There 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?
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.
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:
- Library of Congress PCN program information
- Quality Books P-CIP Program (No longer available as of July, 2017)
- Adrienne Ehlert Bashista, a freelance Cataloger-At-Large who prepares P-CIP data blocks for publishers
- 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.