CIP: What It Means, How to Read It, Who Should Get It

by Joel Friedlander on March 23, 2010 · 19 comments

Copyright symbolThere is one place in printed books where we look for all kinds of editorial, bibliographic, legal, promotional and production information: the copyright page. But among all this information, data, legal notices and marketing and contact information, there’s one piece of content on the copyright page that is obscure to most people who pick up the book: the CIP data block, issued by the Library of Congress’ Cataloging in Publication program.

According to the Library of Congress, the CIP program allows catalogers to

complete the descriptive cataloging …, assign subject headings …, and assign full Library of Congress and Dewey decimal classification numbers. … A machine-readable version of the record is distributed to large libraries, bibliographic utilities, and book vendors around the world.

This transmission of data is what makes participation in the program useful for selling books. Being listed in the databases of large libraries and book wholesalers thanks to the Library of Congress program eliminates one of the obstacles to achieving library sales for a book. And for many books, libraries are a critical part of their market.

The Problem with the Program

Unfortunately, the CIP program excludes self-publishers from participating, and that applies to authors who have published with one of the “subsidy” presses like LuLu or Createspace. It also excludes publishers who have issued less than 3 books by authors other than themselves. This effectively bars self-publishers from the program, even those whose books would be of great interest to libraries.

The good news is that participation in the Library of Congress’ Preassigned Control Number (PCN) program is open to all publishers who list a U.S. place of publication on the title or copyright page, and who maintain an office inside the U.S. where they can answer questions from the catalogers. And once you have a PCN you can pay for your own CIP to be created.

CIP data blocks created by the Library of Congress are known as LC-CIP. Those created by a publisher, or by a third party on behalf of a publisher, are known as P-CIP. The chief source for P-CIP for many years has been Quality Books, a distributor of small press books to libraries. Their fee for this service is $100.

As with the Library of Congress, you will have to fill out their forms and supply information about your book. A cataloger will analyze your submission and produce a P-CIP data block to be printed in your book. Of course, the downside is that this record will not be distributed to large libraries and wholesalers, the way the Library of Congress’ record is distributed.

This leads to the question of whether it’s worth it for a self-publisher to go through the time and expense of having a P-CIP data block produced for her book. And the answer is actually quite simple: If you anticipate making any appreciable sale to libraries, it’s probably well worthwhile to get P-CIP. Having this cataloging information simply makes librarians’ jobs that much easier, reducing their resistance just a bit to acquiring your book for their collection.

Particularly if you publish reference books, histories, books about local events that would be of interest to libraries in your region, travel books, directories, how-to books on popular topics, or similar books, you could well have a good sized market with the thousands of libraries, both public and private, throughout the country.

What Does it All Mean?

Copyright page CIP data block

Click to enlarge

This brings us to the data block itself, and our attempts to decode the arcane notation of the catalogers. Here’s a line by line guide to what’s in the CIP in this illustration (and this is a complete invention, just for illustration).

A. Alerts the librarian the CIP was prepared by or for the Publisher
B. The main entry under which the book is cataloged, always the author’s name.
C. The title, followed by a statement of responsibility, in this case assigning authorship to John and Joan Doe.
D. Physical description of the book, almost always blank since the books are usually not yet published.
E. Notes whether an index or other bibliographical entries are in the book.
F. ISBN
G. Subject headings, conforming to Library of Congress usage. Here’s an important note from Lisa Shiel, an experienced CIP cataloger: “The subject headings . . . MUST be authorized Library of Congress subject headings or it isn’t really CIP–and it isn’t properly cataloged. . . . Unless you are experienced with choosing subject headings you may misunderstand the intricacies of cataloging or inadvertently choose a heading that has fallen out of favor.” See the comments to the blog post for Lisa’s complete comments.
H. Indicates other ways the book will be cataloged, here by title as well as by author.
I. Library of Congress classification number.
J. Dewey Decimal classification number.
K. Library of Congress PCN. Note the year the number was issued is in the first four digits.
Note that since this article was published I have incorporated the information generously provided in the comments by Lisa Shiel, an experienced CIP cataloger.

So there you have it. Here are some resources for going further into the CIP area:

  1. Library of Congress PCN program information
  2. Quality Books P-CIP Program
  3. Adrienne Ehlert Bashista, a freelance Cataloger-At-Large who prepares P-CIP data blocks for publishers
  4. Five Rainbows CIP Cataloging service

Takeaway: Although participation in the Library of Congress CIP program is closed to self-publishers, understanding this data block and how it’s used by librarians will tell you whether to go to the time and trouble to acquire your own.

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    { 17 comments… read them below or add one }

    Larry Elwood March 23, 2010 at 5:22 am

    Joel,

    Just wanted to thank you for this article. I have combed the web looking for these details to no avail.. until now. For a new publisher, this info is vital!

    Larry

    Reply

    Walt Shiel March 23, 2010 at 8:39 am

    Here is a link to a couple of posts on my blog on why CIP/PCIP is important and how DIYers often don’t get it right:

    Also, our subsidiary Five Rainbows Services has been providing PCIP services for indie and self publishers for several years now at .

    Reply

    betty ming liu March 23, 2010 at 10:16 am

    It’s so helpful that 1) you post this nitty-gritty stuff and that 2) you explain things simply and clearly. Like many writers, I’m always fantasizing about becoming an author. But I doubt many of us think about these business essentials which are crucial to real success. So thanks for this info!

