(Note. The relevant table, appendix or section numbers are given in parentheses.)
The majority of the 50,000,000 titles awaiting conversion in the libraries surveyed in the two studies is for specialist material. This material is of incalculable value for research and scholarship and may be considered as representing the stock of at least 70 major research libraries. Its worth as a capital asset for the nation can only be guessed25 per cent of the titles are in 'special collections'.
(FIGIT Table 32, BLRIC Table 4)
The range and depth of the 12,000,000 printed items in special collections and specialist libraries for which catalogue records still need to be converted is considerable. Some examples taken at random from both studies (excluding items such as incunabula and early printed books) illustrate something of the range: carpets, Cooperative movement, Egyptology, film and photography, folksong, herbals, Homer, Joseph Priestley, juvenilia, linguistics, palaeography, palaeontology, printing and publishing,railway studies, Russian studies, Unitarianism, vaccination, veterinary science, war poetry, women's welfare.
The UK's public libraries have particularly important local history collections constituting more than 40 per cent of the over 6,000,000 titles in their special collections. Three quarters of the catalogue records for these local collections still remain to be converted and there are also unconverted records for many non-print items and much uncatalogued printed material. It is clear from discussion at the seminar held at the British Academy that the non-print items in local collections were considered of particular importance and that retrospective conversion programmes of local collections should include all categories of material.
Although the majority of catalogue records in HE institutions and public libraries are in machine readable form, most of these records have been produced as a result of cataloguing current accessions. The greater part of this work, and also the retrospective conversion which has been undertaken, has been funded internally. The retrospective conversion has been undertaken in a piecemeal way over the past three decades. The early computer handling of bibliographic records was very unsophisticated and although many libraries endeavour to meet generally accepted standards many have been either unable, or unwilling, to make the investment to meet accepted standards for the efficient sharing of records.
(FIGIT Tables 4,10 and 11 , BLRIC Tables 3, 28 and 31)
In the BLRIC study 36 of the libraries surveyed with current retroconversion programs are not only having to convert records from manual forms of catalogue, but also having to upgrade their existing machine readable records.
(BLRIC Table 13)
The majority of those libraries which are converting, or planning to convert, their records make use of a bibliographic utility. Many, of course, are deriving their records from a number of sources as well as creating their own records. It is a matter of concern that a lack of a common approach to standards is so evident from the results
(FIGIT Tables 12 to 14 and BLRIC Tables 21 to 23)
The number of libraries using 'in-house' and external formats other than MARC, and 'in-house' levels of bibliographic description other than AACR2, illustrates clearly the requirement for a national approach to the problem of retrospective conversion if the most efficient and effective benefits are to be derived from investment made.
The ESTC is a first class model of how to provide a centralised approach to the problem of producing high quality records for the good of all and in which all libraries can share. It provides a means whereby libraries with rare books and items from the hand-press period may contribute records, even if they do not yet possess OPACs. Machine readable records are created of the highest standard for the benefit of the whole community and can be available to the non-computerised library if or when an OPAC is installed.
(FIGIT Tables 10 and 11 and BLRIC Tables 28 to 32)
There is a number of sets of guidelines to help librarian define the precise aims of their projects; to identify the problems; to consider the range of options open to them. The major bibliographic record supply agencies will give good advice and in at least one instance a clear set of guidelines is published. Two sets have been published independent of any commercial interest (Library and Information Technology Centre, 1994 and LIBER Library Automation Working Group, 1990).
The FIGIT and BLRIC studies showed that there is either ignorance about, or a reluctance to use, any of these guidelines. Of 156 libraries responding in both studies to questions relating to the use of published guidelines, only 19 libraries indicated use, or intention to use.
A frustration often faced by users of academic and research libraries is that they cannot search in just one place - the online catalogue - to gain knowledge of what is in their own library's stock, but have to consult another form of catalogue - sometimes several. These other catalogues are not always as accessible as they should be, sometimes being housed out of the immediate public gaze. An extreme example is a major university research library where users can find themselves consulting up to eight files in all five physical forms plus the online version. It is not surprising therefore that, given the rapid development of online catalogues, users and librarians alike are wanting to have data on their own library's stock available in just one place and are becoming increasingly concerned about catalogue records which have not been converted to machine readable form.
(FIGIT Q6 and BLRIC Tables 6 and 7)
One of the major problems for many libraries is not only lack of money, but lack of the expertise required to meet the above-mentioned standards and to be able to manage the logistics of any programme which is established. (See also Appendix A, Section 2.0 Presentation 4). In the BLRIC study 156 libraries which were not undertaking, or planning to undertake, retrospective conversion would do so if the resources and/or expertise could be made available. 36% (56) of these were public libraries, but it is interesting to note that 18% (28) learned and professional society libraries, which have such a wealth of material, replied positively to this question.
(BLRIC Table 34)
Proper calculation of costs and consistent use of terminology in order that meaningful comparisons can be made between libraries have not been the profession's strongest features in the past. It does require a great deal of investment of effort and most libraries in the BLRIC study were unable, or unwilling, to produce estimates e.g only 24 libraries out of 100 planning retrospective conversion gave a figure, sometimes unrealistic, and therefore no tables have been produced. In the FIGIT study cost was a primary focus of the project. It is reasonable to accept that the FIGIT costings are applicable across the other sectors.
(Section 3.3.5 and ANNEXE 1)
The great majority of libraries appear to allow reasonable access to their collections. Only 16 (5%) out of the 322 responded that access was not provided at all, or only under exceptional circumstances. A somewhat larger proportion of libraries 45 (14%) said that they did not provide items or photocopies, microfiches, etc. through the inter-library loan system. Libraries receiving public money to support retrospective conversion projects will have to recognise that they have both an obligation to provide reasonable access to their collections, or at least to provide surrogates of items. They must also not discard or remove items from stock which have had records converted as a result of the projects.
(BLRIC Tables 35 and 36)
The records created as a result of these retrospective conversion projects must be accessible both for reference and also as records for use in other library catalogues.
The BLRIC Tables for those libraries converting, or planning, to convert their records demonstrate no surprises, although it is interesting to note that, compared to a few years ago, the majority of records will be made available for consultation or downloading 'by direct access' across the network rather than being mounted on the database of a bibliographic utility.
Nine university libraries and ten public libraries account for nearly half of the records which need conversion in their respective sectors. Investment in the retrospective conversion of records in these libraries could yield major benefits for many smaller libraries, which could either download records for use in their own catalogues if they possess the same titles, or, if not, they would have a greatly improved source of reference.
(BLRIC Table 38 and Section 3.2)
In the BLRIC study, the responses to the 'supplementary' questions which related to these items show clearly the huge nature of the problems which will have to be addressed in due course. The figures given by libraries often had to be quite 'wild' estimates, nevertheless the great majority of the never catalogued material is non-print. Of 13,000,000 items never catalogued items 12,000,000 were non-print.
(BLRIC Tables 41-47)