The British National Bibliography (BNB) is 60 years old in January 2010.
The BNB is the national bibliography of the United Kingdom. It lists and describes the books and serials newly published or distributed in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland that are received by the British Library under legal deposit as provided for in various Acts of Parliament. It also includes information on forthcoming titles supplied under the British Library’s Cataloguing-in-Publication Programme.
The BNB was established in 1949 in response to the recommendations of Lionel McColvin who had undertaken a survey of the UK’s public library service in 1942 which resulted in the McColvin Report. McColvin concluded that it was inefficient for libraries to produce their own catalogues and that where catalogues did exist they only provided brief descriptions of library holdings rather than all available books of potential interest to users. McColvin identified a requirement for a detailed weekly list of bibliographic descriptions for new books which could be used by libraries to develop their catalogues by cutting and pasting the printed entries on to their catalogue cards.
The Council of the British National Bibliography was established in March 1949 and the new national bibliography commenced full operations in 1950. It consisted of weekly lists of all books and first issues of new serial titles published in Great Britain catalogued in accordance with the Anglo-American Code and classified according to the Dewey Decimal Classification system. Author/title indexes were provided every four weeks and the lists were cumulated into an annual volume. A pilot issue number 0 was produced in December 1949 and issue Number 1 was published on 4 January 1950. It contained just 25 entries.
The British Library took on the responsibility for the production of the BNB following its foundation in 1973 and still produces a weekly printed version of the BNB together with interim cumulations and annual volumes. However, the average weekly issue now contains around 3,500 entries in line with the huge increase in publication that has occurred over the last 60 years. This period has also seen numerous other developments for the BNB resulting in a database of over 3 million bibliographic records.
Coverage of the BNB has always been selective; the emphasis being on titles available via normal book buying channels.
A weekly BNB data service began in January 1969 using the (then) innovative combination of the new UKMARC bibliographic data and ISO2709 MARC record exchange formats with magnetic computer tape. BNB MARC records were first made available online in 1977 with the introduction of BLAISE, the British Library Automated Information Service. Distribution of BNB records via FTP began in 1998 and eventually replaced the tape service and the Library moved to the MARC21 format in 2004.
Following a pilot CD-ROM produced in co-operation with the Biblothèque Nationale in 1988, BNB on CD-ROM was launched in 1989. It originally consisted of a two-disc backfile covering the period 1950 to 1985 and a single disc current subscription service covering records created from 1986 updated quarterly. A new MS Windows version of the BNB on CD-ROM was produced in 1996 by which time current file discs were updated monthly and the backfile had been compressed on to a single disc. Production of BNB on CD-ROM ceased in December 2008 when the database became available for searching on the British Library’s Integrated Catalogue as a subset search.
The British Library coordinates the UK Cataloguing in Publication (CIP) Programme and has included advance notification publication records in the BNB since the 1980s. Information on new titles appears up to 16 weeks ahead of the announced publication date. Advance information on over 60,000 titles each year is provided in this way via the BNB.
In addition to Dewey Decimal Classification several other forms of subject access to the BNB have been used over the years, ranging from international standards such as Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) to in-house systems such as PRECIS and COMPASS.
BNB development continues and in October 2009 it was added to the British Library’s new Primo based catalogue again as a catalogue sub-set search. A pilot is also under way for a free Z39.50 based BNB MARC record download service for non-commercial use. However, the final innovation launched in January 2010 is another pilot of a new, weekly, PDF-based BNB e-journal version, initially for existing subscribers to the printed product. This new service will bring the story of the BNB full circle by enabling the British Library to deliver a ‘printed’ BNB to customers with improved currency and greater functionality while also saving paper. Lionel McColvin would surely have approved!