[ TAF Home ] Proceedings of the Taxonomic Authority Files Workshop, Washington, DC, June 22-23, 1998

The Program for Cooperative Cataloging

Beacher Wiggins

Director for Cataloging, Library of Congress
Member, PCC Steering and Policy Committees


Today, I will speak briefly about the Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC). First, I will present a brief history of the PCC, which, because of the Program's evolution, will include early and seminal Library of Congress (LC) cooperative activities. I will follow this with a list of benefits to be derived from cooperative cataloging participation.


It is generally accepted that LC's cooperative cataloging efforts began in 1902 when the Library began distributing its cataloging data to other libraries via the sale of Library of Congress printed cards. This distribution made LC's cataloging available to all academic and public libraries across the United States and theoretically allowed them a method for creating and maintaining a catalog for their users without having to staff original cataloging departments. As a result of libraries across the country using LC's cataloging records as the basis for their own cataloging, the Library of Congress' cataloging policies and practices became the national cataloging standard. LC itself increasingly assumed the role of the de-facto national library of the United States.

It was in the mid 1970s, that LC made a defining shift in its approach to cooperative projects. One of the first big cooperative projects began in 1973 when LC entered into a cooperative serials project, using OCLC as the database to house the records. This cooperative project sought to make the cataloging of serial publications more cost effective. The model used had catalogers at LC input serial records into the OCLC database, to which catalogers at others libraries could add more information as it became available or as a serial changed from any given issue to another. Serials catalogers at other institutions could also submit catalog records for serial publications not already cataloged by LC. This cooperative arrangement helped reduce the cost of cataloging serials by institutions sharing the work. This project, which has become one of the most successful cooperative cataloging programs, is the Cooperative Online Serials Program, or as it is more familiarly known, CONSER. Recently brought under the Program for Cooperative Cataloging umbrella, CONSER celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1998.

In 1977, LC entered into a cooperative project with our sister government agency, the Government Printing Office (GPO), whereby the catalogers at the GPO library created authority records for the names of the various congressional committees and government agencies used on GPO cataloging records and contributed them to LC's Name authority file. In this way, when a cataloger at LC needed to use that name for a cataloging record, that name would already be available in the authority file, thus sharing the cost of creating authority records, which is generally acknowledged as being the most expensive process in cataloging. The project was called the Name Authority Cooperative, now simply called NACO. This program celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1997. It, too, broke new ground when, in 1987, OCLC and RLG reached an agreement with LC which allowed for the electronic transfer of all name authorities contributed to the Name Authority File.

Also in the late 1970s, perhaps attributable to the growing success of the bibliographic utilities, LC's cataloging products began to be used by more and more libraries worldwide. There followed an interest by a growing number of libraries to participate cooperatively in creating subject authorities. As a result, a program emerged that has now become known as SACO (the Subject Authority Program).

In 1988, the cooperative bibliographic program, called the National Coordinated Cataloging Program (NCCP), was born. NCCP began with eight major U.S. university libraries sending their bibliographic catalog records directly to the LC online catalog. By 1990, the number of libraries participating in the NACO, SACO, CONSER and NCCP had grown nicely. Some dissatisfaction existed, however, and a view developed that a restructured, less cumbersome, and more cost effective approach to cooperative cataloging was needed in order to meet what has been labeled the growing crisis in cataloging. This crisis in cataloging can best be described as the result of a shrinking economic base for libraries to acquire and process the increasing number of library materials available worldwide. This, combined with the loss of library staff and the need to train librarians to work with and catalog the new and ever evolving technologies, such as computer files, electronic journals, and Internet resources, has forced libraries to look for ways to redirect their resources.

So it was that, in 1992, LC convened a joint meeting to explore issues in cooperative cataloging, using the existing programs as a springboard for discussion—in effect to discuss the future of cooperative cataloging programs. Invited to attend were the participants of the CONSER and NCCP programs. Because the cataloging crisis is not just local, but global, invitations were also extended to representatives from the National Library of Canada, the National Library of Australia, and the British Library.

Figure 1. The chronological evolution of PCC.
1973 – CONSER
1977 – NACO
1992 – SACO
1995 – BIBCO
1995 – PCC

From these discussions came the conclusion that what libraries needed and wanted to participate in were cooperative venues that promised to produce more cataloging that would be better, cheaper, and faster. This became the first goal of the newly crafted mission statement of what emerged as the Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC). In 1995, what was NCCP was transformed into the bibliographic component of the Program and is now called BIBCO.

PCC is very democratic in nature, with most members having voting rights. Within the new consolidated PCC, it is the PCC Policy Committee that holds participatory directorship of the BIBCO, CONSER, NACO, and SACO programs. PCC also includes a Steering Committee, two Operations Committees, and three standing committees (for automation, standards, and training), as well as an Advisory Board composed of members from national and international library organizations that are not PCC member institutions.

The Program's 1997-2002 Strategic Plan states its mission as:

In support of the need to provide access to information resources the Program will seek to cooperatively increase the timely availability of authoritative records created and maintained under accepted standards, to facilitate the cost-effective creation and use of these records, and to provide leadership in the national and international information community.

