There is a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding about what Cataloging in Publication (CIP) entails, what is or is not conferred by a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN), the nature of the Library of Congress’s Preassigned Control Number Program (PCN), and the for-profit Publisher Cataloging in Publication (PCIP) services offered by freelance cataloguers. Worse still is the myth that the author whose book does not contain CIP data or a coveted LCCN cannot sell their books to libraries. This is simply untrue: all that a CIP data block does is reduce the workload of a cataloging librarian; the absence of a CIP block or an LCCN in no way prevents a library from buying your book and putting it into circulation. And in the United States, self-published authors are barred from the Library of Congress’s CIP program anyway, rendering an LCCN essentially useless. In this four-part series on CIP, LCCNs, PCNs, and PCIPs, I take you through each program and debunk the myths that surround them.
CIP and LCCN: Do You Really Need Them?
Many indie authors believe that CIP data provides a stamp of approval to their book, and that libraries will not consider buying a book that does not contain CIP. Both are not true. For American indie authors, one can argue that a Library of Congress CIP record does confer some semblance of status—the Library has deemed your book “worthy” of inclusion in its catalogue—but for authors whose national libraries do not discriminate against self-published titles, CIP data confers no status at all.
American indie authors often mistakenly covet an LCCN, and will jump through the hoops of the PCN program in the hope of receiving this alleged stamp of approval. But as I indicated in Part II, just because you receive an LCCN does not mean a CIP record will ultimately be produced, and if it is not then the whole process was a waste of your time and the money you spent sending in your book. Applying to the PCN program for an LCCN is in a sense a gamble, a lottery ticket you buy in the hope that the Library of Congress will want your book and, if so, will then tell everyone else about it through their Cataloging Distribution Service (CDS).
The truth is that the presence of an LCCN or a CIP record in your book has little to no bearing on whether or not a library will consider purchasing your book.
An empty LCCN record does nothing for nobody, and the only thing the CIP record does for a librarian is remove the task of producing the record themselves. Acquisition librarians do not make their selections based on what their national library deems worthy; librarians make their selections based on perceived need or popularity, peer recommendations, patron requests (a key metric), and the library’s public policy.
If a library decides to purchase your book, the cataloguing librarian will produce a bibliographic record and input that into their library’s catalogue. The librarian also uploads the catalogue record to the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), which tells all the other member libraries worldwide what is in the library’s collection, which facilitates inter-library loans. When a librarian encounters a book for cataloguing that does not contain a CIP record, the librarian first looks for the book in the OCLC to see if anyone else has already catalogued a copy. If so, the librarian can use the same subject headings and catalogue numbers, or can produce their own record if they disagree with the previous librarian’s choices. Either way, what is important to take from this is that acquiring an LCCN or CIP record is not mandatory to get into a library’s collection, and there are other bibliographic resources—including their own knowledge and training—available to a librarian who needs to catalogue your book.
If you acquire an LCCN for your book via the PCN program, the LCCN becomes a sort of peg that anyone else producing a bibliographic record can hang it on. However, if a librarian produces a bibliographic record for your book and includes the LCCN, then uploads the record to the OCLC, that does not mean the Library of Congress will replicate it and add it to the Library’s database; the data record will only be added to the Library’s database if they decide to acquire your book. In this respect the LCCN functions no differently than your ISBN: it is just another peg to hang information about your book on.
Authors who use a vanity publisher such as iUniverse, or who use an ISBN from Amazon’s CreateSpace, can pay these vanity publishers to apply for an LCCN but, as already indicated, this does not mean a CIP record will be produced.
It is misleading for a vanity publisher to suggest that the LCCN is necessary to make your book “eligible for library cataloging nationwide,” that an LCCN makes it “easier for them to purchase your book,” or that “this unique identifier helps them access the correct cataloging data, which the Library of Congress and third parties make available on the Web and through other media.”
If you want to get into libraries you are likely better off spending the money taking a librarian out to lunch.
For American authors anxious about their lack of a CIP record, there has arisen an industry that preys on that anxiety: the Publisher’s Cataloging in Publication service. I discuss this in Part IV, the final part of this series.