 3, 1968, pp. 285-295.
22. Am. Nat'l Standards Inst., Extended Latin Alphabet Coded Character Set for Bibliographic Use (ANSEL), (ANSI Z39.47-R1998).
23. As an example of size, in early 2002, OCLC alone held more than 50,000,000 MARC records in its union catalog, and OCLC member libraries held an estimated 800,000,000 MARC records in their local catalogs.
24. The OCLC 100 Display, manufactured by Beehive Medical Electronics, was difficult to engineer but proved itself in use with the OCLC system into the 1980s. See F.G. Kilgour, "Computerized Library Networks," 2nd USA-Japan Computer Conf. Proc., Aug. 26-28, 1975, Tokyo, Japan, Am. Federation of Information Processing Societies, Montvale, N.J., 1975.
25. After several years of study and conversion test projects in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a task force concluded that a large-scale retrospective conversion project for the Library of Congress retrospective catalog should take place. Because of past years of copy cataloging from Library of Congress records, such a conversion would help libraries around the country in their conversions. However, funding was not found at the time. See the following: Recon Pilot Project; Final Report,Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 1972, for the report on a major study and Avram's MARC: Its History and Implications, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 1975, pp. 13-20, for a description of various investigations.
26. Unicode is a universal character encoding standard that includes all major scripts of the world. It is a single set able to encode more than a million characters (through fully specified single and multibyte encodings), without the use of control characters or special escapes to access additional characters as is necessary with conventional 7- and 8-bit sets. It is also synchronized with the ISO standard for the Universal Character Set, ISO 10646. Seehttp:/www.unicode.orgfor more information.
27. See .
28. S.H. McCallum, "Extending MARC for Bibliographic Control in the Web Environment: Challenges and Alternatives," Proc. Bicentennial Conf. Bibliographic Control for the New Millennium: Confronting the Challenges of Networked Resources and the Web, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 2001, pp. 245-261.
29. "British Library to Adopt MARC 21," The British Library, 2001. Available from the British Library Web site http:/
30. The current full MARC format document is MARC 21 Format for Bibliographic Data, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 1999 (with annual updates). A concise version of the format, other versions, and related documentation are available from the MARC 21 Web site:http://www.loc.govmarc/.

Sally H. McCallum, "MARC: Keystone for Library Automation," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 34-49, April-June 2002, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2002.1010068
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