BL RIC logo 2.0 Retrospective Conversion: International Context

2.1 IFLA

Over the past two decades there has been considerable international interest in retrospective conversion. In 1990 a 'special issue' of the IFLA Journal (1990) was published devoted to the subject. It was edited by Philip Bryant, with the assistance of Marcelle Beaudiquez of the Bibliothèque nationale, Paris. The Editorial Committee decided to commit an entire issue to retrospective catalogue conversion, retrospective cataloguing and retrospective bibliography as they considered them 'topics of vital importance to the national and international library community'. The editors in their introduction quoted from a contribution written by Henriette Avram (1990) of the Library of Congress and one of the most distinguished names in the field of international bibliographic control: 'Complete conversion of our retrospective catalogs has become not so much an ideal as a necessity.'

In addition to articles examining the various issues associated with retrospective conversion, a dozen overseas case studies were included . The majority of these were from Europe, but one was from Peter Haddad (1990) of the National Library of Australia (NLA). He made the point that, despite an economic climate of financial restraints, Australian library administrators had given retroconversion projects a high priority. They saw them both as 'necessary prerequisites for the implementation of automated systems', and 'as investments in the future'. Haddad commented that a number of factors had combined to make the process easier for Australian libraries and he referred especially to the growth of the Australian Bibliographic Network (ABN) which had provided, since 1981, a rich source of machine readable catalogue records from a variety of national agencies, supplemented by original cataloguing input by ABN participants. With this one network dominant in Australia the potential existed for the quick distribution and sharing of records.

2.2 United States

When the proposal for the present study was being discussed it was suggested that, if possible, the US experience and the possibilities of linking a UK initiative into international programmes should be explored. In October 1994, Philip Bryant had the opportunity to visit Washington and meet with representatives of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), Council on Library Resources (CLR) and members of the Cataloguing Division of the Library of Congress. It was clear that the topic of retrospective conversion was a very 'live' one, and in the event of a national programme being set up for the UK, trans-Atlantic discussion of possible future cooperation would be welcomed. Certainly the Libraries Review had attracted considerable attention and a measure of 'envious' admiration. The problems of retrospective conversion of records for non-print library material were of particular concern.

In the US Henriette Avram stated that the problem 'is not that libraries have not been involved in retrospective conversion, or that a large resource of retrospective records does not exist. Instead the problems seem to be threefold: (1) the lack of sharing of the existing databases of retrospectively converted records; (2) the lack of a rigorous and systematic plan for future conversion efforts, and (3) the lack of clear and rigorous standards for the creation of records...'(Avram, 1990)

In 1986 the CLR began a focused effort to promote consideration of the future form of research libraries. Page 21 of the Council's Annual Report (1990) stated:

'During the past fifty years, research libraries have sought to respond to what have become essentially unconstrained interests of faculty and the ever-expanding agenda of higher education. Collections became global in coverage, the categories of publications acquired increased, and, still, user expectations have consistently kept ahead of collecting efforts. The sheer quantity of material has made self-sufficiency an unrealistic aspiration. In both collecting and building the bibliographic base, interdependence is now an acknowledged, but not necessarily fully embraced, principle.'

It was ten years earlier that one of the most significant US initiatives in relation to research library resources occurred. Congress established the Strengthening Research Library Resources Program through Title II-C of the Education Amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1965 (P.L. 94-482). Section 231 of the Act (20 USC 1041, 1965) notes that:

'the expansion in the scope of educational research programs and the rapid increase in the worldwide production of recorded knowledge have placed unprecedented demands upon major research libraries, requiring programs and services that strain the capabilities of cooperative action and are beyond the financial competence of individual or collective library budgets.'

The purpose of the Title II-C program was to promote research and education of higher quality throughout the United States by providing financial assistance to major research libraries. Two reports were published assessing and profiling the Program's impact. The first was a 'paper' commissioned from Abigail Studdiford (1982) for the US Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Office of Libraries and Learning Technologies, reviewing the first four years of funded projects. The second by Samuel Streit (1991) of Brown University was published by the ARL and was a '10 year profile and an assessment of the Program's effects upon the nation's scholarship'. The Streit publication reported that, in the twelve years since the first Title II-C grants were awarded in 1978, $70,000,000 had been distributed to the nation's research libraries; a large number of the grants being for pilot projects to develop systems and procedures subsequently utilised by other libraries. As with the UK's Non-formula Funding the money is allocated to more than retrospective cataloguing and conversion and covers three areas: bibliographic control and access, preservation, and collection development; however, it was bibliographic control and access which, in the period reviewed by the report, had attracted 73% of the total grant funds awarded. The main focus of the Program has been on providing access to printed books but grants have covered all types of material stocked by research libraries. It should be noted that the institutions have also included research libraries from the non-HE sector, e.g. Boston Public Library, and have covered a range of subjects from sciences to social sciences to humanities.

