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Exploring the MARC Record by Cleo Gib

Exploring the MARC Record by
Article Posted: 11/29/2015
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Exploring the MARC Record


The vast majority of the public not involved in academic work of some sort on a university campus, or those who aren’t librarians, probably have no idea what a MARC record may be or how it functions. As technology continues to grow and improve at a rapid pace, the process of checking books out of a library has also gone digital. In many ways, the standard card catalog that many of us grew up using has become outdated and inefficient. Actual paper cards take up space, typically in large wooden filing cabinets. These cards hold all manner of information: title of book, date published, synopsis of book, etc. Once the library world caught up with the digital world, it simply made more sense to transfer all this information into a system that was easily accessed and took up significantly less room.

The acronym MARC stands for MAchine-Readable Catalog. The MARC record compiles all this information (and more) into a single document that’s able to be read on a computer screen. Some of these other bits of information include the description, main entry and added entries, subject headings, and the call number.


In order to categorize books properly, librarians use the 2nd edition of a book called Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules. In it are the guidelines for describing the contents of all a particular book’s information, such as when it was printed, what edition it is, the title of the book, key phrases found within the book that help determine what the overall book is about, and the physical description of the book.

Main Entry & Added Entries

Using the same AACR2 style, the MARC record contains what are also called 'access points." These access points, in the form of the main entry and added entries, help guide the book hunter in their physical search throughout the library. Main entries and added entries also help distinguish if a book has a single author or multiple authors or whether an author has other books on the shelves.

Subject Headings

Subject headings are used via the guidelines of the Sears List of Subject Headings or the Library of Congress Subject Headings. These are used to make sure that the subject headings of a selected topic, or a variety of related topics, can all be found under the same heading and within the catalog, making their discovery easier.

Call Number

If you’ve ever spent any time in a library, then you should remember seeing the call numbers on the spines of every book on the shelves. The call numbers are the batches of numbers stuck to the bottom of the spine. These numbers are used to help classify all the books so that, if one were looking for research books on dogs, one wouldn’t end up coming across the kid’s book Clifford the Big Red Dog in the same area as the two are completely unrelated despite both being about dogs. The first part of the call number is a numerical description of the physical location of the book in relation to others of the same topic. The second number is typically represents the author’s name, which helps to keep the books in that particular section in alphabetical order.  Call numbers, also called the Dewey Decimal System, have been around since their creation in 1876 by Melvil Dewey.

The importance of the MARC Record can’t be stated enough. Standard card catalogs have simply become too inefficient to be useful, but transferring all this information to the digital landscape is not only a fast way to find what one is looking for, but a timely space-saving endeavor. 

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