One of the main schemata for describing information items is called MAchine-Readable (Bibliographic) Catalog Records (MARC). This system was created in the 1960s and has been continuously revised since that time to fit the metadata needs of a continuously modernizing world. The current iteration of MARC, MARC 21, was created in 1999. This version has been subject to continuous smaller changes so as to remain more or less evergreen. Trimming and pruning are performed instead of planting an entirely new tree.
Integral to one’s understanding of the complexity of MARC records is a knowledge of the discrete types of data contained in the symbols present. One symbol can refer to multiple types of metadata depending on its presence in the MARC record.
Sections of a MARC Record
There are three main sections of a MARC Record:
- Leader: This is the shortest section in a MARC record. It consists of 24 sequential symbols or characters. Individual symbols or groups of symbols show different types of data in the record. This is the first part of the record.
- Directory: This record states the location of each variable field in the MARC record. It also states the length of the record. The directory entry for every variable is only 12 character positions. All directories end with the presence of RS, which signifies the end of the record.
- Variable fields: This is what most people think when they consider MARC records. In fact, it is the most important element of the MARC record. There are three main types of Variable fields, which will be examined later.
There are three types of metadata variable fields in the Variable field Section of a MARC record:
- Tags (also occasionally called the Field Code): Every tag consists of three digits. This is the most broad variable field, and there is only one tag per section of a MARC record. They can only be followed by indicators and subfield codes. Every three-digit number stands for a certain aspect of an item’s metadata. For example, a field marked 600 would contain items related to a personal name related to the item, whereas the 610 field is reserved for corporate or entity names. Furthermore, 650 signifies that the following information is related to a topic discussed in the item and 651 indicates a geographic place. As an item can have more than one subject or author, these tags are repeatable in an item.
- Indicators: These are optional clarifiers that follow tags. They have only one digit. There are two spaces for indicators. This may cause some to assume that an indicator is two digits, but each digit stands for a different clarification. Some fields use only the first or second indicator while others use both indicator fields. If an indicator field is not used, it is filled by the number sign (#).
- Subfield Codes: Immediately following the indicators are subfield codes. These are also called “delimiters” occasionally. There are two symbols in a subfield code. The first is the subfield symbol, which is represented in this textbook by a dollar sign ($). The second is a lowercase letter of the alphabet or a number. After the subfield, or delimiter, code, the data entry of the subfield is given. In theory, the first subfield would be signified by “$a.” However, sometimes this subfield indicator is omitted as a given. The other subfield indicators are always used.
Examples of MARC fields
Let us look at some examples of MARC fields, their tags, and their indicators and delimiters. The following fields would be some of those present in an entry for an omnibus edition of the first three (published) books in the Foundation trilogy of Isaac Asimov.
1304#$aThe Foundation trilogy: three classics of Science Fiction.$pFoundation.$pFoundation and Empire.$pSecond Foundation.$lEnglish.$f1974.
24514$aThe Foundation trilogy :$bthree classics of Science Fiction./$c Asimov, Isaac 1920-1992
650#$aFuture, The, in literature.
This example is given without spaces to show you how MARC records might appear on your computer screen. Some systems, such as Connexion, have options to have spaces between field codes, indicators, and subfield indicators. Future examples and your assignments will have spaces, but I wanted to show you the default and traditional appearance of a MARC record.
Pay attention to the 245 field for this next exercise, and perhaps look at the MARC 21 Bibliographic Page for this field.
Digits in Variable Fields
Now that we know the format, order, and importance of each of the types of MARC fields, what are the most ubiquitous and necessary entries in these fields? The Library of Congress has made an excellent page that describes the attributes above and lists the most common MARC fields used in bibliographic records, along with all indicators and the most common delimiters.
First digits in Variable Fields
There are ten general categories of MARC fields:
0XX: Identification symbols (Library of Congress control numbers, International Standard Book Number)
1XX: Main entries (author name, title of the book)
2XX: Titles and related information
3XX: Physical description
4XX: Indicators of whether or not an item is in a series
6XX: Subject access fields (including names of individuals)
7XX: Entries other than subjects or series information
8XX: Entries to series and other related works
9XX: A category created to allow local institutions to record their own relevant metadata
Second and Third digits in Variable Fields
These digits act as subdivisions for the first-digit categories. Each of the categories below, when applied to the 1XX, 5XX, 6XX, and 7XX categories, describe when certain people, institutions, or works are subjects of the current work in question.
