There’s some confusion as to what role the Library of Congress (LOC) plays for a properly published book. This is because the LOC not only provides cataloging information for most published books, but also houses the US Copyright Office, which has nothing do to with cataloging. Let me briefly elaborate on a couple of different reasons your book and the Library of Congress may cross paths.

Wheatmark sends one copy of your book to the LOC upon publication for cataloging purposes. We do this to fulfill an obligation we incur every time we request a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) prior to the book’s publication.

Why do we put an LCCN in your book?

Local librarians want to be able to shelve a new book correctly as soon as they receive it. They don’t have the time to catalog books upon receipt, so they turn to the Library of Congress for help. They connect to the library’s database and download the cataloging data that’s been prepared by catalogers. To find the cataloging data online, they use the LCCN that’s already printed in your book.

Before your book is published, Wheatmark applies for an LCCN from the Library of Congress. At this point your book isn’t cataloged yet, it’s simply assigned a number, just like the one you get when you stand in line at the DMV. This number is printed in your book so a librarian can find out how to shelve it simply by looking it up in the Library of Congress’s online database.

Once your book is published, Wheatmark sends the finished copy to the Library of Congress to be cataloged. The cataloger will check the finished book against the LCCN and prepare the actual cataloging data for the library’s database. This is when your book really gets cataloged; up till now it’s only had a “control number” (LCCN).

So far, so good.

However, the Library of Congress has a huge backlog, so it is likely that if and when a local librarian receives a copy of your new book, the cataloging data isn’t ready yet. (To top it off, the LOC does not guarantee that it will catalog every book that it receives.)

That’s why publishers sometimes ask for advance cataloging-in-publication (CIP) data for books they plan to publish. Because current cataloging data won’t be available by the time your book is released, the Library of Congress provides a shortened cataloging copy to publishers so they can print that in the book in advance, rather than just a control number. CIP data, an incomplete bibliographic record based on the subject and content of your book, allows libraries to easily catalog your book if the LOC hasn’t had a chance to catalog it yet.

The LOC doesn’t provide CIP data for self-published titles. However, we don’t think you should worry about this. If you really want it, you can ask a librarian to provide you one, or hire a professional cataloger to do it.

The third way the LOC may interact with your book is during the copyright registration process. Wheatmark sends yet another copy of your book to the US Copyright Office in the Library of Congress for official copyright registration.

Registering your work with the US Copyright Office does not establish your copyright for your book; rather, it confirms it. Your work is already under copyright protection whether it’s officially registered or not. Your book doesn’t need to be officially registered for copyright in order for you to be able to print on the copyright page that it’s “Copyright © 2013 John Doe.”

However, official copyright registration is still a good idea, which is why Wheatmark makes sure a copy of your book is sent to yet another department, the copyright office in the Library of Congress.

Have a question on this or any other topic? Leave a comment!