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HARMFUL LANGUAGE ADVISORY: This discussion paper contains historical language that is offensive and harmful, for example, racist terminology in title statements.

DATE: December 14, 2023

NAME: Adding Subfield $i to Field 245 in the MARC 21 Bibliographic Format

SOURCE: Rare Book and Manuscripts Section of ACRL (Bibliographic Standards Committee)

SUMMARY: This paper examines the possibility of adding subfield $i (Source of transcribed title) to field 245 (Title Statement) to indicate the source of a transcribed title when that title contains harmful language and the title is from a source not readily apparent to general users. The subfield $i would be a new subfield containing a non-repeatable, brief statement about the origin of the title or where the title appears, especially when the title proper is from a source other than the title page. This subfield would be especially valuable for unpublished and non-book materials. The use of this subfield would be optional and would not need to be applied retrospectively.

KEYWORDS: Field 245 (BD); Title Statement (BD); Subfield $i, in Field 245 (BD); Source of transcribed title (BD); Type of title (BD)


12/14/23 – Made available to the MARC community for discussion.

01/24/24 – Results of MARC Advisory Committee discussion: MAC was generally sympathetic to the use case, but conveyed a wide variety of operational and implementation concerns with the proposed solution, including existing ways to record this already in MARC (e.g., the data provenance subfield ($7), 5XX fields, etc.) and the placement of the proposed subfield, along with questions about the definition of harmful language, limitation to only harmful language, and others. There were also concerns that the restrictions of the solution to the title field and to identify the source of transcribed titles from non-traditional resources were too confining – that there were other elements in records and other types of resources where such a prospective solution could be warranted. There was continued acknowledgement of the need to take up the concern articulated in the use case. Ultimately, further development of the use case and exploration of other potential solutions, along with additional feedback from the cataloging community and OPAC users, was desired. The paper will return as another discussion paper.

Discussion Paper No. 2024-DP02: Adding Subfield $i to Field 245


1.1. Current Definition of Field 245

Field 245 is currently defined, in part, in the MARC 21 Bibliographic Format as follows:


In the past, librarians expected users to know that an unbracketed title was transcribed from printed words provided by the creator or publisher of the resource being described. This assumption no longer holds true. Special collections have moved beyond scholarly audiences and such traditional formats as rare books. Many transcribed title statements, especially for non-book formats, are not as obvious as the title printed on a title page.

Researchers today are questioning libraries about harmful language in transcribed titles. This is especially true in cases where the title source is not readily apparent to researchers. Furthermore, librarians and archivists increasingly recognize that language in titles can harm and offend the users of library catalogs.

The addition of a $i (Source of transcribed title) to field 245 (Title Statement) can help reduce this ambiguity by identifying the source for transcribed titles that contain culturally insensitive language. Including source of title information as part of the Title Statement can provide immediate context for racist, homophobic, ableist, and similar words that appear in the titles of many types of materials. Examples include grey literature, manuscripts, maps, moving images, photographs, posters, and sheet music.

The types of culturally insensitive language for which the proposed $i should be used are those that fall within the definition of "Prejudicial works" and "Hate works" recommended by the Prejudicial Materials Working Group of the Rare Book and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) Controlled Vocabularies Editorial Group. The group recently summarized the scope of Prejudicial Works as: "… works that exhibit bias in relation to a particular group or groups of people based on religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, creed, national origin, etc." Hate Works are defined as "… works that express hatred or advocate harm toward a particular group of people."

Today, guidelines for inclusive description recommend making the source of racist language explicit. Notably, the Society of American Archivists recently adopted as a formal standard Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia: Anti-Racist Description Sources (2019). This guideline advises, "Consider your audience and the potential for harm when making decisions about whether to preserve problematic creator-supplied language. In most cases, preserve but contextualize creator-sourced original description when racism is an important context for understanding records." (page 8,

Harmful language statements, which many libraries and other cultural institutions have adopted as a way to contextualize legacy descriptions, typically describe entire collections. The proposed $i will allow institutions to embed specific contextual information directly in the title area of a catalog record, where users are most likely to see and understand it. The $i should not be a harmful language statement per se, but rather a way to provide clear context for prejudicial language in the 245 field.

The current provisions for identifying the source of a title are in fields 500 (General Note) and 588 (Source of Description, etc., Note). These note fields are not directly connected to field 245 (Title Statement) and are hard for catalog users to notice among other notes. The proposed subfield ($i) clearly associates the source of title information with the title field.

