MARC standards

From New World Encyclopedia

MARC is an acronym, used in the field of library science, that stands for MAchine-Readable Cataloging. The MARC standards consist of the MARC formats, which are standards for the representation and communication of bibliographic and related information in machine-readable form, and related documentation. It defines a bibliographic data format that was developed by Henriette Avram at the Library of Congress beginning in the 1960s. It provides the protocol by which computers exchange, use, and interpret bibliographic information. Its data elements make up the foundation of most library catalogs used today.

The future of the MARC formats is a matter of some debate in the worldwide library science community. On the one hand, the storage formats are quite complex and are based on outdated technology. On the other, there is no alternative bibliographic format with an equivalent degree of granularity. The huge user base, billions of records in tens of thousands of individual libraries (including over 50,000,000 belonging to the OCLC consortium alone), also creates inertia.

Elements of MARC records

The record structure of MARC is an implementation of ISO 2709, also known as ANSI/NISO Z39.2.[1] MARC records are composed of three elements: the record structure, the content designation, and the data content of the record. The record structure implements national and international standards (e.g., Z39.2, ISO2709). The content designation is "the codes and conventions established to identify explicitly and characterize ... data elements within a record"[1] and support their manipulation. The content of data elements in MARC records is defined by standards outside the formats such as AACR2, L.C. Subject Headings, and MeSH.[1]


AACR2 stands for the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, Second Edition. It is published jointly by the American Library Association, the Canadian Library Association, and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (in the UK). AACR2 is designed for use in the construction of catalogues and other lists in general libraries of all sizes. The rules cover the description of, and provide access points for, all library materials commonly collected at the present time.

Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH)

The Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) comprise a thesaurus (in the information technology sense) of subject headings, maintained by the United States Library of Congress, for use in bibliographic records. LC Subject Headings are an integral part of bibliographic control, which is the function by which libraries collect, organize and disseminate documents. LCSHs are applied to every item within a library’s collection, and facilitate a user’s access to items in the catalogue that pertain to similar subject matter.

Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)

Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) is a controlled vocabulary (or metadata system) for the purpose of indexing journal articles and books in the life sciences. Created and updated by the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM), it is used by the MEDLINE/PubMed article database and by NLM's catalog of book holdings. MeSH can be browsed and downloaded free of charge on the Internet. The yearly printed version was discontinued in 2007.

MARC formats

MARC formats consist of five components (for a detailed explanation with examples, see, for example, MARC21, Bibliographic Management, Factfile, UKONL, University of Bath. Retrieved June 20, 2008.):

  • Authority records: MARC authority records provide information about individual names, subjects, and uniform titles. An authority record establishes an authorized form of each heading, with references as appropriate from other forms of the heading.
  • Bibliographic records: MARC bibliographic records describe the intellectual and physical characteristics of bibliographic resources (books, sound recordings, video recordings, and so forth).
  • Classification records: MARC records containing classification data. For example, the Library of Congress Classification has been encoded using the MARC 21 Classification format.
  • Community Information records: MARC records describing a service providing agency.
  • Holdings records: MARC holdings records provide copy-specific information on a library resource (call number, shelf location, volumes held, and so forth).


MARC 21 is a result of the combination of the United States and Canadian MARC formats (USMARC and CAN/MARC). MARC21 is based on the ANSI standard Z39.2, which allows users of different software products to communicate with each other and to exchange data.[2] MARC 21 was designed to redefine the original MARC record format for the twenty-first century and to make it more accessible to the international community. MARC 21 has formats for the following five types of data: Bibliographic Format, Authority Format, Holdings Format, Community Format, and Classification Data Format.[2] Currently MARC 21 has been implemented successfully by The British Library, the European Institutions and the major library institutions in the United States, and Canada.

MARC 21 allows the use of two character sets, either MARC-8 or Unicode encoded as UTF-8. MARC-8 is based on ISO 2022 and allows the use of Hebrew, Cyrillic, Arabic, Greek, and East Asian scripts. MARC 21 in unicode (UTF-8) format allow all the languages including South Asian languages. Samples of MARC 21 record in Utf can be downloaded from the website of D.K. Agencies Pvt Ltd.

MARC variants

There are many national and international variants of MARC, including

  • MARC 21: the "harmonization" of USMARC and CAN/MARC; it is maintained by the Network Development and MARC Standards Office of the Library of Congress.
  • AUSMARC: national MARC of Australia, published by the National Library of Australia in 1973; USMARC adopted in 1991.
  • BIBSYS-MARC: used by all Norwegian University Libraries, the National Library, all college libraries, and a number of research libraries.
  • NORMARC: national MARC of Norway, based on MARC21
  • danMARC2: national MARC of Denmark, based on MARC21
  • INTERMARC: MARC used by Bibliothèque nationale de France
  • UNIMARC: created by IFLA in 1977, it is the official MARC in France, Italy, Russia, Portugal, Greece and other countries.
  • CMARC: national MARC of the Republic of China, based on UNIMARC
  • KORMARC: national MARC of South Korea, KS X 6006
  • MARCBN: national MARC of Poland, based on MARC21

MARC 21 is not a new format. The original American version of MARC became known as USMARC in the 1980s; there was also a separate Canadian version with minor differences called CAN/MARC. After making minor changes to both formats, the USMARC and CAN/MARC specifications were merged in 1997 to create MARC 21, the name intended to reflect the twenty-first century. The British Library has announced that it will no longer develop the UKMARC standard it had maintained since 1975 and will instead adopt MARC 21.

In Germany a non-MARC format called MAB (Maschinelles Austauschformat für Bibliotheken) is used.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 MARBI, "MARC 21 Formats," page 1, Library of Congress (1996). Retrieved June 20, 2008.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Arlene G. Taylor, The Organization of Information, page 77, Libraries Unlimited (2004).

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External links

All links retrieved November 5, 2022.


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