National Bibliographies and Collection Development

by Moya K. Mason

National bibliographies are non-commercial publications that attempt to list everything produced in a country "under the auspices of a national library or other governmental agency" (Evans 1995,493). The items usually come to the agency through a national copyright law that demands legal deposit. National bibliographies are primarily used "to identify and verify, to locate, and to select" (Katz 1982,43). As Gorman and Howe point out in Collection Development for Libraries, national bibliographies are found in most countries that have an organized publishing trade (Gorman 1989,254). For instance, the National Library of Canada has compiled Canadiana, the national bibliography of Canada, since 1950.

According to its website, its mandate is to collect all books, electronic documents, periodicals, video recordings, sound recordings, educational kits, microforms, theses, music scores, government documents, and pamphlets "produced in Canada, or published elsewhere but of special interest or significance to Canada" (NLC 1998). In Canada, more than 35,000 new publications are produced each year, and having been collected, are catalogued and compiled in Canadiana. It is a document of Canada's heritage, preserved by the National Library of Canada, and is a useful tool for scholars working on Canadian studies, and for providing information on Canadian publications.

Many countries around the world have national bibliographies, which can now be accessed through the Internet. As William A. Katz points out, they bring enormous order out of the chaos of tens of thousands of items published each year (Katz 1982,74). The British National Bibliography (1950) is a comprehensive inventory of all UK and Irish publications gathered under legal depository laws, and catalogued by the experienced staff of the British National Library. Although there is no official American national bibliography, the Library of Congress has been authorized to use the National Union Catalog (NUC) for that role. It was begun in 1876 and is very comprehensive, with listings from more than one thousand North American libraries. This catalogue contains many items not published in the United States, including foreign language titles. The NUC is very useful for finding the location of materials available in American libraries and what can be borrowed through interlibrary loans. As William Katz writes in Introduction to Reference Work, the National Union Catalog:

Represents a running account of what has been published both in the United States and throughout the world. The catalogue is used to check and verify, although primarily for retrospective rather than current searches (Katz 1980,124).

Using national bibliographies for collection development has many advantages since they include cataloguing data that is quite extensive; ISSN and ISBN information; they are considered accurate; include everything , even what is gone out of print; and provide more information than trade bibliographies. In Buying Books, Liz Chapman writes:

If searching trade bibliographies does not provide all the information you need and if in particular, you are looking for non-current material, you should move onto national bibliographies (Chapman 1989,17).

Their advantage is that national bibliographies list everything that has been published, what is now available, and future proposals (Katz 1982,43). The listing of forthcoming publications permits librarians to put in advance orders for books and to find out if an upcoming book could possibly fill a void in a collection. National bibliographies are also valuable for verifying bibliographic information; for checking spelling; finding materials through subject headings; and for compiling copy cataloguing (Katz 1982,74).

There are disadvantages that can result from using national bibliographies to do collection development, with the primary one being the limited nature of the materials included by any one country. In some ways, the exception here would be the National Union Catalog that includes many non-American publications in the collection. In addition, they collect everything, not only the good items. The other thing to remember about national bibliographies is that some cover more types of materials than others. For instance, BNB contains no music, maps, periodicals, nor many governmental publications (Chapman 1989,18). Secondly, Chapman reports that there have been considerable delays with getting items listed in the BNB, nearing one year for some publications (Chapman 1989,18). One implication is that prices could have changed in the meantime. Budgetary cutbacks at all national libraries, coupled with the increase in the sheer numbers of volumes being published currently, makes these kinds of slowdowns widespread. Depending upon trade bibliographies may be more timely if currency issues are important. National bibliographies can only be considered alerting tools, and need to be used with reviews, subject bibliographies, standard lists, and guides to the literature (Gorman 1989,252).

National bibliographic collections are important for the preservation of a country's intellectual property; for permitting scholars access to important books and manuscripts; to show where intellectual disparities lay; and to allow users to find out where particular books are, with the added possibility of borrowing them. They also have value for collection development, but caution should be exercised. Using national bibliographies as tools for selection seems better suited for retrospective collecting, where time and currency are not important factors.

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Historical Development of Library Catalogues: Their Purpose and Organization
Grey Literature: History, Definition, Acquisition, and Cataloguing
Library Catalogues and Collection Development
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Chapman, Liz. 1989. Buying Books for Libraries. London: Library Association/Bingley.

Evans, G. Edward. 1995. Developing Library and Information Center Collections, 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs, CO.: Libraries Unlimited.

Gorman, G.E., and B.R. Howes. 1989. Collection Development for Libraries. London: Centre for Information Studies.

Katz, William A. 1982. Introduction to Reference Work Volume 1: Basic Information Sources, 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Katz, William A. 1992. Introduction to Reference Work Volume 1: Basic Information Sources, 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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