Retaining the original title is an important part of the context of a work because it represents the original presentation, purpose, and impact of the work. Replacing harmful language in the original title can obscure the original context of an item and disassociate an item from the time and place of its creation. Retaining the original title also supports collocation of multiple instances of the same resource across multiple institutions. Using the published title is important, too, for helping users locate information about a work in reference sources. For these reasons (and others), the Descriptive Cataloging for Rare Materials (RDA Edition) requires: " Transcribe the Title proper in the form and order in which it is presented on the preferred source of information, unless specifically instructed otherwise (see Transcription,"

2.1. Uses for Subfield $i in MARC Bibliographic Field 245

2.1.1. Source of title information, such as "Title provided by original publisher" and "Title transcribed from item" can help catalog users recognize the creator and context of a title.

2.1.2. The use of $i can facilitate existing requirements in several cataloging guidelines, such as:

a) The visual resources and museum communities have long provided for metadata about the source of a title. Cataloging Cultural Objects (CCO) (2006) has a specific element called "Title Type" in Section (page 69). The recommended controlled vocabulary for this element suggests the following terms, among others: owner’s title, repository title, inscribed title, creator’s title, descriptive title, constructed title, published title, and collective title.

b) Descriptive Cataloging for Rare Materials (Graphic) (DCRMG) requires a source of title note because the titles of visual materials are so difficult for users to recognize as transcribed vs. devised by staff or supplied from another source.  Section 7B3.1 (page 127), "Always make a note on the source of the title proper."

Title from item
Title from Pennington
Title from artist's pencil note on back
Title engraved below image
Title devised by library staff

c) Descriptive Cataloging for Rare Materials (Manuscripts (DCRMMSS) also requires a note for the source of formal titles and transcribed titles.  Section 1C1.2 (page 49-50), "Transcription is required only for formal titles that appear on the title page, colophon, or caption (for instances when transcription is not appropriate, see 1C1.2.1). Use judgment as to whether to transcribe or paraphrase titles from other sources. When transcribing the title, do so exactly as to wording, order, and spelling, but not necessarily as to punctuation or capitalization. Make a note when the title is transcribed."


In field 245 (Title Statement) of the MARC 21 Bibliographic Format, add and define the following new subfield:

$i – Source of transcribed title (NR)
Optional text to identify the source of a transcribed title with harmful language. Place subfield $i after the $c statement of responsibility.


4.1. Photographs

245 02 $a A pair of little Indian papooses from the West. $i Title transcribed from item
For image, see

245 10 $a Deaf & dumb children of St. Rita's School, Cincinnati, singing Star Spangled Banner. $i Title provided by publisher in 1918
For image, see

245 00 $a G-men, sheriff aides, hunt Jap spies Los Angeles, Calif. $i Title provided by newspaper in 1942
For image, see

4.2. Sheet Music

245 12 $a A real coon rag.  $i Title from cover
For image, see

4.3. Cartographic Materials

245 10 $a 1960 winter Olympic games : $b Squaw Valley, California.  $i Title from item
For image see

4.4. Ephemeral Materials

245 10 $a Squaw Valley : $b Alpine meadows … $i Title from item
For image, see

4.5. Art Works

245 14 $a The unrivalled nigger of the Royal Standard. $i Title transcribed from item
For image, see


No special provisions anticipated. The BIBFRAME conversion programs can be modified to accommodate this change.


6.1. How broad a concern is harmful language among libraries?
    See List of statements on bias in library and archives description.

6.2. Have we demonstrated sufficient need for subfield $i?

6.3. How can guidance available in descriptive cataloging manuals be helpful for encouraging consistent language in 245 $i?  The DCRM(G) manual already requires a source of title note in all cases and suggests wording. Cataloging Cultural Objects has a list of controlled vocabulary for title source information. Other cataloging manuals could consider adding guidance.

6.4. Members of the cataloging community have expressed interest in the possible use of this field for any type of transcribed title with harmful language. Libraries receive negative feedback from patrons about prejudicial language in transcribed titles for traditional, printed monographs. Should this field be opened for optional use to qualify language in printed title pages, rather than only for ambiguous cases like the titles of certain visual and ephemeral printed materials? 

6.5. Are there other potential issues to consider?

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