What is a national bibliography?

“A current national bibliography is a mirror that reflects the culture of a country. By looking at the current national bibliography one is able to learn about the uniqueness of a country. The emphasis on agriculture and technology, the make-up of its society through its various language publications, particular customs and ceremonies important in the life of the nation, the importance of education, literature and science, prominent literary authors of the time and political, social and religious trends within a country are all discernible. A current national bibliography should reflect the interests and unique characteristics of a country much as a mirror reflects the uniqueness of an individual.” (Bell, B. L. (1998). An annotated guide to current national bibliographies (2nd completely rev. ed.). München: K.G. Saur)

More than 50 years ago the definition was: “the ideal (current national) bibliography is conceived as a complete listing of all books, documents, pamphlets, serials and other printed matter published within the bounds of a single country and within the time limits of the previous year or less.” (Conover, H. F. (1955). Current national bibliographies. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office.)

Bell’s definition is more general: National bibliography in the modern sense is defined as a cumulation of the authoritative and comprehensive records of the national output (i.e. products of the national publishing industry) of a country, published regularly, and with the least possible delay. It is produced in accordance with international standards by the national bibliographic agency. Publication details and authorship are investigated and verified in detail.

However, advances in technology, the creation of the World Wide Web and a multitude of electronic information resource and consequent changes in publishing have inevitably changed the scope of national bibliographies. Such developments, combined with advances in search-engine technology and the advent of new approaches such as linked open data require a reappraisal of national bibliographic services.

Relationship to Legal Deposit

In order to enable national bibliographic control to function efficiently, it is important to link registration of items for a country’s national bibliography with that country’s legal deposit function.

Legal deposit is an obligation by law or other rules to compel printers, publishers and distributors to deliver one or more free copies of their publications to the national library or other “legal deposit libraries“. In some countries of the world where publishers require early registration of their publications there may also be voluntary agreements between publishers and national bibliographic agencies.