X00: Personal names
X10: Corporate names
X11: Meeting names
X30: Uniform titles
X40: Bibliographic titles
X50: Topical terms
X51: Geographic names
Occasionally, changes have to be made in the MARC record. These changes are often performed by local institutions. They are followed by the symbol | .
The author field for the Foundation trilogy is
100 1# $a Asimov, Isaac $d 1920-1992.
The “100” field is designated as the indicator for the name of the author. The first indicator of this field states that the surname is the first name in the entry.
In the above example for the Foundation trilogy, there were three subject fields.
650 #0 $a Science fiction.
650 #0 $a Future, The, in literature.
650 $0 $a Psychohistory–fiction.
The first digit is 6, so we know that the field will be related to a subject in the work. the second and third digits are 5 and 0. This means that the subject of the work is topical, not a person, group, corporation, or geographical area. “Science fiction.” is the authorized heading of the Library of Congress for all works of science fiction. “Future, The, in literature.” is the authorized heading of the Library of Congress for all works that discuss the future. “Psychohistory” is the name of both a historical theory in reality and a fictional algorithm created by Hari Seldon, a major character in the Foundation series. In order to ensure that readers of this record know that the psychohistory referred to is the fictional construct, hyphens and the word “fiction” are added. We will discuss Library of Congress Authority Records later in this book.
Most Ubiquitous/Important MARC Fields
Here are the most common MARC fields, some of which will be discussed in greater detail in later sections:
010: Library of Congress Control Number: This is possibly the most simple field in a MARC record. Both indicators are not used. The only indicator is $a and is followed by the LOC control number. Each work has a unique LOC control number to identify it.
020: International Standard Book Number: This is another identification number. Usually, there are only ten or thirteen digits in an ISBN.
040: Cataloging Source: This is the LOC or the OCLC or another institution. It is the source from which the entire MARC record was obtained. Like the first two fields, indicators are undefined.
082: Dewey Decimal classification number of the item. The indicators show whether the DDC number of an item is from the full or abridged edition and which organization assigned the Dewey Decimal Classification number. Subfields other than $a give context to the number, including repeating the assignation information.
100: Personal name of the author of the work: The first indicator of the field states the first name (personal, surname, or family) that is used in the entry. The second indicator is undefined. Subfields include designations for surnames, personal names, numbers, titles, and birth and death dates. The types and order of data in this field are governed by the LOC Authority Record for the author, if one exists. If the author does not have an Authority Record, institutional policy should be followed. Often, this means using the surname and first name of the author, followed by birth and death dates.
130/240: These fields contain the uniform title (or the main title) of the item being described in the MARC Record. The 130 field is the most common iteration of the Title Field. 240, however, is useful when a work can have multiple titles given to it, either colloquially or through multiple publications of the same work over time. While delimiters $a, $l, and $f have the same meaning in both fields, those three delimiters subfield indicators are the only ones present in Field 240. Only with Field 130 can a cataloger record the names of individual sections and the version of the work that has been used to create a certain item.
245: This field repeats the title of the item and other information about the work. This field is known as the “Title Proper” field of the MARC record. If the title in this field is the same as the preferred title of the field, 130 or 240 fields are not needed. At the very least, the title proper does not needed to be included in these fields if it is recorded in Field 245.
250: If a work is a new edition of a previous work, this field contains information about the current edition.
260, 264: Publishing and distribution information, including data about the organization, place, and date of the item, are included in this record. The first and only indicator describes the certainty of the cataloger in reference to the publication information provided. Subfields describe name and location of the publisher, as well as the date of publication, the date of manufacture, and the materials used to create the item.
300: This field is designated as the record of the physical, tangible aspects of the item. Things like the number of pages, descriptions of the illustrations on the book, or ancillary material are located in the 300 field. Each of these have their own subfields. For example, the number of pages is under $a while the description of the illustration on the back cover of a book would be contained in subfield $b.
336, 337, 338: These are the Content, Media, and Carrier Type fields. These fields, like other fields that have entries from other institutions, are subject to a controlled vocabulary. This means that the entries in these fields can only contain certain entries. The vocabulary assigned to these fields is determined by corresponding data in the Resource Description and Access (RDA) schema. These fields will be discussed in a later page.
490: This field places the item and its work in a series with other items. It simply states the name of the series in which the work is placed. It may also add the place of the work in that series through assigning a volume number.
500: This field is only used if a cataloger needs to include information about the source of any information in the record, related items, or a description of the main subjects in the item.
