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Making Sense of MARC Records

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PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 2016

by Linda Carlson, IBPA Independent staff reporter


Photo of Linda Carlson

Linda Carlson

Here is a crash course on Machine-Readable Cataloging records—and why they matter

What are MARC records? How important are they in making sales to libraries? How can they be acquired? These are the questions posed by IBPA member Tordis Isselhardt, publisher at Vermont-based Images from the Past. IBPA has answers.

MARC stands for a Machine-Readable Cataloging record, the bibliographic information about a title that appears on a library catalog card and, if the publisher participates in the Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication (CIP) program, on the verso (reverse side) of a book’s title page. Publishers not eligible for CIP program membership can acquire a MARC record through a Publishers Cataloging-in-Publication (PCIP) program.

The Library of Congress’ “What Is a MARC Record, and Why Is It Important,” article provides an example of the information included: author, title, edition number, publisher name and location, number of pages and illustrations, brief summary, topic from Library of Congress subject headings, call number, and price.

“MARC records are typically constructed by professional librarians at libraries and major library suppliers such as Ingram or Baker & Taylor,” explains Tom Horne, who heads Technical and Collection Services at Seattle Public Library, ranked by the American Library Association as one of the country’s 25 largest systems. “The records are then shared in the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) database and libraries that are OCLC members can use the record should they acquire the title. When a library acquires a book that has already been cataloged and a MARC uploaded to OCLC, the library only needs to download the record into its local system, which takes less time than creating the MARC locally.”

“MARC records create efficiencies in library workflows,” says Cynthia Whitacre, manager at WorldCat Quality, OCLC. “If a MARC record isn’t available for some items, those items will have to wait to be cataloged before they can get out to the public. So delivery of MARC records with these books is helpful—not necessary, but helpful.”

The OCLC’s WorldCat website shows more than 8,500 U.S. public libraries that contribute to the database; in addition, there are 4,200 academic libraries and more than 21,000 school libraries in the United States contributing data. Libraries can acquire MARC records from the nonprofit OCLC at what Whitacre calls “an affordable subscription fee,” based on such factors as library size, the services it offers, and the size and type of the library’s service area. Sky River, a for-profit vendor, charges libraries annual subscriptions starting at $6,500 for the very small institutions.

To see which libraries own titles you have published, go to worldcat.org and search by book title or author. To see how many of a publisher’s titles have been purchased by participating libraries, use the text string “PB: [press name]” in the WorldCat search box. (See “Index labels and examples of an expert search in WorldCat,” for text string options for searches by author and other data.

To determine which libraries can obtain MARC records via the OCLC database, search “Directory of OCLC Members,”. To include all participating libraries, do not check the “Show only OCLC Members” box.


Importance of MARC Records in Library Sales

Horne emphasizes that libraries can and do acquire titles that lack MARC records. “In fact,” he says, “the function of a library’s cataloging department is to create MARC records and then usually share them in the OCLC database for other libraries to use.”

Tom Doherty, president of the Indianapolis-based distributor Cardinal Publishers Group, is among the IBPA members who have no difficulty selling books without MARC records or CIP to libraries.

Horne points out that some libraries may be reluctant to create MARC records. “This would particularly be true for books where there is not a great likelihood of the title being a big circulating item. In that sense, the MARC is not the deciding issue; acquisition necessarily depends on the library’s collection development plan and policy, anticipated level of demand, effectiveness of expression, available funds, and so on.”

Some very small libraries may be among those that prefer to buy titles with existing MARC records. However, a growing number of such libraries now belong to consortia that do have the resources to create MARC records, says Whitacre of the OCLC. The increase in consortia membership was also reported in the most recent Library Journal survey of e-book usage.

Any publisher that wholesales to libraries through Baker & Taylor (and thus will have provided at least such basic metadata as title, author, and ISBN) will have MARC records created for any title that lacks one, at Baker & Taylor’s expense, confirms corporate marketing director Whitney Grones Bretzman.

Publishers that do not work with wholesalers or distributors can often get MARC records created for their titles by donating copies to local libraries and requesting that those libraries create the records and upload them to the OCLC database, suggests Whitacre.

