Vendor Interview -- Polaris

This week our interview is with Polaris Library Systems, producers of the Polaris Integrated Library System, which is used by public libraries, academic libraries, and consortia throughout the U.S. and Canada. Responses were provided by Jeanne Otten, Product Analyst for Cataloging and Public Catalogs.

Question 1: Is your cataloging system current with MARC 21 updates 9, 10, and 11, which made changes to MARC to accommodate RDA? If not, do you plan to update, and do you have a timeline for updating? Have you made the changes for both bibliographic and authority records?

JO: Polaris version 4.0 contains all the changes to the MARC 21 bibliographic and authority formats that were made to accommodate RDA, including MARC Updates 9 through 12. Customers that are not yet on version 4.0 can contact their Polaris site manager to arrange to have the updates added to their installations.

Polaris customers can enter the new fields into cataloging records on the bibliographic and authority record workforms, use them in templates, and receive the new fields in imported records or in records obtained through Z39.50.

Question 2: Are your system's displays (public facing and admin) capable of displaying the new RDA fields added to MARC? Are any future changes planned? If so, can you share a timeline?

JO: The new fields appear in bibliographic and authority record displays in the Polaris staff client. They do not appear in the public access catalog (except in the librarian’s view). In the upcoming version (Polaris 4.1, currently targeted for general release in the first quarter of 2012), customers will be able to select the fields for display in the public access catalog, at their discretion.

Question 3: Please describe your system's search interface (including its indexing, filtering, and faceting functions), and how it handles the new RDA fields. Are any future changes planned? If so, can you share a timeline?

JO: We have not yet incorporated the new RDA fields into indexing, filtering or faceting. Polaris uses values in the leader and fixed fields to support filtering and faceting by material type. We are studying the 336/337/338 fields to determine how they might affect our current algorithms, in both a MARC and post-MARC environment. Our initial conclusion is that the controlled vocabularies for those fields, as they are currently specified in RDA, are probably not sufficient to give our customers the granularity they want. We have not done significant research on the implications of using a locally-defined controlled vocabulary to populate the 336/337/338 fields. The idea is tempting, but we are unlikely to pursue it at this time.

Question 4: Does your system support cataloging in encodings other than MARC? If so, have you made any changes to these encodings in order to support RDA? Are any future changes planned? If so, can you share a timeline?

JO: Polaris generally does not support encoding methods other than MARC, except when exporting records or using Fusion (Polaris’ digital content manager). The RDA fields are supported in the non-MARC encodings.

Question 5: Libraries are likely to be in a mixed records environment for some time. Do you have any plans to discontinue support to AACR2 records in the foreseeable future?

JO: No, we do not have plans to discontinue support for AACR2 records in the foreseeable future.

Question 6: Do you have any display, search, or other concerns about using your system in a mixed record environment where AACR2 and RDA records are co-mingled in the catalog?

JO: We don’t have any serious concerns about mixing AACR2 and RDA records in a single catalog, if both types of records are encoded as what we consider to be traditional “bibliographic” records (in the MARC sense and as the majority of records were encoded during the RDA test period).

We recognize that fitting RDA cataloging content into the MARC bibliographic record structure is not an ideal implementation of RDA as it was envisioned. But now that the U.S. national libraries have postponed implementation of RDA and made its eventual implementation conditional on a substantial body of work involving multiple groups of people, we expect this state of affairs will be the norm, at least in production environments, for some time to come.

Question 7: RDA has an increased focus on record-to-record relationships based on FRBR and adopted the Work-Expression-Manifestation-Item structure. Does your system currently take advantage of this new data and structure to improve the user experience in any way? Are any future user experience improvements based on this data planned? If so, can you share a timeline?

JO: Polaris currently offers, and has offered for some time, a FRBR display of browse search results, based on a proprietary algorithm. We have plans to research ways to extend that algorithm, possibly including methods for incorporating the RDA fields, but don’t expect to get to it until 2012.

We have not done any significant development to generate FRBR displays based on the work/expression/manifestation/item model as it is encoded in RDA.

Question 8: Some have said that the benefits of RDA cannot be fully realized while MARC remains the dominant encoding standard. If RDA is adopted, how viable do you think MARC will be going forward? What sort of issues would a move away from MARC raise for your product(s)?

JO: MARC as a tool for data exchange is essential to Polaris libraries and the way they currently do business (with the Polaris ILS, resource sharing initiatives and materials suppliers). If MARC, even with all its bumps and warts, were to cease to be the industry standard for record exchange, significant retooling of the Polaris product would be required to allow libraries to build their collections and populate their catalogs.

We do not believe MARC is incapable of supporting a full realization of RDA and FRBR, but to do so effectively would require significant retooling of MARC itself. The Bibliographic Framework Transition Initiative seems primed to address this difficult issue, and we will be watching its work with great interest.