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Penn State University Libraries


Cataloging and Metadata Services
126 Paterno Library
University Park, PA 16802-1808

Staff Directory

Phone: (814) 865-1755
Fax: (814) 863-7293

Notes on Bibliographic Concepts

A bibliographic, or catalog, record should do three things:

  1. describe a book (or non-book item), its author, title, publisher, etc., so that the book can be identified and distinguished from other similar works;
  2. record additional information about the intellectual content and history of the work; and,
  3. provide access to the book, through entries for the persons or organizations responsible for its existence, and subject entries for what the book is about.

In an online catalog record, fields 241 through 4XX correspond to the description (pt. 1); the 5XX fields record the intellectual content and history (pt. 2); and fields 1XX through 240, and 6XX through 8XX are the entries, or access points (pt. 3). The distinctions among description, content, and access are important because they influence the way the data in each area is selected and arranged.

In the descriptive block, fields 241-4XX, the cataloger describes the book using the words the book uses to describe itself. Some words, such as the publisher's name, may be abbreviated, but, in this area, one describes the book from the book itself and uses its own words. On rare occasions when the cataloger has to supply words to make the information understandable, square brackets [xx] are placed around the supplied words to identify them as such.

The second area, called notes (5XX fields), contains a mix of information taken from the book itself and information supplied from outside the book. Information which is directly quoted from the book is set off by quotation marks. The 5XX area is designed to provide additional information about the intellectual history and content of the book, to help the patron use the book, and to assist the patron in relating it to other books. Notes are created to answer such questions as: What does this book contain besides the basic text? Does it have a bibliography or index which will make the book easier to use and show me other, similar books? Is it in a language I can read? Has this book ever been published before and, if so, when? How has this book been studied? Most notes are composed by original catalogers. Copy catalogers may compose or correct routine notes such as: Includes bibliographical references, or, Includes indexes.

Up to this point, the bibliographic record is describing information which is the same for all copies of this book. Any information which is tagged in fields 241 through 58X must be the same for all copies of the book.

What happens if Penn State's copy of a book is missing some pages? Or, if the library took something that was originally published as a two volume set and had the volumes bound together? This kind of information, which applies only to the individual copy that the cataloger has in hand, must be recorded in a local note. The local notes are identified by having 9 as the second digit of the field tag; the block of local notes is the 59X block.

The first two areas of the record, with a couple of exceptions to be discussed later, have one important thing in common: they are not designed to permit the reader search for the book under that information; they are not intended to be "searchable." The majority of the searchable fields, 1XX through 245 and 6XX through 8XX, have to be recorded consistently every time they occur so that they may be found. That means that the tagging has to be consistent for the type of name, the subfielding must be the same, and, of course, the typing must be the same, i.e., correct, every time. It is like the principle of "a place for everything and everything in its place." If someone develops the habit of always putting everything back in the same place, then it is easier to find things. That is the way it is with entries or access points. If one puts them in different places by tagging them differently, then they will not be found when they are searched.

The essence of online cataloging is:

  • selecting the correct information to describe a book
  • arranging it correctly and consistently
  • putting it into its proper place in the record by tagging.

When inputting MLP records, the cataloger will select and arrange the data and tag it correctly. When inputting full level records from copy, the cataloger will verify each element and its tag to insure that the bibliographic record is correct and searchable.