Collection metadata is the information we create to manage, access, preserve and describe our collection. It's key to the delivery of our current and future services, including discovery. Metadata needs to accurately represent books and other publications. As the national library of the UK, we develop standards to ensure this.
Our metadata strategy
Foundations for the Future (PDF, 343 KB) is the British Library’s collection metadata strategy, 2019-23. It sets out three priorities:
- Enhance the Library’s ability to exploit its collection metadata assets in order to deliver its strategic priorities, portfolios and programmes
- Ensure that the value of the Library’s Collection Metadata investment is maintained through effective stewardship
- Enable open access to collection metadata in order to improve resource discovery and promote wider community reuse.
The Collection Metadata Strategy Roadmap 2019-23 (PDF, 918 KB) outlines the current plan.
We remove financial, licensing and technical barriers to make our collection metadata available to a wider community of users.
Sharing metadata beyond the library community (PDF, 120 KB) gives more details.
The British Library plays an active role in the governance, development, maintenance, and propagation of the metadata standards used by UK libraries. These include:
Standard identifiers support exchange of data, workflow efficiency and e-commerce and are a requirement in certain types of transaction
- ISO 27729 International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI)
- ISO 3297 International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)
- ISO 15511 International Standard Identifier for Libraries and related organizations (ISIL).
The British Library Persistent Identifier Policy outlines the approach to the use of identifiers and persistent identifiers (PIDs) in internal and external facing British Library systems, defines a consistent set of principles and requirements for PID use when managing and developing services, and articulates the responsibilities in applying and reviewing these requirements.
RDA Resource Description and Access
RDA is a package of data elements, guidelines, and instructions for creating library and cultural heritage resource metadata that are well-formed according to international models for user-focussed linked data applications.
The British Library has participated in the development of RDA since its inception through:
You'll find the British Library's RDA workflows and the British Library Guide to RDA Name Authority Records (PDF, 768 KB) in the RDA toolkit.
Special topics in RDA: Exhibition and art catalogues is British Library guidance on cataloguing exhibitions and art catalogues using RDA. It has been made in consultation with the Art Libraries Society (ARLIS/UK & Ireland) as well as other legal deposit libraries in the UK and Ireland.
Download our training materials for the creation of RDA Name Authority Records for NACO.
Details of the changes required to configure the Library's Integrated Management System for RDA can be obtained from firstname.lastname@example.org.
The British Library leads UK participation in MARC 21 development. MARC 21 is a standard for the representation and communication of bibliographic and related information in machine-readable form.
In May 2022, the British Library announced its decision to switch our subject indexing standard from LCSH (Library of Congress Subject Headings) to FAST (Faceted Application of Subject Terminology).
We have been using FAST headings since 2015 in projects and some services. FAST headings have also been disseminated in the records that we derive from third parties. From August 2022, the use of FAST will be extended across current cataloguing, including the British National Bibliography.
Fast Forward at the British Library contains further details of our plans to supersede LCSH with FAST in current cataloguing.
The table below provides an overview of the principal metadata standards followed by the Library for collection description.
|Published books, serials, maps, scores||Unpublished archives and manuscripts||Sound / video recordings|
|Description||RDA: Resource Description & Access
Descriptive Cataloguing of Rare Materials
International Standard Bibliographic Description
|General International Standard Archival Description (ISAD(G))||Internal|
|Name authority||Library of Congress/ Name Authority Co-operative (LC/NACO)||NACO applied selectively||Internal|
|Subject classification||Dewey Decimal Classification|
|Subject indexing||Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH)
FAST (Faceted application of subject terms)
|LCSH/FAST applied selectively||Internal|
|Encoding||MARC 21||Encoded Archival Description
Text Encoding Initiative: Manuscript Description
Support for the UKMARC format ceased on 31 December 2008. You can find further information on the UK Web Archive: