Making Book 1: MARC for Library Use

This is the first in a (possible) series of memoirish notes on how my books came to be.


MARC for Library Use was not the first book length manuscript I wrote.

That would have been the study of newspaper coverage of the Free Speech Movement, which I wrote (I think) two or three years after FSM itself—thus, in the mid-1960s. On an electric typewriter. Doing nearly all of my research from roll microfilm of daily newspapers. Which, as other oldsters might imagine, left me ever-so-fond of microfilmed newspapers and those lovely manual readers.

What happened to that manuscript? I have no idea. There were two copies—an original and a carbon copy. (Where, exactly, would a penurious student go to get a 400-page manuscript copied in, say, 1966? And how would he afford it?) I submitted the manuscript to the University of California Press. Which rejected it. I would have submitted it elsewhere, I think, but in the meantime loaned it to a “friend” to read. Who disappeared…with the manuscript in his possession. The carbon copy somehow wandered as well.

I think it was a pretty good project. I may be fooling myself. Anyway…


I started developing MARC-based software in 1972, the year I moved from UC Berkeley Doe Library’s circulation department to the Library Systems Office. (USMARC goes back even farther: MARC II originated in 1968.)

When I moved to the Research Libraries Group (RLG) in 1979, I continued to work with MARC—unsurprisingly—and in 1980 became Product Batch Group manager, in charge of the behind-the-scenes work that produced all products from RLG member and user cataloging (except for catalog cards—my group made sure that the intermediate steps worked, but the phenomenally complex and flexible card production software was in another group). Most Product Batch work was in pure MARC—directory, leader and all. I retained one key piece of code from Berkeley: A very compact PL/I subroutine to extract desired fields or subfields from a MARC record with minimal overhead. (Back then, programmers spent a lot of time working on efficiency!) I would note that UC’s statewide library systems group, UCDLA, also borrowed that routine.

I was aware that library vendors, especially smaller-system vendors, had a tendency to call systems “MARC Compatible” that could not, in fact, import and export MARC records on a generalized basis, and that there was a need for better understanding of MARC itself. At one point, my group hired a library school graduate who’d taken a course on MARC and who had his syllabus from the course (since there were no textbooks). I read the syllabus and was horrified: Much of it was wrong or oversimplified (e.g., assuming a certain limitation was part of the format because one interactive system had that limitation).

The field needed a proper book on USMARC. I started talking up the idea with people at the Library of Congress, the people who were the actual experts. (I started serving as a liaison from RLG to the USMARC advisory group in early 1981 into 1987, the last two years as a MARBI committee member from LITA. I became acquainted with Henriette Avram in that role.)

I got nowhere with the effort. And finally said, “I’ll do it myself.” With considerable trepidation.

My vague recollections involve about 12-18 months of research and writing (fortunately, I had my first personal computer by then: A Morrow MD2 with no hard drive but two diskette drives, one for the OS and software, one for data: it had a honking big 128K of RAM and was, I believe, a Z80 CPU). I remember quite a few trips back to Berkeley to work with material in the Library School Library (since shut down, along with the library school). Eventually, I had a manuscript—and got reviews at various stages from several people at RLG, colleagues at OCLC and WLN and Penn State, and some of the actual experts at LC, including Henriette Avram. (Ms. Avram also provided a foreword.)

I submitted the manuscript to the foremost library publisher. They didn’t know what to do with it. They suggested rewriting it as a cataloging manual. They dithered. Eventually, I told them I was offering it elsewhere. Which I did—to Knowledge Industry Publications, Inc. (KIPI). The acquisitions editor there also wasn’t quite sure what to make of it—but thought the topic might be important and took a chance.


In 1984, it appeared—a 222-page 8.5×11″ hardbound and paperback (back then, some library publishers did both versions).

It succeeded better than KIPI had expected and probably better than I had. Of all the books I’ve written (without co-authors), I’m pretty sure it’s the best-selling…and quite possibly the most important. I know that at least one major library automation vendor purchased a copy for each of its salesfolk and told them to read it. I know that within a year or two, companies claiming MARC compatibility had MARC compatibility.

It is a book of which I am proud.

Crawford, Walt. MARC for Library Use: Understanding the USMARC Formats. Professional Librarian Series. White Plains, NY: Knowledge Industry Publications, 1984. ISBN 0-86729-120-6. ISBN 0-86720-119-2 (pbk.)

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