A bibliographic record (or bib record) is ametadata record which aims to describe an item -- typically a book -- in all the important ways and in a standard format.

Typically, a bibliographic record includes the author(s), title, major subject(s), extent (i.e. size and/or number of pages), and any other information needed to represent a physical object -- a book, an album, an objet d'art, a sock puppet -- as an abstraction of its salient points.

The international standard for bib records is MARC, an acronym for MAchine-Readable Cataloging; the US-specific variant is USMARC.

Since the decline of the card catalog, with its drawers full of bibliographic records typed on catalog cards, few library users have ever seen a bib record directly. Instead, you see a Web-based version of the bib record. This is in fact a Good Thing, as MARC records have highly arbitrary and symbolic structures and can be difficult to decipher even after some training.

Here's a sample of a bibliographic record in MARC format. Please don't let young children look at this, as their minds will be horribly warped and they will become catalogers or worse.

 LEADER 01187pam  22003498a 4500
 001       96007393
 003    DLC
 005    19960815083656.0
 008    960229s1996    nyu           000 0 eng
 010       96007393
 020    0910608504 (set : alk. paper) :$c$325.00
 040    DLC$cDLC$dFLA
 049    FLAA
 050 00 Z696$b.D52 1996
 082 00 025.4/31$220
 092    PROF REF 025.431$bDEWEY
 100 1  Dewey, Melvil,$d1851-1931.
 245 10 Dewey decimal classification and relative index / $cdevised by Melvil Dewey.
 250    Ed. 21 /$bedited by Joan S. Mitchell, Julianne Beall, Winton E. Matthews, Jr., Gregory R. New.
 260    Albany, N.Y. :$bForest Press, a division of OCLC Online Computer Library Center,$c1996.
 300    4 v. ;$c24 cm.
 505 0  v. 1. Introduction. Tables -- v. 2-3. Schedules -- v. 4. Relative index. Manual.
 650  0 Classification, Dewey decimal.
 700 1  Mitchell, Joan S.
 700 1  Beall, Julianne,$d1946-
 700 1  Matthews, Winton E.
 700 1  New, Gregory R.
 710 2  Forest Press.
 913 00 DEWDDCA90000
 920    960813
 930    960813
 945    995 FLA ILS

Note that the three-digit field numbers have a very specific meaning, but that they can repeat. There are several 700 (author) fields. Every field has two single-digit indicators which may in some cases be null. Some fields have subfields indicated by a dollar sign and an alphanumeric, such as $3 in field 020 (price) or $d in the second field 700 (dates of birth and death); the meanings of these subfield names varies greatly depending on the field they're used in.

Even hackers don't like messing around with a flat file like this -- they usually use MARC.pm and Perl instead.

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