A review of metadata: a survey of current resource description formats
Work Package 3 of Telematics for Research project DESIRE (RE 1004)
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Note: See also the entry for MARC.

There are many similarities in the structure and content of USMARC and UKMARC. However the differences are significant and sufficient to make high quality conversion between the two formats complex. In addition the use of variants in the UK (e.g.. BLCMP and SLSMARC) and the minor differences in the US (USMARC and OCLCMARC) means high quality conversion between particular datasets need apply additional algorithms. UKMARC and USMARC are set to converge: the impact of this is not yet clear.

Given the planned changes to UKMARC, this review will give only a brief overview.

Environment of use


In the UK the national standard appears as BS 4748: 1982. (Specification for format for bibliographic information interchange on magnetic tape. London: British Standards Institution). The UKMARC Manual (2nd ed. 1980) is published by the British Library and consists of a loose-leaf publication with several updates. The British Library National Bibliographic Service (NBS) is responsible for the UKMARC format. There are less complex procedures for agreeing amendments than for USMARC. The British Library (BL) introduced consultation procedures in 1992 whereby BL's proposals initially go for comment to the Book Industry Commission (BIC) Bibliographic Standards Working Party Technical Subgroup. The Subgroup is made up of UK representatives of the different library sectors, book suppliers, bibliographic utilities who are also library system vendors, as well as the NBS. This is followed by a period of public consultation with proposals included in the BL Interface NBS Technical Bulletin. After a period for comment the proposals may be adopted according to the final decision of the BL.

Constituency of use

Within the UK the majority of libraries have used UKMARC. In recent years some academic and national research libraries have moved to USMARC.


The 856 field has not yet been incorporated into UKMARC. At present there is an outstanding proposal from the British Library to adopt the USMARC 856 field as part of the convergence between UK and USMARC. This proposal will be considered in 1996 as part of the consultation procedure outlined above. Discussion of the detailed implications of convergence are now starting, particularly on the UKMARC e-mail list. As yet there has been little significant discussion regarding the more specific issue of cataloguing Internet resources using UKMARC.


LINK, the emergent replacement to BUBL, and the associated Catriona project are planning to catalogue electronic resources using UKMARC. The few other UK libraries who are investigating cataloguing electronic resources tend to be using USMARC.

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Last updated: 10-Jun-1998