For titles that are not reviewed in the publications most valuable to librarians (for example, Library Journal, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Shelf Awareness, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Horn Book, and the New York Times), librarians say that the best way for small publishers to make library sales is to create demand. “Patron requests” was one of the most important reasons that libraries cited for purchases of both print and e-books in a 2014 survey (“Getting E-books into Libraries: What Librarians Want and Vendors Offer,” February 2015 Independent). Responses were similar in the 2015 survey. What is especially significant about the importance of patron demand in the 2015 survey is that almost all participating librarians were from small institutions, many of them the single-branch libraries that might be expected to prefer titles with existing MARC records.


Cataloging-in-Publication Program Membership

Publishers with several titles that have broad appeal to libraries are eligible for CIP program membership, which is described in detail on a Library of Congress web page, loc.gov/publish/cip/about/membership.html.

For smaller publishers, the most important requirements of the CIP program are:

  • Before applying, a publisher must have published at least three titles by three different authors and each must have been “widely acquired” by U.S. libraries. “Widely acquired” is defined by Schamell Padgett, CIP Publisher Liaison Team leader, as “close to 1,000.” This could mean several hundred libraries own one title, and several hundred libraries own other titles; it does not mean that 1,000 libraries have to have purchased each of a publisher’s titles.
  • Self-publishers are not eligible.
  • Fee-for-service publishers (e.g., subsidy publishers) are not eligible.

Because self-published titles are not eligible, those publishing only through such companies as CreateSpace, AuthorHouse, Lulu.com, LightningSource, and IngramSpark cannot participate in CIP. Publishers who are already participating in CIP can obtain MARC records for titles being produced by digital printers (for example, LightningSource and IngramSpark, as well as the digital press runs now offered by such traditional book manufacturers as Edwards Brothers Malloy).


Preassigned Control Number Program

If you have a forthcoming title that will not have CIP data, it may be eligible for a Preassigned Control Number. Provided by the Library of Congress, the PCN is described in detail at loc.gov/publish/pcn/about/scope.html. The most important requirements, besides the title having broad appeal for libraries:

  • Not yet published
  • Print format (The print editions of e-books may be eligible)
  • Hardback or trade paperback format (mass market paperbacks and “consumable materials”—e.g., workbooks and other books to be written in, cut out, or folded are ineligible)

Some—but not all—titles that receive PCNs will have MARC records created by the Library of Congress. The library warns that such cataloging is not automatic: “If the book is selected for retention in the Library’s collections (by its own collection librarians), then a bibliographic record will be created and this record will appear in the Library’s online catalog. If the book is not selected for retention, the Library will not create a catalog record for the book.”


Publishers Cataloging-in-Publication Records

Presses ineligible for Library of Congress-created MARC records can get that bibliographic information about their titles uploaded to the OCLC’s WorldCat database (worldcat.org) via a vendor’s Publishers Cataloging-in-Publication records. Some vendors also upload to a newer database, Sky River (iii.com/products/skyriver). Vendor fees range from $80 to $150. The PCIP data can also be printed in the book. The vendors recommended by the OCLC are:

Quality Books reserves the right to reject an application for PCIP. “The primary reason [for rejection] would be language,” explains Bryan Baldus, the company’s senior cataloger. “We primarily deal with English-language materials, but we selectively accept applications for works in Spanish and French, usually where there is an existing English version, or where the documentation supporting the application [is] in English.”

Format is another reason Quality Books might reject an application: “We accept music scores and other non-print materials on a rare, case-by-case basis,” says Baldus.

The Donohue Group accepts print and other formats, including e-book and streaming media files, says Pat McCurdy-Crescimanno, the company’s business development manager. Cassidy Cataloging also processes all titles intended for library use; it first provides the publisher with the PCIP data block for the verso page and then recodes the data into MARC format for uploading to OCLC and Sky River, says Paula Perry, chief catalog librarian.


Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com) has written for every issue of the Independent since 2005. This is her final article. Her posts on general small business marketing issues appear on her LinkedIn page.

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