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DATE: June 18, 2009

NAME: Adding codes for “online access” and “direct access” in 008 for Form of item in the MARC 21 Bibliographic Format

SOURCE: Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC), Provider-Neutral E-Monograph Record Task Group

SUMMARY: This paper proposes adding new codes in character positions 008/23 and 008/29 (Form of item) for online and direct access electronic resources. It also presents three options for what should be done with the existing code for “electronic” in those positions.

KEYWORDS: Field 008/23 (Books, Music, Serials, Mixed materials) (BD); Field 008/29 (Maps, Visual materials) (BD); Form of item (BD); Online access (BD); Direct access (BD)

RELATED: 97-01; 2009-01/2

06/18/2009 - Made available to the MARC 21 community for discussion.

07/11/2009 - Results of the MARC Advisory Committee discussion - The committee agreed to move this discussion paper forward as a proposal with Option 1, i.e. making code "s" obsolete and using code "o" to designate "online access" and code "p" for "direct access" in fields 008/23 and 008/29 (the paper's suggestion to use "r" and "d" was changed because those codes are already defined). It was also generally agreed upon that this coding would not apply to the single record approach to cataloging print and electronic resources.

Discussion Paper 2009-DP04: Adding codes for “online” and “direct access”


The ability to distinguish online formats from other manifestation formats helps library OPAC users find and access online resources in the catalog. Yet there is currently not a consistent method for assigning material types in the MARC 21 Bibliographic Format, AACR, and ISBD to clearly distinguish records for online electronic resources from records for direct access electronic resources. There is a need to limit searches to online electronic resources or to clearly indicate on search result screens which resources are available online in systems such as OPACS and network interfaces such as OCLC. Currently code “s” (electronic) is defined in 008/23 for Books, Continuing resources, Mixed materials, and Music and in 008/29 “s” for Maps and Visual Materials.

This paper proposes that new values be added to 008/23 and 008/29 (Form of item) to clearly mark whether electronic resources are online or direct access.

Note that the Computer Files Field 008 does not include a “Form of item” character position, because it was felt that by definition it was electronic (See “Questions for Discussion” at the end of this DP).


Several fields in the MARC 21 Bibliographic Format are currently used to indicate that the record represents an electronic resource, represents a resource with electronic aspects, or is accompanied/supplemented by an electronic resource. A discussion on the current use of each relevant field follows, as well as a discussion about selected fields which will be used in MARC 21 records catalogued according to RDA.

008/23 and 008/29 code “s” (electronic).

Code “s” includes carriers for both direct and online access, and is thus too general to distinguish carrier types. In some systems, e.g. OCLC, this is a required element if the item is electronic, so, despite its lack of specificity, it is likely to be in many records for online resources, especially in records for books and visual materials.

245 subfield $h (Medium).

The values in $h are commonly referred to as the “General material designation” or “gmd”, and the value relevant to this discussion is “electronic resource”. The gmd is used in AACR and more generally in all ISBD records. It is broad and includes all electronic resources.

007/01 (Electronic resource) Specific material designation, code “r” (Remote).

This value identifies an online resource, but it is ambiguous because it can represent the primary resource itself, an electronic aspect of the resource, or any accompanying or complementary material (such as a “companion” website that is not separately cataloged). It is thus not useful in the assignment of material types in OPAC indexes. In addition many cataloging operations consider this field optional so it is often not included in a record in which it would be relevant.

Title qualifier “(Online)”.

Before the CONSER Standard Record guidelines were implemented, this qualifier was used primarily for serial uniform titles whenever the online version of a serial had the same title proper as another manifestation of the serial in a different format. Since it was not used when the title of the online manifestation differed from the print manifestation, it only identifies some online serials. The qualifier is also not separately subfielded. The CONSER Standard Record guidelines recommend that this qualifier no longer be used as it tends to clutter general title browse displays, and sometimes separates the online serial record from records for other versions of the serial. It has been only rarely used in uniform titles for monographs or integrating resources to identify separate physical manifestations of a resource. It would thus not be an effective or a comprehensive way of marking records for online electronic resources.

