I have three major takeaways to share from the 2018 ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans. I’ll give the headline versions and then add more detail below, if you’re still interested:
1) As far as the Library of Congress is concerned, BIBFRAME is definitely going to replace MARC. Eventually.
2) A lot of libraries are adding URIs to their MARC bib records to make them more linked data-friendly. I’m not entirely convinced that this is a worthwhile practice. Yet.
3) Three ALA Divisions (ALCTS, LITA and LLAMA) may merge into a single division, and the executive boards of the three divisions would like to have a vote before their memberships by the 2019 ALA Midwinter Conference. If you’re a member of one of these three divisions, you might want to start reading the stuff located here: http://bit.ly/alctslitallama

Takeaway1) The Library of Congress has completed a second pilot project experimenting with creating new bibliographic records in BIBFRAME (BF), and have found that BF is scalable to large data operations. The success of the two pilot projects means that LC is now fully committed to BF as a replacement for MARC (they used to talk about “if and when” they would move to BF, it’s now “when” they move to BF). LC’s BF database does not include a public interface, and LC is waiting for a commercial vendor to make a BF-based public interface available. Librarians at the University of Alberta are experimenting with two tools to convert MARC to BF, and, so far, the tools are generally pretty good, but they each have their faults and all the converted records still need human intervention to clean them up. So BIBFRAME is coming eventually, but we don’t know when. Before I’m eligible to retire in 2034? Maybe!

Takeaway 2) I saw several sessions where people talked about adding URIs (Uniform Resources Identifiers—basically, fancy URLs) for personal identity information to their MARC records, in order to make their MARC records more linked data-friendly and to make it easier to convert MARC to BF down the line. However, no public catalogs are able to do anything with these URIs quite yet, and we don’t have any clear idea when BF might be in full production. During the conference I spoke with a colleague/friend from the University of Iowa who shared my concern that if everybody is adding URIs to their MARC records, that’s an awful lot of duplicated effort. Wouldn’t it make more sense to add the URIs to master records where everyone could download them all at once? Also, there are two types of URIs being added to MARC records, and I can’t quite grasp the difference between the two yet. URIs in subfield 0s link to records and data about the thing, while URIs in subfield 1s link to the Real World Object, which amounts to records and data about the thing. So, subfield 0 links to a record about the thing, and subfield 1 links to data about the thing which is organized in a record, and who’s on first? I dunno. Third base.

Takeaway 3) Early in the conference, the executive boards of three ALA Divisions, ALCTS (Association for Library Collections & Technical Services), LITA (Library & Information Technology Association) and LLAMA (Library Leadership & Management Association), approved a resolution to move forward with discussions about dissolving the three separate divisions and merging them into a single division. The boards plan to pursue an ambitious timeline and want to plan for votes on the merger by the memberships of the three divisions by the 2019 ALA Midwinter Conference, but many (perhaps most?) members of the three divisions don’t seem to have a clear idea of why this merger is necessary or how it will affect them. How this ambitious timeline can be met while also achieving the combined boards’ goal of having substantial buy-in from the members of the divisions is a riddle wrapped in an enigma and smothered in secret sauce. I attended an open joint meeting of the three boards on the final day of the conference and participated in some brainstorming about the merger, and the boards seemed to get the message that they need to start a substantial informational campaign about the merger to get their members to buy in. I’m just coming onto the ALCTS Organization & Bylaws Committee, and the idea was floated that we may have to work with LITA and LLAMA folks to draft a set of bylaws for the new division by Midwinter. If that winds up being our mission, should you hear the sound of gentle weeping and/or muttered cursing coming from my office, I beg you to leave me to my pain. If you’re interested, you can read more on the proposed merger here: bit.ly/alctslitallama

On the more fun side of my experience at the conference, I was lucky enough to attend the ceremony where our own Lauren Corbett was presented the Harrassowitz Leadership in Library Acquisitions Award. I also attended a small reception honoring Wanda Brown as the incoming President-Elect of ALA (I even suggested that she speak at our next Wanda K. Brown Staff Development Day, and she was into the idea!). And I got to see several former ZSR colleagues, including Lauren Pressley, Chelcie Rowell (and her husband Eric Brownell, who now works at the Harvard Astrophysics Library), Erik Mitchell (now University Librarian and the University of California-San Diego), and, for those of you who have been around a while, Jim Galbraith, who is now the Head of Collection Development at the University of Binghamton, and who got married a few weeks before the conference.