Iowa Library Service Areas

MARC Records
Frequently Asked Questions

What is a MARC record?
What's the big deal?  Why is it important?
Why are complete, correct MARC records important to my library users?
How complete do MARC records have to be in order to be on the Iowa Locator?
Terminology: What is a subfield delimiter?
Can the Locator find, say, only large print editions of a title?
Where do I get MARC records?
If I can buy MARC records, why do I have to know anything about MARC cataloging?
What does a MARC record look like?

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.

What's the big deal? Why is it important?

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.

Why are complete, correct MARC records important to my library users?

1. It makes and keeps your local database clean and accurate.

2. It makes SILO Locator easier to use:

  • reduces duplicate records, so you won't see so many instances of the same title as many separate records;
  • makes record merges more accurate, so large print editions don't get merged, or mixed, with regular print editions of books, or books with audiotapes;
  • increases database searching success--the better (more complete) everyone's cataloging is, the better the chance that you will be able to find ALL the relevant records when you search the Locator;
  • increases interlibrary loan success--not only can you find the book you're looking for, the record will be accurate so that you'll actually get the book you think you're getting, not another edition or a regular print when you want large print, etc.

How complete do MARC records have to be in order to be on the Iowa Locator?

"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.

Terminology:  What is a subfield delimiter? Or, a subfield, for that matter?

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 a title? 
At this point, the main reason the Locator cannot do this is  the Z39.50 client software used by SILO; when new versions of the software are out it will be possible to do this kind of sort.  HOWEVER, that is only one factor; the other major factor is the cataloging of the records that are read and manipulated by the software.   It will look in particular places for codes for such things as large print and, if the cataloger has not put that code in the correct place, the Locator will still not be able to use it.

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).

  • Locator Code and Call number:  Your 7-character code should be entered in the 049a field, your local call number in the 049n field.  When the records are processed, the computer pulls that information from the MARC record to display it.   If your call number is not present, it will not appear on the displayed record.
  • Date of publication:  the date of publication (and copyright, if different) are entered in the 260 field but ALSO in the 008 field, which contains coding for specifics such as date, format type, audience, etc.  If the software which is reading and interpreting your record looks for the date in the 008 field and it isn't there, it can't do date sorting, for example. The "Beginning date of publication"  is in positions 7-10 of the 008 field, the ending date of publication is in positions 11-14.
  • Target audience, such as juvenile, is recorded in position 22 of the 008 field.   Perhaps the most commonly used is "j" for juvenile but there are codes for other age levels, as well.
  • Form of item, such as large print, is in position 23 of the 008 field.

Where do I get MARC records?

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;
2. Use a cataloging utility, which allows you to search a database of already-cataloged records to find records to match your books, download or copy the record and add your local information to the record, and save the record. (Cataloging utilities are usually software, with CD-ROMS that hold the database, or allow you to go online to search a database on a remote computer.)
3. Send your shelflist to a vendor who will convert the records  to MARC format. This is also known as "retrospective conversion," i.e., converting the information about books you already own to MARC format.
4. Create your own MARC records, using software designed to help you do that. Such software has templates set up to make it easier for you to input information correctly. THIS IS A LAST RESORT!

(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?
No source is going to be able to supply you with pre-cataloged MARC records for everything that you buy or own. So, you'll need some idea of how to do original MARC cataloging. (If you are automated, your automation software will likely have a cataloging module with a template so you can input the information for an original MARC record.)

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?

What does a MARC record look like?

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 450000100090000000300040000900500170001300800410003001000170007102000280008
804000180011604900240013405000220015808200170018010000220019724500610021924
600440028025000120032426000390033630000340037550000200040965000290042965000
1900458650002900477650003300506-sw00001 -DLC-19990315150853.0-970626s1997 nyua 001 0 eng - a 97022798 - a0609600907 (alk. paper)- aDLCcDLCdDLC- aA8OXD787n610.1 Mys-00aR726.5b.M98 1997-00a610/.1/9221-1 aMyss, Caroline M.-10aWhy people don't heal and how they can /cCaroline Myss.-3 aWhy people do not heal and how they can- a1st ed.- aNew York :bHarmony Books,cc1997.- axix, 263 p. :bill. ;c24 cm.- aIncludes index.- 0aMedicine and psychology.- 0aMind and body.- 0aMedicine, Psychosomatic.- 0aPersonalityxHealth aspects.- 

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.)

Leader LDR pam a    00
Control Number 001 sw00001
Control # ID 003 DLC
Date 005 19990315150853.0
Fixed Data 008 970626s1997    nyua           001 0 eng
LC Card Number 010 $a   97022709
ISBN 020 $a0609600907 (alk. paper)
Cataloging Source 040 $aDLC$cDLC$cDLC
Local Holdings 049 $aA8OX787$n610.1 Mys
LC Call Number 050 00 $aR726.5$b.M98 1998
Dewey Classification 082 00 $a610/ .1/9$221
Main Entry: Personal Name 100 1 $aMyss, Caroline M.
Title 245 10 $aWhy people don't heal and how they can / $cCaroline Myss.
Title: Variant 246 3 $aWhy people do not heal and how they can
Edition 250 $a1st ed.
Imprint 260 $aNew York :$bHarmony Books,$cc1997.
Physical Description 300 $axix, 263 p. :$bill. ; $c24 cm.
Note: General 500 $aIncludes index.
Subject: Topical 650 0 $aMedicine and psychology.
Subject: Topical 650 0 $aMind and body.
Subject: Topical 650 0 $aMedicine, Psychosomatic.
Subject: Topical 650 0 $aPersonality$xHealth aspects.

A main entry catalog card for this record:

                        Myss, Caroline M.
610.1 Mys                Why people don't heal and how they can /
Mys                 -- 1st. ed. -- New York : Harmony Books,
                        c1997.
                              xxix, 263 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.

                               ISBN:   0-609-60090-7 (alk. paper)

                              1. Medicine and psychology.  2. Mind
                        and body.  3. Medicine, Psychosomatic.
                        4. Personality--Health aspects.
                        I. Title.  II. Title: Why people do not heal and
                        and how they can

--Karen Burns, SW Iowa Regional Library  3/99

Questions? Contact your Library Service Area.

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