CIP, Cataloging-In-Publication, LCCN, Library of Congress – I worked there, let me tell you how things work”

I always think it’s a little weird for me to send in my works to the LCCN/CIP department at the Library of Congress. LCCN stands for “Library of Congress Control Number”. CIP stands for “Cataloging in Publication”.

What it is (pulled from the website):

“The Cataloging in Publication (CIP) Program creates bibliographic records for forthcoming books most likely to be widely acquired by U.S. libraries.”

Meaning, if you want your book in libraries (you do), this helps you get there. They come in two forms: Cataloging In Publication and LCCN. Both are on the copyright page of every book but CIP is a big block of data and LCCN is just a line of numbers.

CIP Data (The lower half of the page)
LCCN (The single line of numbers near the bottom)

This is different from Copyright. For one, you pay for copyright registration but LCCNs/CIPs are free. LCCNs are for indie and small presses. If you’re selling multiple titles under a single publishing house (like Random House), then it is CIP data. In other words, just focus on LCCN.

I won’t slow walk how to do the online bit, just the part that I worked on.

Let’s start!

One of my work areas

All books going to the CIP Division (CIP & LCCN) basically goes to the Acquisition division (woo, land of cold floors and snack dishes). My job was to open the literal thousands of packages and process them after they went through security. Literally every book in the world landed on my desk, basically. None of the books you will send will directly head to the Library of Congress, no way. It heads to security first, an offsite location. There, it’s put into a machine called “The Microwave”, which is a machine meant to check if you are sending things you have zero business sending to the Library of Congress (such as ricin, anthrax or plain ol’ bombs). I learned that if I have candy apples shipped to the Library of Congress, they will be most likely eaten by Security as “Safety Check”. They’re thorough.

Not all books survive The Microwave. Some books come out – and I’m talking floppy softbacks – stiff as a block of wood, not even the cover can be opened. We chuck those out (we don’t chuck the data, we just tick a “the book is here and it is real but we can’t use it, the Microwave wrecked it” box on the paper and call it a day) and move on to the next book.

Here’s all the bins of books, we see this every day. They’re here so that we can process them in and go “yup, that book exists. Hey, Copyright, that book very much exists”. If we notice problems, that can keep a book from going into libraries or – super worst case scenario – hold up the royalties because Copyright has to get involved (you really don’t want that, Copyright moves glacially and if they have to do extra work, they are going to be as thorough and quick as someone who hates you for giving them extra work to do.) Rule of Thumb: Copyright division kinda hates everyone, don’t bother them if you don’t have to.

Bin o’ Books!

From big name books to indies, we get all of them. This meant I got to see books sometimes before they even existed in the public mindset. For major important big sellers, like Harry Potter, there are special protocols. Such as the book must have the last 20% of the book removed, and random bits of the book removed. I believe multiple copies have to be sent (about 2 or so) and they have to be missing different sections of the book so no one checking the book can scan it and put it out or sneak it out the library or read all of it and pull the wind out of the story’s sails. Oh, and those special books have to be done in a special room, where you have to be checked going in and out. As in, searched. For everyone else (99.9% of all the books), it all winds up on a big wooden table that has that one odd gray stool that I like because it’s knobbly in all the right ways.

We get it, slap an LoC barcode sticker on it, and a peach LCCN slip if it has an LCCN number. Your book needs to have your LCCN number in it by the time it gets here. If not, we still will take it but we will also gently hate you and put it on the bottom of the “if you are literally bored to the point you’re even starting to wonder if you can actually die from ennui, here’s something to do” pile, where it will sit and sit until it has to be done. Because we have to look up the title data and such, also known as “extra work”. If I have to choose between your LCCN-lacking book and that snack dish that is three floors up in the Israeli division, complete with nice water, colorful walls and breezy rooms that looked like Hogwarts – if it were designed by the US Government and they said “aht aht! Budget!” every five minutes – I’m picking the Israeli snack dish. Yes, I probably will get shooed out because I viciously pick out the good candy and snacks and I try my hand at being social (I’m bad at it and so are many people at the Library of Congress) … but at least I’m not staring at a book that’s extra work.

Please include your LCCN on the book itself. Some will include an extra note with the LCCN on it. Which is fine … until it gets lost. We process thousands of books a day. I’ve gotten books from all over the world, it’s hard to keep what note is to what book. I personally collected the super nice notes – written on nice paper, with nice stationary – but others sometimes blindly chucked them. Well, not too blindly, we also have to make sure the note doesn’t say something along the lines of “I wanna kill the president”. I have seen several letters that are in that neighborhood. We’re the Library of Congress, not the House of Congress, one, go whine to them. Two, we’re still part of the US government, please don’t send death threats to the president (I worked at the LoC during Obama) at the Library of Congress, we will send them to FBI members visiting to eat at the Madison Café (we also have a Chilli Cook Off and ice cream social, they show up to those, also). We will say, “Ey, Ricky! Got some lunch time reading for you” and call it a day. America has a lot of nutters, but the books still gotta get processed. That book won’t – or it’ll just be very delayed – but the other books have to get done. Three, your note is sometimes afternoon fodder. If the note is heart-felt, we will read it, aww over it, wonder why you wrote it and maybe someone will keep it or toss it. (Maybe send a card with a cat on it, cute stuff does get collected).

