Until recently, catalog records consisted of sets of cards typed manually and then filed in card catalog drawers for all the materials in a library. Several cards had to be made for each item within the library. With the development of computers, the process of creating records was computerized. Initially, Library of Congress, and later OCLC, had computers to create catalog records and produce cards which they made available to libraries. As computers have become cheaper and widely available, libraries have replaced card catalogs with online systems which use electronic catalog records. These electronic catalog records use the MARC, or Machine Readable Cataloging, format.

When using a library catalog, you will need to understand how to read each catalog record. A catalog record is the information on a particular book or other form of media that the catalog has a listing for. It includes a lot of information on the particular item. It tells you about the item, such as who wrote it, what it’s called, the physical description, what it’s about, and how to find it within the library. I will explain some of the common fields of a catalog record here. Each field is also called an access point.

The first thing listed in most is the author or authors. This is often called a statement of responsibility. Sometimes there is no specific author and in this field is an editor or other type of contributor, such as a compiler. If it is just one author, which is the most common, it is listed simply with Last name, First name. If there is more than one author they are usually listed with a period between them. Last name, First name. Last name, First name.. If instead of an author it is an editor listed they are usually sited with Last name, First name, ed.

A second standard field is title. This usually lists the full title, including any subtitles, of the work and sometimes includes the author’s name as well. Title: Subtitle./Author. Or simply Title: Subtitle

Publication information is also usually included. This usually looks similar to City of Publication: Publishing company, date of publication. Sometimes a copyright date is listed instead of publication date. In that case a c is placed directly in front of the year, without a space.

Edition is usually also listed, usually in its own field.

If the book is part of a series the catalog will often tell you this. This could mean a series of books all featuring the same characters, or on the same general subject by a particular publisher, etc.

Location in the library is always part of the record, for without that what good would it do. Most list the section of the library and the actual call number. The call number is usually either a Dewey decimal number or a Library of Congress number. Which system is used depends on the library. If you are in a large library such as an academic or special library you are likely to find LC. Most smaller libraries such as schools or town libraries use Dewey because it is simpler.

A physical description is usually there, which includes how many pages, if it is illustrated, the height of the book, if any materials accompany it such as a CD-ROM or other media. Other information is sometimes listed but these are the most common.

Subject is a common field in every catalog I’ve personally used. Most catalogs use the official Library of Congress subject headings in this field.

Additional information is often included in note fields such as other people who deserve credit for the book, whether the book has an index, if the pictures are in color, or anything that the cataloger decides might be useful for the end users.

The final field is usually the ISBN. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. Serials have an ISSN, which stands for International Standard Serial Number. These numbers are unique to each book or serial.

Introduction to Cataloging class notes
Learn Descriptive Cataloging by Mary Mortimer