Whatever happened to cataloging-in-publication from the Library of Congress?

Cataloging-in-publication data, CIP for short, used to be found on the verso (i.e. back) of the title page in practically every book published by a major publisher in the United States, and most of those in Britain. CIP is a miniature catalog record for the book with the essential information: title, author, subject heading, and call number. Maybe some notes if you were lucky. It started appearing in the early 1970s, gradually at first, until by the beginning of the 1980s it was in most books. The purpose of it was to streamline the time-consuming task of cataloging: as soon as your library acquired a book, one of your local catalogers could just check the CP and pop it onto the shelf instantly with a quick ‘n’ dirty catalog record built in.

The past few years, it seems to have completely disappeared. The British publishers were never as enthusiastic about it; sometimes they just replaced it with a note saying the CIP was available from them if you really wanted it. Sometimes they ignored it altogether. Eventually no one in Britain even thought about it any more, for all I can tell.

I’ve been inactive in the librarian profession for 3 years now, during which time American publishers seem to have dropped it completely too. I was just going through my recent book acquisitions and didn’t find CIP on any American imprint later than 2001 or so. It had started to get scarcer in American imprints during the late '90s, I think. I shelve my own books at home according to Library of Congress classification, and it’s so easy to check the CIP to know where to fit it in with the rest of the collection instantly. If I don’t find it there, I go to the Library of Congress database online and find the bibliographic record for it. If even they don’t have it, then I use my expert knowledge of LC classification to make a call number myself. Now I have bigger stacks of new books next to my desk waiting for me to look them up, because CIP has disappeared. Not an important issue at all, just curious why they dropped something so convenient. The publisher fills out a form before the book goes to press, and the Library of Congress catalogers send them back the CIP information for inserting on the title page verso. Once I even worked for a publisher and did this filling out of CIP application forms for new books. (But I couldn’t resist the urge to supply the LC subject headings and class numbers, and one of the LC catalogers called me up to talk when he saw I knew what I was doing, and we became friends.)

Maybe everyone dropped CIP because it’s so easy now to look up bibliographic records online? Nobody wants to bother with the application forms anymore?

I just looked at the New York Times Best Sellers for hardcover nonfiction. Of the eight books I examined in the top ten, seven had the LOC Cataloging-in-Publication data on the copyright pages.

Now I looked at ten books in the Top 15. Nine had LOC Cataloging-in-Publication data on their copyright pages.

Way to go, Wal. Make me look like a library idiot, who once used to be a crack cataloger. I swear though I’m not making this up. Maybe my problem is I read a lot of dissident books from radical, lesbian, or offbeat publishers who want to stick it to The Man. I can’t remember the last time I read anything off the NYT Bestseller List. Heck, I can’t remember the last time I even looked at it, even in the store. I love the obscure, the weird, and the dissident. I’m talking Loompanics, Pat Califia, and Hakim Bey here. So maybe it’s just my reading tastes that are at fault.

Maybe not—I recall reading in Smithsonian an article about the Weekly World News, which revealed (with amusing photographic evidence) that the LOC devoted shelf space to this publication.

I am an editor at a small publishing outfit (small as in we print maybe 2-3 books per year). Before I started working here, a lot of our books lacked CIP data because no one was on the ball enough to get the applications sent in time. The LOC wants all kinds of material from the book - table of contents, front matter, back matter, first and last chapters - and if you are a small publisher, then you might not have those things ready far enough in advance to satisfy the LOC requirements. (They also want those things in ASCII format, which doesn’t work so well for us because we deal with topics that require a lot of special fonts and characters.)

Now that some new personnel have been working here, the CIP info has started to re-appear in our titles. But it takes some diligence to remember to initiate the process. And it’s a lot less of a crisis to have CIP missing than, say, an index.

So my short answer: It’s an easy part of the book-making process to lose track of, especially if you are a small publisher.