The Library of Congress's longstanding requirement that a publisher must publish the works of at least three different authors before its books will be catalogued by the LoC is being challenged by a self-publisher. Lev Tsitrin, author and publisher of The Pitfall of Truth, filed suit late last month against the LoC in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, charging that the requirement is a violation of his First Amendment free speech rights and Fifth Amendment property rights.

Tsitrin said he decided to file suit because having a book catalogued by the LoC is an important part of the process to successfully publish a book. "I'm trying to do something, and one element of the system is not allowing me to do what I want to do," he said. Tsitrin said he is particularly frustrated by the arbitrary nature of the three-author requirement, something he contends ignores the quality of an individual book.

According to the LoC Web site, the three-author minimum was instituted because it is impossible for the department to include every self-published book in its Cataloguing in Publication program. The program is limited "to works most likely to be widely acquired by U.S. libraries," the notice states.

Tsitrin's complaint argues that by being excluded from the CiP program, his book will not get the attention of librarians who rely on the program to keep them abreast of new titles. Tsitrin said he is aware that there are alternatives to the CiP, but he finds them unacceptable. Registering for a Preassigned Control Number relegates his book to second-class status, Tsitrin said, noting that a book that receives a PCN is not listed on the CiP records that are distributed to libraries and vendors. The second option "comes down to one word: lying," Tsitrin said. It is not uncommon for small publishers to falsify documents when applying to the CiP program. "I could be branded a liar, something I'm not willing to risk," Tsitrin said.

Lloyd Jassin, a New York publishing attorney who is not involved with Tsitrin, said the LoC policy "raises First Amendment concerns. Since constitutionally protected works are not making their way into libraries, library users are shortchanged by a First Amendment obstacle erected by the LoC." While acknowledging that the number of titles now being published has increased dramatically, Jassin said, "You would think the government could devise a system that could process the information."

Tsitrin, who emigrated from the Soviet Union 15 years ago, said that while First Amendment principles are important, he filed suit for practical reasons—to find an audience for his book. "I want to win this. It's a matter of fairness." His suit is asking the court to invalidate the LoC's three-author requirement and is seeking $500,000 in damages.