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Philip Schreur

In the 1960s, libraries created Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC), which lets computer users access and share bibliographic information in library catalogs. But outside the library, few organizations use MARC, making it very difficult for Web users to find information about library listings.

Now, Philip Schreur, along with his colleagues at various esteemed universities and organizations across the country, wants to transform MARC to communicate with the broader online world.

“The Web doesn’t understand the language that the library uses,” said Schreur, an assistant university librarian for technical and access services at Stanford University. “They’re not communicating. What we — what libraries — are trying to do is to recode data in the language of Web.”

Librarians understand the size of this problem and began to harness their intellectual strengths. Led by Stanford, the nation’s elite — Harvard, Cornell, Columbia, Princeton, the Library of Congress — are lining up to make libraries work with the Web. The Mellon Foundation also got involved and provided $3 million in grants.

“There have been a lot of individual experiments with link data and library data — and that’s really what we’re talking about, getting library data to link — but they’ve been isolated,” said Schreur, who has played a key role in adapting MARC’s language for the Web. “This can’t be a special project here and there. To solve this issue, it will take consistent, day-to-day collaboration.”

Schreur also realizes the stakes. The Web isn’t conforming to library language. “If we want to survive we need to adapt,” he said. “Libraries are the only institutions that use this language, and while the data is very well articulated, and works extremely well for faculty and post-graduates, for example, we need to integrate.” —Tim Douglas