Learn about: What a library catalog is, how are catalogs are organized, what a bibliographic record is, how to recognize the parts of a biliographic record, and access points.
A library catalog is a systematic listing of all the items available in a library or group of libraries. Items included in a catalog are books, periodical titles, videos and films, audio recordings, maps, government documents, etc. Not included in the catalog are individual periodical articles.
The purpose of the catalog is to make items in the library more accessible to users and to provide basic information about the items in the library's collection. Each item within the catalog is described in a record by fields, such as author, title, edition, publisher, date, physical appearance, subject, and location of item. This information is organized in a standardized format that is easily identified, known as a bibliographic record.
The first catalogs were called book catalogs and appeared as bound volumes placed on the shelf. Then for many years there were card catalogs. Each item in a catalog was represented on a written index card that gave bibliographic record information on the item and pointed researchers to the location of the item in the collection. You may be familiar with these, as card catalogs are still in use in some libraries. Today, however, many library catalogs are online or web-based. A major advantage of online and web-based catalogs is, of course, remote access. With the advancements in telecommunications, users can telnet or link (WWW) to library catalogs from their home or office. Online and web-based catalogs can also process very large amounts of data quickly and are updated daily.
To search a catalog effectively it is necessary to understand the parts of a bibliographic record. Bibliographic records contain the same basic information regardless of where they appear: card catalogs, online catalogs, web-based catalogs, print indexes, or online databases. The appearance of the information may vary slightly, but the content remains constant.
In each bibliographic record, you will usually find information about the author, title, imprint or publication, physical description of the item, and subject headings.
Below are two examples of bibliographic records that describe the same item. Notice the similarities and differences between the two records.
Example: Card catalog record
Online and Web-based catalogs contain the same information, but are more user friendly.
Example: Online catalog record
Since bibliographic records consist of the same type of data in standardized fields, we can use some of this information (author, title, subject) to search for specific records that might be listed in a catalog, based on our information needs. Thus, author, title and subject information become ways to access the information we need, or access points.