When MARC (Machine-Readable Cataloging) was developed in the 1960s, computers were bigger than refrigerators and the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners Lee, was still playing with Tonka trucks and G.I. Joes.

Today, the average person spends nearly seven hours online every day, and we carry personal computers around in our pockets [1]. Unfortunately, these drastic technological changes mean that MARC isn’t equipped to serve current library users or carry libraries into the future.

Is there a cataloging standard that can bring bibliographic data into the internet age? The answer is yes—BIBFRAME.


BIBFRAME is a descriptive data model that makes library resources visible online. It was launched by The Library of Congress in 2011 after years of discussion about developing a possible replacement for MARC [2].

The purpose of BIBFRAME is to make library metadata more useful inside and outside the library community by exposing, sharing, and connecting pieces of data, information, and knowledge on the Semantic Web using Linked Data principles [3;4]. That means, to fully understand BIBFRAME, you also have to understand the Semantic Web and Linked Data.

BIBFRAME, Linked Data and the Semantic Web

The Semantic Web is an extension of the traditional web you’re already familiar with. However, on the Semantic Web, information follows specific principles and is coded in a way that allows machines to understand its meaning, rather than simply report data based on keywords. Once information is organized through semantic web principles, related information can be linked together, creating what’s known as Linked Data [5].

Here’s an example of the Semantic Web in action:

If you Google “Hamilton,” you get a list of times the play is showing in your city, a link to the book, a list of songs in the play, ways to borrow the eBook and other potentially helpful information in the sidebar of your search page.

How does Google know to compile this relevant information from different parts of the web?

Well, through Semantic Web principles, “Hamilton” is assigned a unique identifier called a universal resource identifier (URI). So is every other play, book, person, etc. on the web. When the people producing information on the web use these unique identifiers and other Semantic Web principles, machines understand the information they’re creating and can connect related information.

Libraries already have large collections of rich metadata that can be shared on the web and connected to other relevant resources. But that metadata needs to be converted to a language machines outside of the library industry can understand, so search engines like Google can find this information and link it to related data on the web. That’s where BIBFRAME comes in.

The Future of BIBFRAME

The Library of Congress continues to recruit libraries to test and provide feedback on BIBFRAME. That means, the number of libraries using BIBFRAME will only grow in the years to come

The goals for BIBFRAME in the future are to [6]:

  • Make library records visible online
  • Build the network of libraries using BIBFRAME
  • Develop a rich network of data

If everything goes according to plan, BIBFRAME will eventually result in a large collection of interconnected, authoritative data from libraries across the country that is easy to access, promotes intuitive discovery for library users and helps expose new users to library resources [6].

Letting go of MARC—a cataloging model that’s served libraries well for over 50 years—won’t necessarily be easy. But the transition to BIBFRAME will help libraries serve users better. It will bring library records out of the online shadows, expose library resources to more people and help them uncover eye-opening connections between information and resources that they would have missed in a MARC-only world.


[1] https://www.digitalinformationworld.com/2019/02/internet-users-spend-more-than-a-quarter-of-their-lives-online.html

[2] https://www.loc.gov/bibframe/pdf/marcld-report-11-21-2012.pdf

[3] https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/LHT-06-2018-0085

[4] http://www.loc.gov/bibframe/docs/BIBFRAME2-model.html

[5] https://www.w3.org/RDF/Metalog/docs/sw-easy

[6] https://medium.com/library-link-network/linked-data-goals-for-the-future-a147829f75be