This topic introduces you to the professional task of descriptive detailed examination of the [bibliographic] description or the descriptive portion of a catalogue record by looking at the rules and standards that guide descriptive cataloguing practice and outlining the steps in the descriptive cataloguing process.

In addition, this topic also introduces an important standard library formats: the International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD)

What is descriptive cataloguing?

Many catalogers prefer Arlen Taylor's definition. In the Glossary of The organization of information she defines descriptive cataloguing (p.240) as "the process of providing the descriptive data and access points (other than subject) for surrogate records that are to be part of a catalog". Thus, descriptive cataloguing is that part of the overall cataloguing process in which an item is described and non subject or "name" access points (NAPs) are chosen for it according to widely accepted standards or guidelines.

Example of descriptive cataloguing:

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Learning Outcomes

After you have completed this topic you should be able to:

  1. State how descriptive cataloging fits into the overall cataloguing process.

  2. Demonstrate some skill and confidence in identifying the data elements that make up "the description" or the descriptive portion of a catalogue record, that is the areas and elements of the ISBD.

  3. Describe the use of levels of description in the AACR2R.

  4. List and briefly describe the steps in descriptive cataloging.

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Levels of Description

AACR2R recognizes that all libraries do not require the same amount of detail in the description in their catalogue entries. Three levels are given. The elements listed in each level are considered as a minimum required. Each library may decide upon a single level of description for its whole collection, or different levels for different kinds of materials (books, sound recordings, motion pictures, etc.). the factors each library must consider are the overall size of its collection, the needs of its customers, and the cost of cataloguing at each level.

  1. First level

  2. This first level would probably appeal to school libraries and small to medium public libraries. Some special libraries might also find this level satisfactory.

  3. Second level

  4. This level has become the standard level of description. It would be adopted by academic libraries, large public libraries, and some special libraries. It would probably be the level of cataloguing available through much of the shared or commercial cataloguing. The second level is the standard for this course.

  5. Third level

  6. The basic difference between the third and second level is the inclusion of all the optional elements in the third level. It would probably be used for rare book or special collections in national libraries or large academic libraries. It may also be selectively applied to specific types of materials (motion picture, sound recordings) in some libraries.

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Areas and Elements

What is the definition of areas? What is the definition of an element?

The following outline shows the order of the areas and their constituent elements that make up the description in a catalogue entry. (Area 3 and elements rarely or never used in cataloguing printed monographs have been omitted)


1.1B Title proper (including alternative title)
1.1D Parallel titles
1.1E Other title information
1.1F Statements of responsibility

1.2B Edition statement
1.2C Statements of responsibility relating to edition

1.4C Place of publication, distribution, etc.
1.4D Publisher, distributor, etc.
1.4F Date of publication, distribution, etc.

1.5B Extent of item, including specific material designation
1.5C Other physical details
1.5D Dimensions
1.5E Accompanying material (if any)

1.6B Title proper of series
1.6C Parallel title of series
1.6F ISSN of series
1.6G Numbering within series

1.7 Notes

1.8E Qualification

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International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD)

The International Standard Bibliographic Description is the name of a group of standards developed by the International Federation of Library Associations and accepted by the International Cataloguing Community, to standardize, as much as possible, "the description" or the descriptive portion of catalogue and bibliographic records produced in different countries. The ISBD provides the underlying framework for part I of AACR2R. As Lynne Lighthall said "you can compare the ISBD to a skeleton and the rules of part I of AACR2R as that which fleshes out the skeleton".

The ISBD prescribes:

- The areas and elements making up the description
- Their order
- The punctuation delineating them
- The sources in the document from which the information to formulate the description is taken
The ISBD divides the description into eight units, called areas, presented in the following order:

1. Title and statement (s) of responsibility area
2. Edition area
3. Material (or type of publication) specific details area/ "special" area
4. Publication distribution, etc. area
5. Physical description area
6. Series area
7. Note(s) area
8. Standard number area

A book "Library management" from Calgary Public Library as an example has most of the areas and elements of the ISBD. Let's identify them together.

Area Name of Area Data from Book
Area 1 Title and statement(s) of responsibility Library management ^/^Robert D. Stueart, Barbara B. Moran ^;^preface by John Taylor Eastlick.
Area 2 Edition 3rd ed.
Area 4 Publication, distribution etc... Litleton, Colo.^:^ Libraries Unlimited, ^ c1987
Area 5 Physical description xvii, 3476 p. ^:^ill.^;^25 cm.
Area 6 Series Library science text series.
Area 7 Notes Includes bibliographies and index.
Area 8 Standard number ISBN 0872875504

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Entry Headings

An entry heading is the name, word, or phrase by which an entry is filed in the catalogue. After completing the description, the cataloguer must choose the headings that will serve as access points for the description of a publication in the catalogue.

Part II of AACR2R deals with the choice of access points for main and added entries and with the form of these entries. These decisions apply independently of the medium in which the work is published. Unlike AACR2R Part I , there are no separate chapters for printed materials, nor for serials, nor for video recordings, etc. Instead AACR2R Part II is divided into chapters for choosing access points and for choosing which name and form of name should be used for persons, for geographic names, and for corporate bodies. The final chapters concern uniform titles and references.

Choosing access points means deciding under what main entry heading and added entry headings the description for a publication should appear in a catalogue. This choice is usually made from personal names, corporate names, and title appearing in the description. The basis for the access point may be a bibliographic identifier, such as the author or the title of the work. This kind of access point is determined by descriptive cataloging rules. The four types of bibliographic entry found in a catalog are:

  1. Name of persons who perform certain functions:

    1. Authors

    2. Editors and compilers

    3. Translators

    4. Illustrators

    5. Other related persons. (e.g. the addressee of a collection of letters, etc.)

  2. Names of corporate bodies related to the item being described in a function other than solely as distributor or manufacturer

  3. Titles

  4. Series

Sometimes the heading is in the form of a name-title combination.

Steps in the descriptive cataloguing process

The first step in cataloguing any item is to decide what it is. To determine that, ask yourself: what category of material does it belong? Is it a book, or a video, or a piece of computer software, or ...?
This first step is important because it determines:

  1. What source(s) in/on the item you will use to gather the details needed to create "the [bibliographic] description" of the item and determine its name access points (NAPs),

  2. What general material designation (gmd), if any, you will use for the item.

Having decided what it is you are cataloguing and from where in/on the item you will take the details necessary to make up the description, your task is now to identify and record the areas and elements of the ISBD by following the rules in part I of AACR2R.

Finally, you complete the descriptive cataloguing process by choosing and formatting nonsubject or name access points (NAPs) by following the rules in part II of AACR2R.

Now that you are familiar with the components of descriptive catalogue record, you'll get some practice in these activities in the assignments.

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