    Reply

    Joel March 23, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Larry, you are welcome. Sometimes it’s the simple things that are hard to find, glad this was useful.

    Walt, I didn’t realize you did CIP, why don’t you send me the link to that service and I’ll add it to the resources at the bottom of the post?

    Betty, this is the kind of thing writers never got involved with so, consequently, don’t really know anything about. But with the world getting flatter, and people taking on more responsibility for their own publications, there’s a whole host of information that was the domain of the “back office” people that’s coming into the light, and I really enjoy delving into this arcana. Thanks for your comment!

    Reply

    EMMERENCIA W. June 17, 2010 at 3:10 am

    i am a Cameroonian and i am about to publish my first book but i dont, know how to go about it plase can you you give men and idea?

    Reply

    betty ming liu March 23, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    I agree, Joel! Writers need to know everything now. It’s happened in my field too — journalism. We now teach students that they must be good at more than reporting and writing. They have to know how to handle a video camera, edit video clips, do podcasts, blog, etc. The whole world is changing.

    Reply

    Lisa A. Shiel March 25, 2010 at 9:28 am

    I’m a professional CIP cataloger for Five Rainbows Services. Just a couple points to clarify:

    1. The main entry (labeled B in your example) in CIP data is always the author’s name. For collections, where an editor is listed on the title page rather than the authors, the main entry line is excluded. An editor’s name may appear in the added entries (labeled as H in the example).

    2. The physical descriptions is nearly always blank because the books are not yet published, and often the size and page count aren’t set.

    3. The subject headings (labeled as G in the example) MUST be authorized LC subject headings or it isn’t really CIP–and it isn’t properly cataloged. Virtually all libraries in the US use LC subject headings. Some people think they can browse the LC online catalog to find their own subject headings for DIY CIP, but this is a bad idea. Unless you are experienced with choosing subject headings you may misunderstand the intricacies of cataloging or inadvertently choose a heading that has fallen out of favor.

    You can find more info about CIP on the Five Rainbows site: http://www.fiverainbows.com/cip.php

    Sincerely,
    Lisa A. Shiel

    Reply

    Joel March 25, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Lisa,

    Thanks so much for your expert commentary. I think from your comments readers can clearly see why you need an experienced cataloger to prepare P-CIP data, it’s not something one can do themselves.

    Reply

    April L. Hamilton August 31, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Joel -
    I just wanted to clarify, neither Lulu nor Createspace are subsidy outfits. A subsidy publisher retains at least some of the rights to material it publishes for a period of time, and with Lulu and Createspace, the author or imprint which submits material to be published retains all rights to that material. Lulu and Createspace are really just print and digital service providers.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 31, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Thanks for the clarification, April.

    Of course, if you use a “free” ISBN from LuLu or CreateSpace they might move past the “print service provider” classification.

    We really need an overhaul of the language used to talk about these companies to avoid misstatements like this but still make it clear what separates service providers from subsidy publishers from so-called “vanity” publishers and so on.

    Reply

    April L. Hamilton August 31, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Joel -
    My “comment” was turning into a blog post, so I posted it as such on my Indie Author blog. The link to it is embedded in my name, above this comment.

    Reply

    April L. Hamilton August 31, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Joel – I think your spam filter keeps foiling my attempts to post that link to the blog post I referenced above. Anyone who wants to read the post, try going to:

    http://www.aprilhamilton.blogspot.com/2010/08/isbns-dont-matter-as-much-as-you.htm

    (ed: link added)

    Or, once the post has been pushed down the page by newer content, it can be found by searching the blog for “ISBN”.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 31, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    I’ve added the link, April, so people can follow the thread if they like. I added a comment there and appreciate your amplification of the subject. Thanks!

    Reply

    MrDotJim January 30, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    Thank you again, I am an undergraduate majoring in the life sciences in Taiwan. This helps a lot after searching for informations that could explain the “arcane” data block provided by the library of congress.

    Thank you!

    Reply

    spencer selby April 16, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    I hope Joel is right that P-CIP is worth it for those that have reference books, as do I. I’m not totally convinced. I read somewhere that librarians now don’t agree that CIP remains necessary. If that is true, my concern is that CIP is used now more as a stamp of approval, in which case P-CIP wouldn’t help.

    Reply

    Walt Shiel August 21, 2013 at 6:23 am

    Joel,

    One correction: the link to the Five Rainbows Services PCIP page has changed to .

    One addition: a few providers of PCIP services, including Five Rainbows Services, can also get your book’s metadata uploaded to WorldCat. This makes that extended cataloging data available to thousands of libraries around the world, libraries who can simply download the data into their systems rather than rekeying it. This can also be done post-publication if the book’s metadata has not already been uploaded by an acquiring library.

    Reply

    Sandy Nathan November 15, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    I’ve entered many book contests for independent presses and authors––and I’ve won pretty consistently. A famous book shepherd told me to get a PCIP or CIP, for all the reasons above and because book contest judges will scrutinize everything about your book, especially the copyright page. Does it look professional? I.e., like Random House published the book? I’ve always included a PCIP. To date, I’ve won 24 national awards. Did the PCIP/CIP do it? No clue. But I’m just about to contact Walt to order another.

    Reply

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