2.2.1 Streit Report's findings

  1. The Title II-C program has provided significant benefits to scholars throughout the United States through the increased ability of the nation's research libraries to acquire, preserve and make available materials in a range of formats across a wide spectrum of subject areas. Although statistical data concerning Title II-C grants has not been systematically collected, evidence of the program's impact can be gauged by examining the history of particular grant projects or focusing on the impact of Title II-C funding on a particular academic discipline.
  2. A large number of Title II-C projects are pilot projects, undertaken to develop systems and procedures which are subsequently utilized by other libraries. Scholars throughout the country reap the benefits of projects which have developed new methods of providing bibliographic access to material, preserving fragile resources, or enhancing collections of specialized research material.
  3. Title II-C projects have utilized a wide variety of library technologies, from the creation of machine readable cataloging records to the utilization of preservation techniques such as deacidification.
  4. Title II-C projects have focused not only on books but on materials in all formats; for example, government documents, manuscripts, sheet music, maps, photographs, playbills, oral history tapes, films and machine readable data files. The subject areas addressed through Title II-C have covered a range from sciences to social sciences to humanities.
  5. Eighty-six percent of total Title II-C funding between 1977 and 1988 has been devoted to projects which emphasize bibliographic access. Preservation grants accounted for forty-two percent, and collection development for eighteen percent of total grant funding. (The total is over 100 percent because many projects have included all three Title II-C program priorities, and are counted more than once. A typical project which encompassed all three areas might involve acquiring new material to strengthen a specific collection, preserving fragile and deteriorating items within that collection, and making bibliographic records for that collection available through a national or local database.)
  6. Bibliographic access projects benefit the scholarly and research community by enabling them to access the resources of libraries throughout the country. These projects have focused on creating original records or converting manually produced records to machine readable form, and those records are often contributed to OCLC and RLIN, the nation's principal automated bibliographic utilities. Without the stimulus of Title II-C projects and funding, many of these materials would not have been included in these national bibliographic databases due to both the size of the collections and cost of work entailed.
  7. Thirty-six grants for joint projects have been awarded through 1988. All but one of the joint projects have supported bibliographic access efforts. Forty-four institutions have participated in sixteen joint Title II-C projects through 1988. It is not uncommon for an institution to simultaneously receive an individual grant and participate in a joint project.
  8. The nation's larger research libraries have received a high percentage of funds, reflecting the authorizing legislation, the importance and significance of their collections, needs, and ability to successfully complete projects. Many of these institutions have served as the primary grantee for joint projects; consequently, the total amount of grant funds awarded to a specific institution may include funds distributed to other institutions. Several of these same institutions have received funds as joint participants in projects in which they were not the primary grantee.
  9. Large university libraries predominate as grantees, though smaller institutions consistently have received grants. Between 1978 and 1988, forty-one states and the District of Columbia benefited from the Title II-C program; only Arkansas, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Nevada, North and South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming have not received funds. New York, with fifty-two grants, received the largest number of awards, followed by Illinois (forty-four) and California (forty-three). Among the ten geographic regions into which the 1977 program regulations divided the nation, the mid-west region received the the highest number of grants, with a total of seventy, followed by the New York-Puerto Rico-Virgin Islands region with fifty-two and the California-Hawaii-American Samoa-Guam region with forty-seven.
  10. With a finite number of research libraries, there has understandably been a recurring number receiving Title II-C grants, although each year's list of awards has included a sizeable proportion of first-time grants. Just under one-third of the ninety-eight direct grantees and primary grantees for multi-institutional projects have received five or more grants since 1978. Twenty-six libraries have received only one grant.
  11. The average number of proposals submitted by institutions seeking Title II-C funding has increased with over ninety proposals submitted each year since 1984. The combination of the increasing number and the static level of federal funding for the Title II-C program, has resulted in a reduction of the average grant size. During the first four years of the program, grant size averaged $238,000; between 1985 and 1988, the average grant was $150,000.

