ALA Midwinter 2006

A brief update to MARBI about
German and Austrian libraries moving to MARC 21

Reinhold Heuvelmann
German National Library
Office for Data Formats

Update on bibliographic data formats in the MAB community of Germany and Austria

History: Status quo, discussion, and decision

Since the beginning of IT in libraries we have had bibliographic data formats, and since the early 70s Germany and Austria have used MAB as a standard for exchange of bibliographic data. MAB stands for "Maschinelles Austauschformat für Bibliotheken"= machine-readable exchange format for libraries. MAB is loosely based on ISO 2709. It has a close relationship to cataloging codes RAK ("Regeln für die Alphabetische Katalogisierung" = code for descriptive cataloging) and RSWK ("Regeln für den Schlagwortkatalog" = code for subject headings). MAB is maintained by Die Deutsche Bibliothek with a national "Expertengruppe Datenformate" ("Expert Group for Data Formats", formerly "MAB-Ausschuss").

[for more information of cataloging rule development at the Deutsche Bibliothek, see]

During the last few years MAB itself has undergone a process of internationalization in relationship to various other standards, including Unicode, FRBR, MABxml. In 2001 we began a long and sometimes hot discussion about abandoning the national standards RAK and MAB and moving to AACR2 and MARC 21. During 2002 - 2004 we carried out a feasibility study and analysis of AACR and MARC 21; then made a decision in December 2004: MARC 21 instead of MAB. This work is financially supported by the German Research Foundation "DFG" and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Aims and reasons

The decision for MARC 21 was based on the following points:

Difficulties and risks

In making this shift we realized that:

Parts, steps and methods

There are a number of parts, steps and methods for getting to the goal. They include the following.

  1. Learn about MARC 21, training
  2. Analyze the conditions under which MAB is used, "Use cases"
  3. Analyze MARC 21 support for:
  4. Central element: complete and obligatory mapping from MAB to MARC 21, will be done on a freelance basis
  5. Based on the mapping:
  6. Translation of MARC 21 into German, based on the Swiss work
  7. Coded character sets: can be done almost independently. ISO 646 + ISO 5426 (as UNIMARC), and MAB disk (IBM Codepage 850) mappings to MARC-8
  8. Analyze applications and implementations
  9. Marketing, informing the community, vendors

Our website:

Steps already done, and next steps

On the level of the standard itself we are planning to have the preparations done in the beginning of 2007. From then on the German and Austrian libraries and their institutions will have to do the steps of moving to MARC 21.

Conclusion: What do we name the project?

"Formatumstieg" ?
"Umstieg auf MARC 21", literally "Change for MARC 21" ?
not just a "Harmonization" or an "Alignement" ?
not only "Moving to MARC 21" ?
"Transition to MARC 21" ?
"Switching to MARC 21" ?
"Meta-Exchange"? i.e. "Exchange of the exchange format"

... proposals welcome ...

... go to other ALA Midwinter 2006 reports ...