Sierra Cataloging Overview

Merlin Cataloging Introduction


Cooperative versus Centralized Cataloging

There are two schools of cataloging methodology: cooperative cataloging and centralized cataloging.  Individual libraries contributing cataloging records and items into a shared database and following sets of rules for such cataloging are doing so in a cooperative manner.  The practice of one or two specific libraries managing the cataloging records so others can attach to them is known as centralized cataloging.  Libraries in Merlin follow the cooperative cataloging method.

More background information related to this can be found on the NWLS website following this link:

Merlin Cooperative Cataloging

Given that we follow cooperative cataloging, what we have set up for catalogers are general principles for cataloging in Merlin.  Each one is given below with a brief description.

Match and Attach: First, catalogers search the Merlin catalog (by ISBN, title, or author) for a record already in Merlin and if a record is found, attach an item record based on a template matching the kind of record cataloged.

Check Remote (z39.50):  When an item is not found in Merlin, the cataloger is asked to use the databases in the Remote (z39.50) area of the software to pull in a new record and attach their item record.  I have tried to provide varied database options to help increase the hit rate on our remote searches.  Getting records this way is a free service but sometimes a cataloger may need to question the quality of the records maintained at other library databases. 

Because a number of libraries asked what it would take to get OCLC records again, I investigated two bibliographic service vendors (OCLC and SkyRiver) last year.  I provided information related to the costs (roughly OCLC = $17,600 and SkyRiver = $34,500), but received no other feedback from libraries (because I suspect it comes down to money and we are already strapped for cash at our libraries as it is).  So we continue to work with the free databases in Remote.

Copy a Near Match in Merlin: Sometimes if you have a record that is almost the same thing as the one in your hand and you do not wish to search Remote (z39.50) you can copy an existing bibliographic record, edit it to what you have in hand, save it, and attach an item to it.  This is actually how the new year of a magazine record is expected to be made.  This may also be helpful for Playaways and Blu-Ray DVDs – catalogers just need to be careful about what editing (fields changed) is performed in these circumstances.

Training materials for cataloging following the three processes is available in both print (PDF) and in video formats on the NWLS website following this link and you’ll need to use the username/password given above to log in:

Original Cataloging: Prior to the Sierra migration libraries had a little more latitude and access to create short records or even try their hand at original cataloging.  However, with the reduction of resources (people) at NWLS to manage the temporary records and records to be checked, I removed much of this ability for libraries.  What I did instead was to direct catalogers to send me their work for original cataloging.  To me, this reduces the number of times the material is touched for cataloging.

We still have the maintenance programs here at NWLS where we semi-annually (1) check for short/temporary records and overlay them with full MARC, and (2) verify member-library created original records to meet quality standards.  There is still an awful lot of local creation of records I see, but NWLS does the best it can with limited resources to manage these materials.  In the scheme of things these short/temporary records make up maybe .4% (yes, point 4 percent) of the entire database (175 or so of 419,000 records), so a relatively minute amount.

On Order records are a little different  in that library staff are asked to create a short record if there is not a record found in Sierra (via Merlin or Remote).  It is the expectation that the library that creates that short record will eventually update that short record with a full MARC record.  This should be accomplished by checking the Remote databases within 3-6 months after initial creation of the short record and overlay that record if a full-MARC is found.  If not, the cataloging can be sent to NWLS for original record creation.  NWLS does not perform any kind of checks of On Order records other than create lists of old ones (beyond a year created) for libraries to update.

Standards and Best Practices

In order to maintain integrity for the database in a cooperative cataloging environment, the Consortium has adopted many cataloging standards.  Some are focused on bibliographic records and others refer to item records.  The standards Merlin has in place for cataloging can be found on the NWLS website at this link and you’ll need to use the username/password given above to log in:

Many times when a recommendation for a cataloging rule has not been adopted as a standard by the Consortium it has been turned into a best practice.  Merlin has best practices for the following cataloging and processing functions: consistent call number prefixes, barcode placement, notice of new items release date restrictions, and dealing with multi-volume film sets (like TV series).  Cataloging best practices can be found on the NWLS website at this link and you’ll need to use the username/password given above to log in:

Other NWLS Maintenance Tasks

Following is an extensive list of maintenance functions performed by NWLS:


  • Check for bad Category Codes
  • Check for bad barcodes
  • Delete orphan bibs (bibs with no items attached)
  • Merge duplicate bib records
  • Move ILL Status to X
  • Provide authority maintenance (send records to Marcive for updating / delete orphan authority records / scope authority records / delete duplicate authority records)
  • Marcive RDA level service updates in authority maintenance to enhance AACR2 level records to RDA standards.


  • Create a master list of Missing/Claims Returned/Lost & Paid items for libraries to update
  • Delete old self-registration records
  • Update Mat Type codes


  • Add volume fields to magazine records
  • Send lists of old On Order records for libraries to update


  • Check original cataloging records made by librarians
  • Create list of short/temporary records to overlay
  • Correct old trapped In-Transit records


  • Create lists and purge long overdue items
  • Add Nonfiction note to records
  • Update Bib Levels in records
  • Check original cataloging records made by librarians
  • Create list of short/temporary records to overlay
  • Delete old ILL records
  • Zero Internal Use counts
  • Move YTDcirc counts to LYcirc numbers

As Needed

  • Add OverDrive records to Merlin

Cataloging Guides

Guides available for following standard and best practices for catalogers:

  • Sierra Cataloging Full Manual
  • Using GMD Macros
  • Record Standards (Bib)
  • Record Standards (Item)
  • Updated Merlin Cataloging Policy
  • New Cataloging Cheat Sheet