2.3 Europe

Over the past decade there has been considerable activity in Europe regarding retrospective conversion

2.3.1 Plan of Action for Libraries in the EC

When the Plan of Action for Libraries in the EC (1987) was published it represented Europe's most significant initiative in relation to libraries to that date. Of the five Action Lines included in the Plan, Action Line 1: 'Library source data projects' had as its objectives:

Provision of funds for retrospective conversion of catalogues in individual libraries falls outside the terms of the Commission's remit, unless such projects help to address problems in special areas, the results of which can subsequently be used by other libraries.

In preparation for the Plan the European Commission set up a study (referred to briefly as LIB-2) to survey the existing situation relating to the application of information technology in the member states of the Community. The report of the UK's survey was compiled by the Library Association and the Library Technology Centre (now the Library and Information Technology Centre) and was published by the latter (1987). The BLRIC study did not cover the national libraries; however, although not dealing specifically with retrospective conversion, the LIB-2 study survey included a detailed description of them in a survey of the 35 main library catalogues in the UK.

2.3.2 Council of Europe Working Party on Retrospective Cataloguing

During 1988/1989 the Council of Europe Working Party on Retrospective Cataloguing was established and included as its UK representatives Philip Bryant, Derek Law and Peter Lewis (then Director General, British Library Bibliographic Services). The name of the Working Party was misleading as its primary focus was retrospective conversion. It formulated Recommendation - R(89)11 which was adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 19 September 1989. There was also a Technical Report which defined and expanded on the aims of retroconversion and discussing such matters as priorities, rights in records, and standards. Although no money could be made available from the Council of Europe, the Recommendation was widely welcomed as providing valuable guidance for the 'national authorities' which it addressed. The text was as follows:-

Recommendation on Retrospective Conversion of Library Catalogues to Machine-readable form (R(89)11 - adopted by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers on 19 September 1989
"To the Committee of Ministers, Considerata
  • referring to its Recommendation R (87) 11 of 26 May 1987 on cooperation among research libraries in Europe;
  • wishing to make the enormous data and treasure of European research libraries accessible to as many as possible and as quickly as possible;
  • considering that it is necessary for Europe to continue to maintain control of its own library systems in order to preserve and promote its cultural heritage;
  • considering the conversion of existing library catalogues to machine readable form to be a major prerequisite for making older as well as contemporary collections held by European research libraries more widely known;
  • stressing the need for economic and medium-term solutions to be found and noting that cooperation among European libraries, as broadly based as possible, can significantly reduce costs of retrospective catalogue conversion;
  • bearing in mind that even with cooperation, the costs of timely retrospective catalogue conversion remains considerably higher than can be met from the normal funding of libraries and library networks and that, therefore, particular funding from national and international resources may be necessary;

To national authorities
To apply the following principles in determining the allocation of funds for the conversion of library catalogues:

  1. the primary object of retrospective catalogue conversion is to increase access as widely as possible to the collections already catalogued;
  2. libraries should be encouraged and stimulated to the retrospective conversion of their catalogues through cooperation and by other means;
  3. in funding projects for retrospective catalogue conversion, priority should be given to the catalogues of those collections whether general or specialised which make the greatest contribution to the country's own cultural, scientific, educational, and information interests; but some consideration is also to be given to the catalogues of those collections which, by virtue of their subject or language, facilitate the study of, or relations with, other parts of the world;
  4. on the basis of reciprocity, converted catalogue records should be able to circulate unrestrictedly within and between library networks, without legal or contractual constraints on their use by other members of those networks;
  5. the common bibliographic data and formal rules to which converted catalogues conform should be the minimum required to enable the catalogue records to be consulted effectively and exchanged within and across national boundaries;
  6. costs of retrospective catalogue conversion should be kept within reasonable limits by taking advantage of existing and emerging computer and communication networks in Europe in order to allow as much use as possible of bibliographic data already existing in machine readable form in other catalogues and databases; this would imply common European planning of the different steps to be undertaken as well as reciprocity."