520: This field is a summary of the information in the item. This should be an extremely short entry. The summary can be designated as a standard book summary, a review, a scope and content note (for archival cataloging), or an abstract.
521: Target audience of the item. Indicators can specify whether the range used in this field is reading grade, age range, grade, and motivation. Subfields impart more information about the target audience and the source that assigned a target audience to the manifestation that has been incorporated into the item.
600: This field contains information about the human subjects of a work. The entries in this field are most often copied from the Library of Congress Authorities. The first indicator of the field is the same as the first in the 130 field. The second indicator gives the source for the subject statement. Subfields include information regarding the personal name, titles, birth and death dates, and other information.
610: This field designates corporate and institution organizations as the subjects of a particular work. The first indicator in this field indicates whether or not the name is inverted or if the name belongs to a government jurisdiction rather than a private group. The second indicator is the same as the second indicator for Field 600. Subfields include places for the name, the time period associated with the organization, and the geographic area affected by the group.
650: This subject, as stated above, is reserved for topics that are not groups or individuals. Thematic subjects can include many topics, from arts to science to literature, to activist movements. The first indicator is the level of the subject. The second indicator is the source of the subject heading. For example, if the second indicator is a 0, the term was retrieved from the Library of Congress Subject Headings. If that indicator is a 1, the term was taken from the LC Subject Headings for children’s literature. Of particular importance in this field are the subfields $0, $v, $x, and $y.
651: This field holds only geographic names and places. The first indicator of this field is undefined. The second indicator is the same as the second indicator for all other 6XX fields mentioned on this page. Subfields describe the formal name of an area, the chronological period of the area covered in the item, and the control number associated with the authority record of the term.
655: This field examines the genre of the item. Subfields examine the history, provenance, and materials common to this genre and the justification for placing the item in this genre. As with many fields, a 7 in the second indicator space means that the term is found in an external place that is not a common source for data. Using this indicator means that the cataloger will have to justify using a particular source for their genre term. It may also require a $7 subfield, which examines the provenance process through which a cataloger determined particular data entries.
700 and 710: Fields for additional personal and corporate names. The 700s in general are additional names. Entries in this field include personal names of coauthors, compilers, and contributors. Translators and arrangers are also listed in this field range.
852: Physical location of the item in the Library’s holdings. The first indicator exposes the system used to classify all objects in the library’s holdings. The second indicates whether or not the classification strategy is the primary scheme.
856: Electronic location of the item and instructions for how to access it. The first indicator is the method through which a user can access the item. The next indicator says whether the item that will be accessed is the resource itself, a conversion of the resource, or a combination of both. Subfields contain URLs, database host names, provenance of the item, and copyright and other terms regulating access and use of the item.
883: This field contains the provenance of the metadata contained in this record. Metadata is much more than the pithy and trite “data about data” definition bandied about for decades. It is essential information that puts the data (in this case, the library item) in the proper context. Only through analyzing the item in the context of the metadata can the user fully appreciate the work that has been manifested.
For information about using Connexion to look at MARC record data, go to the Using OCLC Connexion page. A login to Connexion will be necessary to complete the activity below, but this will talk you through getting to the required MARC record. Later on, we will discover more about using Connexion to a fuller extent.
There are multiple standards used to identify the proper way to create entries in the fields and subfields of MARC records. All of these standards are maintained by the Library of Congress and include the MARC Format for Authority Data, MARC 21 Format for Classification Data, and the MARC 21 Format for Bibliographic Data. It is highly recommended that you bookmark these sources for information, especially the Bibliographic page. This will come in handy later in this book as well as throughout your librarianship. It is free, easy to use, and thorough. The other pages in the MARC LOC website, the Holdings, Classification, and Community pages, are also useful but will not be accessed as much during cataloging.
- Library of Congress. (2008, April 22). Marc 21 bibliographic introduction. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.loc.gov/marc/bibliographic/bdintro.html. ↵
- Library of Congress. (2009, October 17). Marc 21 reference materials. Understanding MARC Bibliographic: Parts 7 to 10. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.loc.gov/marc/umb/um07to10.html. ↵
- Library of Congress. (2008, April 22). Marc 21 bibliographic introduction. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.loc.gov/marc/bibliographic/bdintro.html. ↵
- Library of Congress. (2022, July 7). Marc 21 format for bibliographic data. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://www.loc.gov/marc/bibliographic/. ↵