National Bibliographic Agencies and the role of national libraries

In many countries responsibility for creation of the national bibliography resides with the national library. However the national bibliography is not synonymous with the national library’s catalogue since the scope of each differs.

  • The catalogue is a record of the national library’s collection. Inevitably, some collection material will be excluded from the national bibliography because it is published outside the country or has no direct connection with national literature.
  • The national bibliography is a record of the national published archive and thus may incorporate material which is not in the national library’s collection. This is often the case when responsibility for collecting and cataloguing the national published archive is distributed among different agencies. The national bibliography may also include records for forthcoming publications, notified to the national bibliographic agency through a Cataloguing-In-Publication (CIP) programme.

Each national bibliographic agency will follow the production model that best meets its needs. The national bibliography may be a product derived from the national library’s cataloguing of its own collection; alternatively, records created by the national bibliographic agency may be incorporated into the national library catalogue.

Ideally, both the national bibliography and the national library catalogue will be products derived from a common pool of data. Irrespective of which production model is followed, the overlap between the national library catalogue and national bibliography should be exploited to maximise efficiency via the reuse of bibliographic metadata with minimal manual amendment.

Production efficiencies

Efficient reuse of metadata is dependent on standardisation and consistency. The same standards should be followed for both the national bibliography and the catalogue and workflows should be integrated as much as possible. Pre-existing metadata is reused at each stage in the workflow (selection, acquisitions, accessioning and description). Metadata that is added for any stage in the workflow should be fit for purpose; that is, it is accurate and conforms with standards and policies appropriate to that type of data. Standardised workflows are easier to automate. Exception handling is resource intensive and should be minimised through a process of continuous improvement.

In the real world, assignment of product or service specific metadata is sometimes necessary. Metadata may also provide information for management of processes or collections. Give careful consideration to the most efficient and cost effective means of assigning such metadata. Situations in which metadata required for one purpose or institution are in conflict with metadata assigned for another are inefficient. Conflicts may arise between a general standard and a local practice. In the long term, adherence to standards will prove more efficient than maintenance of local practice.

The challenge of rationalising metadata and workflows should not be underestimated. It can take significant amounts of time and energy to change entrenched process and policies. However failure to address these issues can be incredibly wasteful. At one national bibliographic agency, standard subject classification and indexing assigned to national bibliography records were stripped off when the records were incorporated into the national library’s catalogue and replaced with local classification. Resources were insufficient to maintain the local classification, which became increasingly out of date. At the same time that these resources were being subject indexed twice, and losing currency in the process, other resources were not being indexed at all. This is an extreme example of what can go wrong without effective management of policies and workflows.

It is recommended that the national bibliography and the catalogue of the national bibliographic agency should be derived from a single logical data set. National bibliographic agencies establishing new national bibliographies are strongly encouraged to conceptualise the national bibliography and the national bibliographic agency catalogue as separate products, or views, derived from a comprehensive set of bibliographic data.