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A library catalog (or library catalogue) is a register of all bibliographic items found in a library or group of libraries, such as a network of libraries at several locations. A bibliographic item can be any information entity (e.g., books, computer files, graphics, realia, cartographic materials, etc.) that is considered library material (e.g., a single novel in an anthology), or a group of library materials (e.g., a trilogy), or linked from the catalog (e.g., a webpage) as far as it is relevant to the catalog and to the users (patrons) of the library.
The card catalog was a familiar sight to library users for generations[vague], but it has been[when?] effectively replaced by the online public access catalog (OPAC). Some still refer to the online catalog as a "card catalog". Some libraries with OPAC access still have card catalogs on site, but these are now strictly a secondary resource and are seldom updated. Many of the libraries that have retained their physical card catalog post a sign advising the last year that the card catalog was updated. Some libraries have eliminated their card catalog in favour of the OPAC for the purpose of saving space for other use, such as additional shelving.
Charles Ammi Cutter made the first explicit statement regarding the objectives of a bibliographic system in his Rules for a Printed Dictionary Catalog in 1876. According to Cutter, those objectives were
1. to enable a person to find a book of which either (Identifying objective)
2. to show what the library has (Collocating objective)
3. to assist in the choice of a book (Evaluating objective)
These objectives can still be recognized in more modern definitions formulated throughout the 20th century. 1960/61 Cutter's objectives were revised by Lubetzky and the Conference on Cataloging Principles (CCP) in Paris. The latest attempt to describe a library catalog's goals and functions was made in 1998 with Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) which defines four user tasks: find, identify, select, and obtain.
A catalog also serves as an inventory or bookkeeping of the library's contents. If an item (a book) is not found in the catalog, the user may continue her search at another library. Library thieves, who may be staff or regular visitors of the library, risk discovery if an item listed in the catalog is missing from the shelves. To reduce this risk, a thief may also steal the catalog card describing the item.
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A catalog card is an individual record in a library catalog. In a physical catalog the record fills one small card, which is placed in order in the catalog drawer depending on the type of record. Here's an example of a catalog card, which would be filed alphabetically in the Author section:
Arif, Abdul Majid. Political structure in a changing Pakistani village / by Abdul Majid Arif and Basharat Hafeez Andaleeb. -- 2nd ed. -- Lahore : ABC Press, 1985. xvi, 367p. : ill. ; 22 cm. Includes index. ISBN 969-8612-02-8
Traditionally, there are the following types of catalog:
Library catalogs originated as manuscript lists, arranged by format (folio, quarto, etc.) or in a rough alphabetical arrangement by author. Printed catalogs, sometimes called dictionary catalogs, began to be published in the early modern period and enabled scholars outside a library to gain an idea of its contents. Copies of these in the library itself would sometimes be interleaved with blank leaves on which additions could be recorded, or bound as guardbooks in which slips of paper were bound in for new entries. Slips could also be kept loose in cardboard or tin boxes, stored on shelves. The first card catalogs appeared in the late 19th century after the standardization of the 5 in. x 3 in. card for personal filing systems, enabling much more flexibility, and towards the end of the 20th century the Online public access catalog was developed (see below). These gradually became more common as some libraries progressively abandoned such other catalog formats as paper slips (either loose or in sheaf catalog form), and guardbooks. The beginning of the Library of Congress's catalog card service in 1911 led to the use of these cards in the majority of American libraries. An equivalent scheme in the United Kingdom was operated by the British National Bibliography from 1956 and was subscribed to by many public and other libraries.
More about the early history of library catalogs has been collected in 1956 by Strout.
In a title catalog, one can distinguish two sort orders:
The grammatical sort order has the advantage that often, the most important word of the title is also a good keyword (question 3), and it is the word most users remember first when their memory is incomplete. However, it has the disadvantage that many elaborate grammatical rules are needed, so that only expert users may be able to search the catalog without help from a librarian.
In some catalogs, persons' names are standardized, i. e., the name of the person is always (cataloged and) sorted in a standard form, even if it appears differently in the library material. This standardization is achieved by a process called authority control. An advantage of the authority control is that it is easier to answer question 2 (which works of some author does the library have?). On the other hand, it may be more difficult to answer question 1 (does the library have some specific material?) if the material spells the author in a peculiar variant. For the cataloguer, it may incur (too) much work to check whether Smith, J. is Smith, John or Smith, Jack.
For some works, even the title can be standardized. The technical term for this is uniform title. For example, translations and re-editions are sometimes sorted under their original title. In many catalogs, parts of the Bible are sorted under the standard name of the book(s) they contain. The plays of William Shakespeare are another frequently cited example of the role played by a uniform title in the library catalog.
Many complications about alphabetic sorting of entries arise. Some examples:
For a fuller discussion, see collation.
In a subject catalog, one has to decide on which classification system to use. The cataloguer will select appropriate subject headings for the bibliographic item and a unique classification number (sometimes known as a "call number") which is used not only for identification but also for the purposes of shelving, placing items with similar subjects near one another, which aids in browsing by library users, who are thus often able to take advantage of serendipity in their search process.
Online cataloging, through such systems as the Dynix software developed in 1983 and used widely through the late 1990s, has greatly enhanced the usability of catalogs, thanks to the rise of MARC standards (an acronym for MAchine Readable Cataloging) in the 1960s.
Rules governing the creation of MARC catalog records include not only formal cataloging rules such as AACR2 (Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, Second Edition) but also rules specific to MARC, available from both the U.S. Library of Congress and the OCLC, the Online Computer Library Center global cooperative which builds and maintains WorldCat.
MARC was originally used to automate the creation of physical catalog cards, but its use evolved into direct access to the MARC computer files during the search process.
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