The Library of Congress recently released the results of its analysis of the creation and distribution of bibliographic data in U.S. and Canadian libraries.
The Library commissioned R2 Consulting LLC to search and describe the current marketplace for cataloging records in the MARC format, with primary focus on the economics of current practices, including existing incentives and barriers to both contribution and availability.
Paired with the study online is a report of an internal working group indicating how recommendations from "On the Record: Report of the Library of Congress Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control" may be implemented at the Library. Both reports are available on the LC website here.
R2 summarizes its 10 findings concerning Library of Congress cataloging and how it supports bibliographic-description needs across the U.S. and Canada. Below are the first five findings from the R2 Study. This should make for an interesting read! Read the other findings and the full report here.
Library of Congress cataloging continues to be widely valued: Libraries, vendors, and cooperatives speak with their actions. There is heavy reliance on LC's output throughout all segments of the profession and industry. This is demonstrated by 500,000 searches per day against LC's Z39.50 servers and WebOPAC; by extensive re‐sale and re‐use of records distributed by the MARC Distribution Service (MDS); and by the variety and scale of use across all library sizes and types, and all vendor sizes and types. LC records are the cornerstone of the entire market. School and public libraries are especially reliant on them, but all market segments have built services on the foundation of inexpensive and easily obtainable LC records.
The Library of Congress subsidizes portions of the market: LC catalogs many titles that ultimately are not retained in its collections. As a result, LC bears significant costs from which it receives no direct benefit, for activity that is not explicitly in support of its core users. The 1902 law that governs distribution of its records deliberately excludes the cost of production from the pricing for those records. There is no revenue to offset those costs, other than the value of the free copies of the CIP books provided by publishers. The market relies to a surprising degree on LC's willingness to bear these costs and forgo this revenue. If LC were to redirect its catalogers' efforts solely to materials deemed necessary by its users, CIP production would diminish significantly. Other organizations would need to assume those costs. At present, libraries and vendors enjoy the largely unrecognized benefits of an LC subsidy.
LC records are significantly underpriced: Not only does LC bear a disproportionate share of the costs associated with producing records for titles it may not retain, the law governing its sale of those records allows only the cost of distribution (plus 10%) to be recouped. The cost of production is assumed to be part of LC's ongoing operations. Such low prices contribute to the impression that cataloging should cost less than it actually does.
Cataloging backlogs continue to grow in many areas and market segments: As outlined in the library survey responses, non‐Roman languages, maps, and DVDs pose particular problems. But to our surprise, many libraries are also losing ground on mainstream materials such as English‐language monographs.
There is adequate cataloging capacity in North America to meet the collective need: This finding surprised us, especially given the aging of the profession and imminent retirements. However, a conservative interpretation of survey data shown on pages 9‐10 strongly suggests that there are more than enough catalogers to handle everything. In the academic market alone, for instance, the survey indicates that more than 8,000 original catalogers are employed. If each original cataloger produced on average one record per work day (or 200 per year), that would indicate capacity for 1.6 million original records annually. Unfortunately, that capacity is not well distributed, disciplined, or coordinated, despite decades of experience with cooperative cataloging.