Iowa Library Service Areas
What is a MARC record?
MAchine Readable Cataloging-a standard format for bibliographic records. (A catalog card is an example of a bibliographic record.)
Translation: the information about a book or other item, in the same form as that used by everyone else cataloging books, so computers can read the record. This standardized format means that any system which is MARC-compatible can read and interpret the information in exactly the same way, no matter which system was used to create the MARC record, or which system is reading the record. (Most library automation systems are MARC-based--don't buy one that isn't.)
MARC records have pieces of information "tagged," or labeled in such a way that the software reading them knows exactly what kind of information it's looking for, or looking at. For example, we know John Grisham as an author; the MARC record tags John Grisham as 100 (or main entry--personal name field); what we call a title is MARC's 245. The MARC tag is also used by the computer software to locate the piece of information within the bibliographic record. This system allows computers to work with the information more efficiently.
The good news is that catalogers don't have to know exactly how the computer finds the information but they do need to know where to put the information, and how to tag it, so that the computer can do its job.
A MARC record is a precise description of an item, which makes it more useful in automated systems and shared catalog systems such as the Locator.
It allows any system to use the same record--so, no matter what automated system you choose, the MARC record can be read by the system, and it will know exactly how and where to find the author and the title, etc.
It allows the records of many different libraries to come together in a union catalog, such as the Locator. The Locator can read the record and search it, whether the record is from a library in which a professional cataloger uses OCLC to catalog or a small public library in which the person who catalogs is also the director, children's librarian and plumber!
At the same time that it provides standard format, it allows for flexibility for individual libraries--you can add your own holdings information, call number, notations, etc.
1. It makes and keeps your local database clean and accurate.
2. It makes SILO Locator easier to use:
"Brief or incomplete MARC records (i.e., containing only author and title), or those that identify the format incorrectly, do not contain the data necessary to merge. The Iowa Locator can quickly become overpopulated with these unmerged records, making the database more difficult to use." Iowa Locator MARC Record Input Guidelines, 1995.
Minimum guidelines have been established for records submitted to the Iowa Locator. Meeting these minimal requirements does not mean you are doing complete MARC cataloging; the minimum fields required for the Locator are adequate, but minimal. (See the Guidelines for list of the fields required.) Good cataloging requires not only correct use of MARC and minimum number of fields, but also knowledge of AACR2 (the guidelines for how you describe the item-how you do the publisher or place of publication, how you do the author's name, etc.) and subject headings.
MARC record terminology can be as confusing as any jargon. Here are a few terms you will hear in relation to MARC records:
245 14 $aThe MARC record: $bwhat and why?
field tag indicators subfield delimiter subfield indicator
A field is a piece of information about a book or other item you are cataloging. The title is a field for example, as is a subject heading or the publication information. These fields are designated with tags, or numbers that indicate the type of information in the field. The tag 260, for example, contains the imprint or publication information (place of publication, publisher, date).
A subfield is a piece of a piece of information! In the 260, or imprint/publication field, the place of publication is one subfield (subfield "a"), the publisher is another subfield (subfield "b"), and the date of publication is yet another subfield (subfield "c"). So, when someone--or the computer--says 260b, it refers to the b subfield of the 260 field, or the publisher of the item.
A subfield delimiter is a character used in a MARC record to "alert" the computer that the next characters in the record are going to belong to a new subfield, and it should look for the subfield code. (It makes sense to the computer, even if it seems unnecessary to us!)
Indicators are used in some fields to give special information about what appears in that field. Most fields have the POSSIBILITY of 2 indicators, but not all fields' indicators are used. (Are you confused yet??) An important one, and one that is sometimes missed by catalogers, is the second indicator of the 245 field. This number tells the computer how many characters to skip when it is alphabetizing by title. This is to take care of the problem of titles that begin with "a," "an," or "the"--you don't want the software to alphabetize by these articles. So, the indicator tells the computer how many to skip. If the title begins with "A," the indicator will be 2 (skip the A and the space after it); if the title begins with "An" the indicator will be 3; if the title begins with "The" the indicator will be 4.
Can the Locator find, say, only large print editions of
Here are some important components of a MARC record, as they relate to the SILO Locator and its future usefulness to you. If you are cataloging "from scratch," your cataloging software will help you to locate and use most of the following (all except the Locator code and call number--those are standard locations for Iowa libraries).
You CAN do MARC cataloging from scratch, but I don't recommend it, unless you can't get the records from elsewhere (or, perhaps, you are a professional cataloger .)
Options for buying/getting MARC records:
1. Order them from your book jobber/vendor when you order the books;
(Check with your Library Service Area for more information about obtaining MARC records.)
So, if I can buy MARC records, why do I have to know
anything about MARC cataloging?
And, you will want to have a basic understanding of the parts of a MARC record when you start to think about automating. When the vendor asks you which field and subfield your local call # is in, you will need to be able to tell them. You may be asked which fields you want to have searchable in keyword searching; will you know what they mean when they say 6XX?
Here are 3 "views" of a MARC record--what the computer sees (not very readable to humans!), the same record formatted for human eyes to read (the cataloging software has added tag numbers, and names of fields, and formatted it in separate lines so the average human eye can read it), and as the record would appear if printed on a catalog card. (Note: this is a record from the Library of Congress; it exceeds the minimum cataloging required for the SILO Locator.)
MARC record as a computer sees it (although it reads it in one continuous stream, without the line breaks):
00817pam 2200277 a
As formatted by cataloging software: (The "$" is a representation of a subfield delimiter, which alerts the computer that what follows is a new subfield. The subfield delimiter character does not "translate" into a printable keyboard character. The $ characters do not actually appear as such in a MARC record. Various cataloging software packages may use a different character to represent the subfield delimiter.)
A main entry catalog card for this record:
Myss, Caroline M.
--Karen Burns, SW Iowa Regional Library 3/99
Questions? Contact your Library Service Area.
Since January 2, 2003