Marc Fields 260 and 264

Dear Elsie

What's the difference between MARC fields 260 and 264 for publication and copyright data, and does it really matter which I use?

Signed, Flustered in Flora

Dear Flustered,

MARC field 264 is a recent addition to the MARC formats created to reflect more accurately some distinctions made in RDA. In AACR2, following the structure of ISBD (International Standard Bibliographic Description), Area 4 is designated for “publication, distribution, etc.” This class of bibliographic information (formerly known as the imprint) is traditional in cataloging, and MARC field 260 parallels it. Essentially, 264 allows for more detailed information; as to which to use when, it depends.


RDA (Resource Description and Access) makes sharper distinctions than previous cataloging codes. The first clear indication many working catalogers had of this was RDA's treatment of copyright dates. Under AACR2, when an item lacks a date of publication, the cataloger can record the copyright date instead if it is present and seems close to the likely date of publication. RDA does not permit this, because it treats publication date and copyright date as two separate elements, and publication date is a core element.

In early RDA records, we began seeing 260 $c information such as 260 __ $a … : $b …, $c [2012], ©2012, indicating the lack of a publication date and a copyright date of 2012. Under AACR2 this would have been recorded as 260 __ $a … : $b …, $c c2012. Under RDA the cataloger had to record a probable date of publication and add the copyright date (the use of © rather than the lowercase c is a separate requirement in RDA) because it was the actual date present in the item. (Its addition would have been optional, but for the record, Elsie endorses it in a case like this.) But, as we see, the MARC tagging does not reflect the conceptual distinction: both dates are in the same subfield of the same field.

Field 264 is the result of a decision to make the MARC coding more explicitly reflect the distinctions made by RDA. This is done by splitting the four functions of publication, distribution, manufacture, and copyright notice into four different fields 264, with the function denoted by the second indicator: publication 264 _1, distribution 264 _2, manufacture 264 _3, copyright 264 _4. (The first indicator has a different function we will not discuss here; in practice it is almost always blank. There is a second indicator 0 as well, used for unpublished resources.) So the data in our example would now be recorded as:

264 _1 $a … : $b …, $c [2012]

264 _4 $c ©2012

Note, in passing, that 264 _4 has no end punctuation.

The Heart of the Matter

Now to your true question: Does it really matter which we use? The PCC (Program for Cooperative Cataloging) Guidelines of the Library of Congress recommend using 264 for new RDA cataloging and leaving existing 260 fields in pre-RDA records; 260 fields in RDA records can be changed to 264 at the cataloger's discretion, if there is enough information to determine the appropriate second indicator values.

The first recommendation speaks for itself, if only because none of us has time to change every 260 field into one or more 264s, and it makes sense on a theoretical level because changing the MARC coding would introduce a level of element distinction that is not actually in AACR2.

As for using field 264 for current and future RDA records, Elsie sees at least two good reasons to do so.

  • First, since the Library of Congress now uses 264, following the same practice will keep our records consistent with national standards and in the long run save us time and money.
  • Second, using the capacity we now have to separate and code data more specifically — with more granularity, as the expression goes — could enable us or future users to retrieve and use the data in different and more powerful ways than we may now envision. A future researcher might, for example, want to correlate the activities of publishers and distributors over a particular period, to compare gaps between copyright and publication dates in various disciplines, or to find out how many unpublished resources are represented in WorldCat or some other database. In considering this point, we should bear in mind that one of the purposes of RDA — and of various initiatives aimed at either reworking or replacing MARC — is to break down the “silos” of metadata and make the information we catalogers provide more interchangeable and accessible in the larger information universe.

Bibliographically yours, Elsie

Originally published December 2013 in the ILA Reporter

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