Put your LCCN in the book itself, please. Even if you write it (legibly) on the copyright page, just have it there.

The books will go to several places but they all go somewhere to be processed. CIP books are separated from the LCCN books (because they have different data sets) and they’re all wheeled to different cage bays.

A bay!

There are about 23 in total, all housed in the Surplus Division. All books are process with their importance status: Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze. Platinum is the most important, such as the founding documents of this nation. (The movie National Treasure would have been about 45 minutes and very bloody at the end if it were in real life, there were a lot of inaccuracies. No one can watch the movie with me because of this reason, I’m insufferable with my million “Ok, so that wouldn’t happen because …”) Bronze is most of the books we have. Even my books are declared “bronze”. Gold is the comic book collection the Library of Congress has. Gene Luen Yang’s “American Born Chinese” is considered Gold status because of the cultural importance it has and thus goes into the Vault.

How I sum up the four ranks:

Platinum – The alphabet soup (FBI, CIA, NSA, etc) will be paying you a visit. Or hunting you down. Your choice. Instead of watching Enemy of the State, you get to be it. It will not be fun.

Gold – The alphabet soup is going to be looking for you quite diligently. Very. There will be punishments.

Silver – If it goes missing, it will be noticed. People will look for it, they will be librarians. They will find you. There will be punishments.

Bronze – Meh. Sh*t happens. Definitely we don’t try to lose the book, every book is important, but you’re going to get moody LoC librarians who, depending on their moodiness, will drag the FBI into it because “That’s your job, go get the book.” I have seen “Give us back our book or be very worried” letters from the LoC that goes out to people who borrow books from the LoC. We usually get them back. I learned joking “We could just forward your name to the IRS or FBI and hold bets who nabs you first, library work gets boring sometimes” really gets the books returned fast when I’m asked outside of the LoC “I got a book from the Library of Congress, what happens if I decide to keep it forever?” Bronze is still important – it’s the Library of Congress, everything is important >_> – but it isn’t Platinum.

Some of the books wind up in the Surplus Division, where members of congress and libraries across America and the world can come and pick up these books for their libraries. (If your library, big or small, is not using the LoC’s Surplus division, why not? The books get thrown away, definitely use the Surplus program).  

How long does it take for a work to go through the process? About a week, which is what we aim for. This is the US Government so sometimes it takes months. Your LCCN is fine, libraries will find you and all that good stuff but the CIP division takes a minute. That’s also why we tell everyone to send it around the time it comes out, so that we’ll have it by the time it needs to be around. You already filled out the paperwork and got the number itself, the book checking is simply the last part to make sure “yup, no chicanery happening here”.

The books go to all sorts of places, but a lot get thrown away because the LoC simply doesn’t have the space – and because most books suck. Traditional and independent. Terrible covers, typos everywhere, etc. The most memorable books I have seen, I usually take a picture of them. I also take a picture of awful books, funny books or interesting books. I loved books that came from China that were like puzzles to open, they were folded with wood or other intricate features. (Unless they were “Human Rights Abuses in China” books, those were huge and not pretty. They were not like puzzles to open, they flopped open. Open to all the horrors. All of them.) There’s also a big globe outside of the CIP department.

It actually glows sometimes, the oceans have a interesting glow to them to show the sea floor depths

CIP shares a floor with the Maps division (who stared baffled at me on my first day when I was in their office looking for directions because I got lost. They’re the Maps and Geography division!). They hate when you ask them for directions. Bring up Waldo and Carmen Sandiego and they may direct you to where you can shove those jokes.

We share a floor with the Copyright division – well several floors share a floor with Copyright, they’re in the center of the Madison building and are several stories tall. And they’re locked down like Fort Knox.

One of the many doors of Copyright. Definitely locked, definitely has tech on the other side of the lock. Some there sorta hate everybody & all there won’t let you touch their snack pile (I’ve tried). Has a jukebox.

Fun LoC tidbits:

The unofficial motto of the Library of Congress: “:defeated sigh: Nothing Beats a Failure But a Try” (You have to do the “Why won’t God help us?” sigh, it’s part of the motto).

The tunnel into the Adams building is sloped in a way that’s obvious that no one cared about physics and people. Drop your water bottle and it will move at a velocity only NIST cares about. And may take out people. You will not be able to chase after it, do not bother trying.

There are mice in the Library of Congress. There is a theory that the mice have been there during Jefferson’s time, thus they are considered unofficially a historical part of the LoC.

