Press Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217
Public Contact: Sally McCallum (202) 707-6237

April 29, 1997

Library of Congress, British Library and National Library of Canada Achieve Major Milestones in Format Harmonization

The Library of Congress (LC), the British Library (BL) and the National Library of Canada (NLC) have reached a major milestone in the harmonization of their machine-readable cataloging (MARC) formats. The result will be more sharing of cataloging information and a reduction in the costs of cataloging materials.

Agreement has been attained on full harmonization of USMARC and CAN/MARC. In addition, significant progress has been made in the alignment of this harmonized format with UKMARC.

The benefits of a harmonized format include easier and more efficient record exchange between the users and producers of MARC records, elimination of the need for conversion programs and potential reductions in the expense of format maintenance and documentation. Whereas full harmonization of USMARC and CAN/MARC has been accomplished, the three libraries recognize that UKMARC must retain certain features of particular value to the UKMARC user community, and therefore full harmonization is not achievable in the short term. Partial alignment is being pursued immediately with full harmonization as a long term goal.

Meetings of representatives of the three national libraries were held in Washington on Dec. 2, 1996, and Feb. 18, 1997. It was agreed that over the next few months, the Library of Congress and the National Library of Canada will formulate mechanisms for the coordination and approval of future format development as well as determine a schedule for implementation. To facilitate the continuation of the harmonization process with UKMARC, a MARC Harmonization Coordinating Committee was also established. The committee is interested in the following:

  • Coordinating new developments in the UKMARC and harmonized USMARC and CAN/MARC formats;
  • Seeking further opportunities for harmonization of the two formats;
  • Ensuring that future development of the formats takes into consideration other international standards;
  • Exploring the impact of changing technology on MARC formats.

In addition, a technical panel will meet regularly to discuss issues relating to the formats.

Winston Tabb, Associate Librarian for Library Services at LC, said: "The MARC Harmonization Coordinating Committee will promote future opportunities for format convergence and ensure that future developments will continue to bring the formats closer together. The complete harmonization of USMARC and CAN/MARC into a single format is a signal achievement that will facilitate record exchange throughout the U.S. and Canadian bibliographic communities and beyond."

Said Ingrid Parent, Director General, Acquisitions and Bibliographic Services at the National Library of Canada: "Although there are many benefits of format harmonization, perhaps the most significant is the potential for reducing the cost of cataloging. The elimination of format differences across national boundaries will increase the pool of catalog records available to libraries for copy cataloging and resource-sharing activities."

Stuart Ede, Director of Acquisitions, Processing and Cataloguing at the British Library, welcomed the progress made, saying: "It was always going to be difficult, given the philosophical differences between UKMARC and the North American formats, to achieve full harmonization in the short term. What we have achieved is a balanced outcome: on the one hand, coordinating development across the Atlantic; on the other hand, preserving the underlying compatibility of UKMARC with other national and international formats, which will facilitate cooperation with European partners as well."

For further information, contact Sally McCallum, chief, Network Development and MARC Standards Office, Library of Congress, LM639, Washington, DC 20540-4102 (phone: 202-707-6237; fax: 202-707-0115).

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PR 97-80
ISSN 0731-3527

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