I’m looking at incentives for making our serials holdings MARC standard compliant. MARC Holdings Format Data, pronounced “muffed” I’m told, isn’t supported very well within our ILS. MFHD is held within check-in records. It makes sense to a degree. One needs coverage ranges when checking in journals. The data is buried, however, in a place where most people using the ILS will not see it. Customers or staff. We would love to get it current, correct, and usable.
The biggest reason for standardizing is to make interlibrary loan work smoother. We get requests for “titles-not-owned” when OCLC indicates we own a journal but we don’t have a specific issue. This brings down our fulfillment rate. That makes us naughty players in the shared resources game. But what are the consequences of that? I’m not quite sure at the moment. Patrons beyond Caltech are important to us, absolutely. Yet they fall lower in our priority queue than Caltech faculty, staff, and students. When resources are limited we focus on projects with the biggest payoffs for our primary user group.
There are other good reasons for standardizing. Machines manipulate standardized data better. It’s a metadata truism. Let’s ignore the real-world issues with interoperability that have been demonstrated over the years. Those are really a result of human factors. We all know that standardized data is not truly standardized. See Naomi Dushay and Diane Hillmann’s excellent identification problems encountered in sharing Dublin Core records. But let’s live in an ideal world for a minute and say that we did get our data nice and clean and in a standardized format. All of a sudden we would have the means to re-use our data outside of our ILS. Theoretically at least. Much depends on the export capacity of our ILS.
It would be lovely if we could better automate maintenance of coverage ranges within our OpenURL resolver, for example. I’m sure there are more rationales for holdings standardization that I haven’t thought about. I’ve begun reviewing the literature. We can’t make a decision to do a large conversion project based on all of these feel-good reasons, however. The business case relies upon multiple factors: the state of our current data, the capacities of our ILS, the interoperability of our ILS and OCLC, and our staffing and budgetary resources. All of these need thorough analysis. So we’re holding on holdings at present while we gather information and ask hard questions. Ultimately it comes down to answering the question, will the payoff be worth the investment? Stay tuned.