Is national bibliography a category of material a scholar will find useful? Is it not a type of resource of interest to the librarian or bibliophile alone? In order to answer this question it is important to have a clear understanding of what a national bibliography is and how it has changed over time.
Barbara Bell, who has published extensively on the topic, describes the purpose of the national bibliography as follows:
“A current national bibliography is a mirror that reflects the culture, character and current interest of a country by listing its publishing output. Not only does it serve as an historical recorder, but when distributed to other countries, it serves as a ‘window’ to that country” (Barbara Bell, “Progress, problems and prospects in current national bibliographies: implementation for the ICNB recommendations.” InProceedings of the National Seminar. Brighton, 18 August 1987 / Ed. by Winston D. Roberts. London: IFLA Universal Bibliographic Control and International MARC Programme, 1988. p. 29).
Only a few years ago, there were numerous articles in the library literature about the uncertainty of the future of national bibliography (see Ross Bourne, “National bibliographies – do they have a future? in Alexandria, 5(2), 1993:99-110). These have been replaced with articles about the necessity of standards for national bibliographies (see for example “National bibliographies and the International Conference on National Bibliographic Services Recommendations” in International Cataloguing and Bibliographic Control, v.31, no.4(October/December, 2002), pp.60-63). It is important to understand that the national bibliography has evolved as each nation has evolved; that the motivation behind its compilation often greatly influences the content and accessibility of the resource. National bibliographies compiled as a response to censorship laws in a nation rarely are concerned with accessibility for the general public. Further, the importance of national bibliography has also changed with changing technologies.
For purposes of this site, national bibliography will be defined as a source that attempts to list, as comprehensively as possible, the publications of a particular country during a specific period. “Publications” here, can refer to most any kind of intellectual output, regardless of its format. One other definition that will be useful as it will be mentioned frequently in the links below is one for depository law. A depository law is legislation requiring publishers to provide a copy of each piece of published material for a designated repository. Such legislation varies from country to country from a voluntary deposit by publisher to a mandatory deposit often associated with countries with extreme censorship.
The history of national bibliography varies greatly from country to country. While the Poles have had a national bibliography since the 19th century, Romania’s published resources in this area are rather sparse. The definition of the term varies as well. In some cases it refers only to those publications issued within the borders of a specific country, in others to everything published in a particular language. In all cases, until recently, national bibliographies were rather cumbersome to use. The Russian national bibliography of the 19th century was rarely indexed and only occasionally organized by subject. While Estreicher’s Bibliografia Polska was organized by main entry, there was no subject index. For most of the 20th century, and particularly in the second half of the century, the national bibliographies of Eastern Europe were modeled on the Soviet national bibliography, Knizhnaia Letopis’. Indexes were issued quarterly for that publication. The East European publications were indexed with varying frequencies.
With the advent of electronic databases, national bibliography has been undergoing a tremendous amount of change. Difficulties related to access have been all but eliminated in many cases. A variety of different formats are appearing. In some countries, such as the Czech Republic, the national bibliography no longer is issued in paper form at all, but is published as a DVD. Others still have only their paper edition. Online catalogs for national libraries now serve the function of a national bibliography. Many countries have online versions of their national bibliographies. All of these new formats are giving a new significance to the national bibliography as a resource for scholars. It is often possible to search many years of a national bibliography with a single subject search.
No matter what the circumstances of their publication, national bibliographic resources can be an invaluable resource. For those time periods in which there are no compiled subject bibliographies, they are frequently the only resource for identifying materials in a particular discipline. They provide the clearest picture of publishing patterns for a country. There are a number of resources for identifying national bibliographic resources, published and electronic. Below we describe several resources in this vein and also provide links for each country in our area to pages on which national bibliographic resources are annotated.
Resources for National Bibliographies
National Library Catalogs – UNESCO
This site is rich in library information in general. For purposes of the discussion here, it is a good list of links to national library catalogs all over the world. For a more detailed description of the UNESCO site see the discussion on library catalogs.
Bibliographie der Nationalen Bibliographien.
Domay, Freidrich. Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann-Verlag. 1987
U of I Library Call Number: General Slavic Reference 016.015 D711b c.2
See the resource description on the Handbooks page.
The European Library
The list below has links to pages on the national bibliographic sources for all countries. All have been recently revised and the Slavic Reference Service invites your comments and additions.