By Danielle Sinon
Visiting your local public library looking for a specific item can often feel like a search for hidden treasure. It can seem daunting to try to find anything without the help of a librarian. All the different sections and call numbers can be overwhelming!
Luckily, there’s a system working in the background that keeps everything running smoothly to make sure books can easily be found. And for this we can thank the Library of Congress.
History of the Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is a research library located in Washington, D.C. and is considered the national library of the United States. Established in 1800, the library first served members of Congress, giving them access to materials purchased and donated by former presidents. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the library began to use its resources to aid libraries across the country.
The Library of Congress created their own method for organizing books: the Library of Congress Classification System (LC). This system is most commonly used in academic libraries, but has also been adopted by some public libraries. Similar to the more common Dewey Decimal System, it uses series of letters and numbers to classify materials by subject matter.
What is Cataloging-in-Publication (CIP)?
One of the most important resources provided by the Library of Congress is the Cataloging-in-Publication (CIP) Program. Before a book is published, a request is sent to the Library of Congress to create a bibliographic record. Once this request has been fulfilled, the CIP data will be printed on the copyright page, near the front of the book.
This means the book now has a unique LCCN (Library of Congress Control Number). Combined with the book’s ISBN (International Standard Book Number), the Library of Congress can now add books to their official catalog, allowing librarians and booksellers to have easy access to this information. You’ve probably flipped past this information many times without realizing its importance.
What Does the CIP Mean for Researchers?
As was already mentioned, the most important pieces of information provided in the CIP data are the ISBN and LCCN numbers. Also included in this section are:
The name of the author
The title of the book
A brief physical description of the book, including where it was published
A note on whether there is an index or bibliographic entry in the book
Library of Congress classification number
Dewey Decimal classification number
Using these pieces of information, anyone can access the Library of Congress’ online catalog to search for a specific book.
Even if you didn’t know the title or the author of the book in question, you would be able to use one of the classification numbers or maybe even the publishing location to find what you’re looking for.
How Does the CIP Apply to Authors?
Writing a book can be a difficult task in and of itself. It may take years to get to the point of being ready to publish and even longer for your work to get attention. This is where CIP data comes into play.
With this small paragraph of information, you have an advantage in the market. Not all books qualify for cataloging with the Library of Congress. According to the Library of Congress’ website,
Recognizing this constraint the CIP Program is limited to publishers with an established history of producing works that are widely acquired by the nation’s libraries. Such works often include publications produced by small publishers (over 40% of CIP publishers publish less than 5 titles a year), but do not include works of self-publishers. https://www.loc.gov/publish/cip/faqs/
One of the benefits of hybrid publishing is that you and your book should qualify for Library of Congress In-Publication Data, so long as you publish with a reputable publisher. This is a step that will be completed by the publisher on your behalf prior to publication.
Once your book is registered with the Library of Congress and its out for all the world to read, librarians across the country can find your book and use this information to add it to their local databases.
Next time you go to your local library, pick up a book and look inside the first page. Looking at it now it will probably make a lot more sense and will mean more to you than it did in the past. But not everyone knows this secret; it’s kind of like hidden treasure.