Some of the rooms do not make sense, physics-wise. The hallway in The Matrix with all the doors and the Keymaster is the only thing I can really compare it to.

Some books are haunted, no one cares. If you ask why some of the books are haunted, they will stare at you irately and ask if you’re new … and why you’re lumped with them.

One of the elevators like to kidnap people and direct them outside, I call this elevator “The Kidnapping Elevator”. There’s a lot of things that need to be fixed at the LoC so it seems as long as it doesn’t nab the president, All Is Fine and This Shall Be Ignored.

The Occult book section is dark, as in, the lights do not work and every time they’re fixed, they go out again. Oh, and the floor glows. It’s a thing.

The stairs at Hogwarts make more sense than the stairs at the Library of Congress. I learned that the “hand on wall” labyrinth trick does not work at the LoC. The map of the Library of Congress might as well be the Trololololo face.

The CALM division has a very nice person who is deaf. He always answers the door, despite sitting closer to the back of the room – and is deaf. Everyone else who sits closer to the door will sit there and say “Oh I didn’t hear the door.” BRUH. Meanies – except for the deaf person, he’s nice.

Want to start a micro international war? Fiddle with the temperature. The LoC sometimes thinks it’s great to lump librarians from opposite climates together and give them a thermostat. I think whoever can broker that disagreement gets forwarded to Camp David or something.

They have water cooler clubs, where you have to be on a list to use the water jug in the department. There are no cups so no one else can use it. I was super thirsty and didn’t really know so I just took a piece of paper and turned it into a cup (yay, origami!). I got fussed at, it was a trash experience, possibly racialized experience (the lady, who was White, was really focused on the fact that I was able to craft a paper cup and treated the experience like I was nabbing the Magna Carta). I then always used origami cups to drink their water on the sneak tip to spite them.

There’s a rave in the basement of the Library of Congress. Complete with strobe lights and a dj and a person with a list. It’s in a soundproof room so no one knows until the door is open – which has a special knock. I’ve never been able to get in. I stumbled upon one around Halloween, everyone had on costumes and one dude in a skeleton costume was really dancing his life away while Eurotrash was playing. Some joked that it was President Obama, I have zero clue.

George Clinton performed at the Library of Congress on Halloween. It was fun dancing to “One Nation Under a Groove”

Independence Day at the Library of Congress is always decked out. I’m surprised they don’t have a bald eagle posted up somewhere with a little Uncle Sam top hat.

They turn the lights off in a lot of the places at the LoC Friday to Sunday, to conserve energy. If you can’t see, that’s technically a “you problem”.

There are secret doors everywhere. Secret stairs everywhere. In the regular stairwells, there’s always some librarian sitting in it with a guitar doing riffs or playing their lunch break away. Or several librarians.

The Architects of the Capitol (or “L’Architects du Capitol”, as I liked to call them) have different departments (machine shop, masonry, carpentry) and around the holidays, they would have their own decorated wreaths.

There’s a little stair with a dibit in it that’s been there for 200 years in the Jefferson building. It takes out at least five people a year. No one can fix it because the preservationists will throw a fit if so.

Different places on Capitol Hill has their “own” pizzeria, the pizzeria that is closest to them. The Library of Congress’ pizzeria is “We, The Pizza”. I love the name.

Librarians will sneak pets in. They will let you see them (and pet them!) if you keep your mouth shut. It’s Capitol Hill, there are worse things that are happening so slipping in a kitten goes “unnoticed”. They will barter pets for silence (“You can pet the cat for a solid minute if you keep quiet. Say anything and [cat name] goes back home.”)

It’s the Library of Congress. If you wanna scare a member of congress really badly, pretend you have Robert Muller or some other investigator on the phone and that he’s/they are coming down the hall. Or someone from the New York Times. Then say to the congressional person “I’ll be with you in a minute, just stand right there, please”. Or say it like the person is behind them.

It’s pretty certain that if you accidentally summon anything and run to the Smithsonian, they will sigh and ask, “You summoned something, didn’t you? Look, you still have to fill out a form. If they are possessing you, they have to fill out a form – in modern English, no one is interested in reading ancient Greek or Chinese or Possessed Handwriting – as fully as possible. We can’t just hand over stuff.” The LoC doesn’t care about weird stuff because a ) weird stuff happens all the time and b ) it’s the government, you still have to fill out a form.

Weird stuff happens a lot at the Library of Congress. If it isn’t part of someone’s job description to care, they won’t. Even if it is part of someone’s job to care, they sometimes won’t – it can be unnecessarily stressful to work at the Library of Congress at times.

Very few can out-hoity-toity the Library of Congress. Pretentious is an artform here. They are also derpy but wow does the LoC know how to crank up the “My presence is a present” when need be. If you want to make a NIST librarian gag, bring up the “class and refinery” of the Library of Congress.

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