The Protean Challenge: Shifty/Shifting Standards

Even the most apparently rule-based standards and cataloguing systems are generally unstable in nature:

  • ESTC catalogues the changes in format of ballads and their titles differently
    • e.g. Titles for ballads showing multiple titles are sometimes separated out into different entries with unique ESTC numbers; other times the second or third title appears in the same entry in the Title field, or the Variant Title field, or the Notes field. (See ESTC Examples)
  • TEI markup evolves from P4 to P5
  • MARC 21 Format for Bibliographic Data is hard to apply to (electronic records of) broadside ballads
    • The Format (FMT) field is Books (BK), i.e., the designation for printed, electronic, manuscript, and microform textual material that is monographic in nature.
    • MARC Standards follow International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD) principles that may go against the grain of other standard practices of cataloguing ballads. E.g., Long ballad titles should be separated into subfields in which all of the title data following the first mark of punctuation is rendered in a 245 subfield |b - "Remainder of the title" (See Sample MARC record)
  • ICONCLASS hides behind its tree a myriad of subjective “leaves,” e.g. partial Iconclass Taxonomy
  • Meanwhile, advances in computerized image segmentation and recognition eliminate the necessity of metadata completely

This shiftiness, the apparent instability of these methods, is not the result of poor standards, but of the elusive nature of signification in general. (cf., Wilkins Taxonomy)