The cost of ambivalence

As noted earlier, I've been working with the Book Industry Study Group to study the development and use of metadata in the book industry supply chain. A research report is expected to be published next month.

Although everyone interviewed for the study continues to use ONIX 2.1, most supply-chain participants expect to move to ONIX 3.0 at some point. That makes the publication of an OCLC report, "A Crosswalk from ONIX Version 3.0 for Books to MARC 21", of particular interest.

The OCLC report is accompanied by a downloadable spreadsheet that spells out MARC equivalents for a range of product attributes that are part of ONIX 3.0. Both documents are worth a look, but the report is telling for its ambivalence about digital books and the best ways to describe them. It says in part:

"ONIX 3.0 permits much more detailed descriptions of digital products, but relatively few of the newly defined elements have a place in a MARC bibliographic record… There are two reasons for this discrepancy. First, many of the new elements describe availability and usage constraints that fall outside the scope of a bibliographic description. But more significantly, the library and publishing metadata communities express genuine uncertainty about how best to describe these materials."

There are bigger problems to solve than the crosswalk between ONIX 3.0 and a next generation of MARC, but the language is telling. The book supply chain is notably ambivalent about unique identifiers and the role of libraries in disseminating digital content. What we seldom see is the full impact of our actions, and inaction.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.