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Ten years ago, the libraries contributing to the UC union catalog, later to be known as the MELVYL catalog database, were divided into two distinct camps: users of RLG's RLIN system and users of Ohio's OCLC system. The busy folks at DLA thought that there was no greater busyness than keeping track of these two diverse systems. It is just as well that we did not know what the future had in store for us, that one day every library could have its own local library system, and that each of these systems would contribute independently to the union catalog. There have been many changes in the input to the union catalog; each one was a new challenge, and each has opened up positive avenues in our journey toward shared bibliographic information.
THE DEMISE OF THE CARD CATALOG
The 1980s saw the end of the card catalog as a public access tool. The first years of database building in the early 1980s were characterized by the care and upkeep of elaborate "card profiles" for each contributing library. The first tapes of MARC records that we received could really be viewed as a byproduct of the utility's card printing. At that time not many people had any use for the machine-readable MARC record. While these card profiles had a limited set of options for library input, libraries found ways to overcome any perceived inadequacies in the card print schema. OCLC users were especially creative in devising ways to make the OCLC card print program turn out such curiosities as underlined notes and neat place holders for data that would be later written in by hand. Left-hand card margins were filled down to the last character position, and the proper input of call numbers in either OCLC or RLIN was an art form mastered by only a few people in each catalog department. Accomplishing all this required some bending of the utilities' MARC records, co-opting otherwise standard fields for nonstandard uses.
As part of maintaining a union catalog, it was our responsibility to corral all of these bits of data into a form that would convey information uniformly in the online system. Where different UC libraries had selected different fields for essentially the same information ("Latest copy in ...," "oversize"), these notes had to be identified and moved to the same field in all union catalog records for online display. Programs for processing records at DLA not only had to know every location code and whether their display constants had changed over the years, but that there were anywhere from one to four places to look for a note beginning "Library Has:" in any given record. …