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MARC, or MAchine Readable Cataloging, is a set of standards developed by the Library of Congress in the 1960s to enable the efficient electronic sharing of catalog records. Folger catalog records are created according to the MARC 21 standard, which is used by most major libraries.

MARC is not to be confused with AACR2 (Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, 2nd edition) or RDA (Resource Description & Access), though these terms are frequently used together. MARC is a data storage and sharing standard, while AACR2 and RDA are content standards: AACR2 and RDA determine what information goes into a catalog record, and MARC determines where and how it gets recorded and displayed.

Development of MARC

MARC was developed at the Library of Congress in the 1960s by programmer Henriette Avram, whose team completed the MARC Pilot Project in 1968. The Library of Congress formally adopted the use of MARC in 1970. Within the next few years, MARC spread rapidly to other libraries, both nationally and globally. In 1979, the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) released a proposal for UNIMARC, a universal MARC standard; many libraries still use "original" MARC, however (sometimes called USMARC to distinguish it).

To learn more about the early days of MARC, you can read Avram's own report on the Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC) Program (pdf), published in 1974, or a longer monograph developed from that report entitled MARC: its history and implications.

Folger adoption of MARC

The Folger began using MARC in 1982, when catalogers started contributing electronic catalog records for printed books to the RLG's RLIN database.[1][2] Printed 3 x 5 cards generated from RLIN were periodically sent to the Folger and filed in the card catalog.

In the early 1990s, planning began for an online catalog that would be accessible to readers, and cover not only books, but also manuscripts, prints, drawings, paintings, etc., which were still being cataloged on hand-typed cards rather than in MARC. A letter from then-Folger Director Werner Gundersheimer on January 3, 1994, reads "...our long-range goal is to come up with a system and set of formats that will enable us to include all of our collections in an online catalogue. To the extent that it is applicable, we will almost certainly use the MARC format." After several rounds of meetings, research, and evaluation, Voyager ILS was selected as the Folger's ILS, and the transition to an online MARC catalog took place in 1996-1997.

Current use of MARC at the Folger

The Folger currently uses MARC 21 (the most recent update of the MARC format) to catalog its resources, including both open stacks and Vault materials. Folger staff are in the process of adding MARC cataloging documentation to Folgerpedia; please see the List of MARC 21 fields for bibliographic data and the List of MARC 21 fields for authority data for information on how Folger catalogers use each MARC field. To learn more about working with MARC records, please see Interpreting MARC records and MARC 21 training.


  1. RLG = Research Libraries Group, later absorbed into OCLC; RLIN = Research Libraries Information Network, a research-library focused resource later absorbed into OCLC's WorldCat..
  2. Memo dated February 3, 1993, indicating that the Folger had contributed 10,500 records for modern books to RLIN between January 1982 and July 1992.