Establishing the need for a national bibliography

Increasingly, with new sources of information becoming available via the web, there is potentially competition with other bibliographic services, such as books-in-print, national union catalogues, catalogues of university or research libraries, and even Amazon. NBAs therefore need to ensure that:

  • They offer something that other services cannot provide
  • The added value of the national bibliography is always obvious, well-advertised and known

Basic objectives

“Three main objectives have been traditionally assigned to national bibliographic services. The first is to assist cost-effective cataloguing in libraries. The second is to facilitate libraries in their selection and acquisition activities. The third is to further information searching and retrieval for document supply. These objectives are still valid. What is changing today is the environment in which such objectives are implemented.” (Vitiello, 1999)

A complete and timely national bibliography is therefore an important information resource for:

  • Selection and acquisition in libraries and similar institutions
  • Cataloguing (both directly for copy cataloguing and indirectly for cataloguing support)
  • Verification of authorship and publication history

As a dataset, the national bibliography should support:

  • Sophisticated searching and many access points
  • Links to local catalogues or full-text to enable access to publications sought

Selection & Acquisition

The national bibliography is an essential tool for selection and acquisition of materials and, consequently, an important promotional tool for the publishing industry. To fulfill this function (Lewis, 1991): Link to BIB

  • The data has to be available immediately after publication, preferably even before publication
  • For selection, subject and target audience data are essential, as well as price, while for acquisitions the data on publisher and distributor, conditions of sale, and, of course, standard identifiers such as ISSN, ISBN, etc.
  • The format of bibliographic records has to enable simple import of data into local information systems or catalogues


As a cataloguer’s tool, the requirements are:

  • high quality and completeness of records
  • full coverage
  • timely access to new records
  • compliance with national and international standards
  • continuity between retrospective and current bibliographies
  • simple copying of records into local catalogues


National bibliographies may also be of use to audiences beyond libraries, the publishing industry or the book trade to:

  • Give the statistical account of a country’s publishing output
  • Provide evidence of the impact of government policies in relation to education, language, economic programmes, etc.
  • Reveal the extent of a country’s self-sufficiency in producing the publications it requires

(International Federation of Library Associations, IFLA International Office for UBC & UNESCO, 1979):