It goes on to delineate five goals in support of the mission:

Goal 1 focuses on database/bibliographic and authority records.
Increase the timely availability of bibliographic and authority records by cataloging more resources, by producing authoritative cataloging that is widely available for sharing and use by others, and by cataloging in a cost-effective manner.
Goal 2 deals with standards.
Promote the development and use of nationally and internationally accepted standards, rules, and conventions to support wide use of records.
Goal 3 highlights leadership.
Provide leadership within the broad information community and promote the values of the Program for Cooperative Cataloging.
Goal 4 underscores membership.
Expand membership and encourage active participation.
Goal 5 spotlights governance and operations.
Operate in a cooperative manner with an effective and efficient governance and management structure.

There are currently over 250 members representing all types of libraries participating in the NACO Program. Subject heading proposals for inclusion in the Library of Congress Subject Headings are sent to the SACO Program from all over the world. Twenty libraries participate in CONSER and twenty-six libraries participate in the BIBCO Program. The Library of Congress continues to play a leadership role but we share our leadership role with our cooperative partners. The NACO participants form the foundation for the Program, the BIBCO and CONSER participants provide the superstructure, and LC, acting as the Secretariat, provides the infrastructure through training and documentation.

International Participation

Three major characteristics (at least, up to now) of the participants in the PCC are:

  1. we all use as the basis for our cataloging the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, 2nd. ed. (AACR2);
  2. we use the MARC 21 formats; and, most importantly,
  3. our basic cataloging language is English (especially for the authorized headings and the information provided in our authority files).

A new challenge for the Program results from the fact that in the last few years we have increasingly begun to get queries from libraries from predominantly non-English speaking countries asking how they, too, might participate in the PCC. We have heard from libraries all over the world, including Brazil, Israel, Russia, Korea, Lithuania, Romania, South Africa, and other Eastern European countries. In September 1997, several LC catalogers presented a five-day cataloging workshop to librarians from the three Baltic countries at the Baltic Cataloging Conference. Besides the language differences, we have discovered that in many cases these Eastern European countries are not using the MARC format; in many instances, they are just now at the point of acquiring a new automated system and of beginning to convert manual files. We have also found that many countries are not using AACR2 as their base cataloging code. In spite of these differences, we continue to seek ways to facilitate international participation.

We have great expectations for the expansion of the PCC programs into the international library arena. As we move forward on this front, we find that the two major challenges facing the PCC in the next five years are:

  1. facilitating a method to ease the exchange of cataloging data between the PCC's programs and those libraries that do not use the same cataloging formats; and
  2. finding a way to broaden the current cataloging rules and policies to accommodate the non-English language versions of authorized authority headings.

Benefits of Participation

We think that the tangible benefits that accrue from participating in PCC will justify our efforts. Advantages offered by the Program for Cooperative Cataloging and its components include:

  1. More authority and bibliographic records are added to the distributed national and international databases. This means that because libraries use each other's cataloging to provide access to materials they have in common, they are then able to catalog more items, increasing the number of unique original items added to databases.
  2. More dependable cataloging. The use of a shared standard increases the reliability and predictable quality of the cataloging.
  3. More efficient cataloging. Bibliographic records created by catalogers to a common standard, allow libraries to develop workflows that are streamlined. The records require less review, enabling support staff, rather than catalogers, to review and process the work.
  4. More cost-effective cataloging. Copy cataloging is less expensive than creating original cataloging. In addition, the PCC requirement that all cataloging contain headings that are represented in a shared authority file increases the number of headings in the authority file, reducing the total cost of original cataloging by distributing the labor-intensive and costly creation of authority records to a large number of participants.
  5. More timely cataloging. When a library is able to increase its copy cataloging, it can process materials more quickly. In addition, in as much as the supporting authority work is already available, it has increased capacity to process more quickly materials that, because of lack of copy, require original cataloging.
  6. Better problem-solving through networking. The network of catalogers creates a strong resource for resolving tough bibliographic issues.
  7. Access to expert training. PCC participants have access to highly qualified trainers from a pool drawn from peer institutions, including the Library of Congress.
  8. Influence on national and international cataloging policies. PCC and CONSER participants have a strong, coherent voice in the review and development of cataloging standards. Their recommendations have influenced the development of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, and have resulted in the review and streamlining of the Library of Congress Rule Interpretations.
  9. Cataloging staff are liberated to do other intellectual work. Professionals on our staffs (or higher paid staff if you will) can turn their attention to the new issues of information processing because the work of cataloging the majority of our mainstream collections has been shared.

We know that the issues confronting those with expertise in the organization of knowledge have never been greater than they are today. We are moving rapidly into the description and analysis of electronic materials. As noted earlier, access to Internet resources has become an essential aspect of providing information. We cannot, however, transfer our experience in cataloging traditional items such as books and serials wholesale into this new environment. We need to find more efficient ways to control such traditional material so that we can turn our attention to the critical area of access to digital materials. Cooperative programs that help increase our efficiency and lower the cost of cataloging will also help to free up highly trained professionals to explore new avenues of access.

I have appreciated being asked to speak to you this afternoon. Thank you for your attention.

Transcript of Discussion Go to discussion

About the Author

Beacher Wiggins is Director for Cataloging at the Library of Congress. He and his managers and staff are responsibile for cataloging activities, including authority control and formulation and dissemination of cataloging policy for the Library of Congress and the national and international library communities.