Uniform resource identifier (URI) in Field 856.

A first indicator is used in the 856 field to describe an access method for an electronic resource. Most records for online resources will use first indicator value “4” (HTTP). A second indicator is used to characterize the relationship between the entity for which field 856 provides electronic location information and the entity described in the bibliographic record. The second indicator may be coded “0”, when the electronic location in field 856 is for the same resource described by the record as a whole. When the item represented on the record is not an electronic resource, but an electronic version of the resource is available, then second indicator “1” may be used. Accurate coding of the first and second indicators will clearly mark whether or not a record represents an online resource. However, one or both indicator positions may be left blank, meaning “no information provided” and will always be blank before the indicator was added to the format in 1997 (see MARC Proposal 97-01). A second indicator value “8” may be used for “no display constant generated”. Given all these options for coding 856 indicators, a more reliable place in field 008 seems a better choice to indicate that a record represents an online resource.

Field 300 $a “Online resource”.

RDA calls for the phrase “Online resource” in the physical description field for any online resource. This will be useful in records catalogued according to the new rules, but it probably will not be practical to add it retrospectively to all records for online resources. In any case, a required fixed field element seems a more economical and efficient alternative, because it is one character position, rather than a string of text.

Field 338 (Carrier type) “Online resource”.

When RDA is implemented, gmds will no longer be used in new bibliographic records. Instead, they will be replaced in part by a new mandatory data element Carrier type. In early 2009, a new MARC field 338 was approved to accommodate this data element. (See MARC Proposal No. 2009-01/2). The term “Online resource” may be used in 338 subfield $a for Carrier type term, and/or a code may be used in field 338 subfield $b for Carrier type code. Since subfield $3 (Materials specified) has also been defined for this field, it is likely that it will be used similarly to subfield $3 in other fields, so that it may represent either the primary resource described or accompanying/related material, such as a website which updates or supplements a monograph. Thus it is unlikely that field 338 will be reliable to indicate that the resource described by the record represents an online resource. In addition, field 338 is repeatable so it may not be possible to tell whether it is truly an online resource.


Option 1. In the MARC 21 Bibliographic Format, make code “s” (electronic) obsolete. Define new codes “r” (online) and “d” (direct access). This seems like the best solution, as it would not require converting the older records (although unless that is done, it would only serve as a marker from the point of implementation forward).

Option 2. Redefine code “s” (electronic) to mean either direct or online access, and add a new code for the alternative. This option is less desirable, because systems and catalogers would have difficulty in determining whether or not it is a new use of “s” which would not need to be adjusted, or an old use of “s” which might need to be fixed.

Option 3. Retain code “s” as an optional broader category which people could continue to use if they do not want to make the distinction, and in addition define the two new codes. This solution may not serve the user very well. While no formal survey has been taken, anecdotally at least it appears that users are much more interested in discovering whether a resource is available online, than whether it is available “electronically”. The category “electronic” may be too broad to be of much use in the 21st century.


1. Should 008/23 (Form of item) be added for resources cataloged as electronic resources according to Leader 06 “m” (Computer file)? Values could be added for online resources (code r) and direct access resources (code d). Records representing online resources such as numeric data or fonts could then be clearly marked as online.

2. If Option no. 1 is accepted, how difficult would it be for systems to convert records with code “s” to the appropriate values for direct access or online access using the clues indicated in the Discussion section? The best clue would be the second indicator values in the 856 fields. For records lacking second indicators in 856 fields, values in 007/00 and in the 300 field, among other areas, should enable conversion of the majority of the records. Straightforward conversion guidelines could be provided.

3. What is the impact of defining a code “online” for the 008/23 and 008/29?

4. In cases where the single record approach is used (i.e. the record describes the original but an 856 and other relevant fields are added for the digital aspects), would 008/23 or 008/29 codes for online be used? Or would the 008 only be coded for the original? This is where a field 006 for additional characteristics could make it more explicit.

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