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Cataloging (or cataloguing) is the process of listing something for inclusion in a catalog. In library and information science, the process encompasses the production of bibliographic descriptions of books as well as other types of discovery tools for documents. Today cataloging study and practice has broadened and merged with that of metadata ("data about data contents"), increasingly associated with Resource Description and Access.[1]

A handwritten subject card from the National Library of Medicine’s old card catalog recalls the precomputer days when information had to be created, classified, and sorted by hand. HMD Prints & Photos, PP059772.7.

Cataloging rules[edit]

Cataloging rules have been defined to allow for consistent cataloging of various library materials across several persons of a cataloging team and across time. Users can use them to clarify how to find an entry and how to interpret the data in an entry. Cataloging rules prescribe which information about a bibliographic item is included in the entry and how this information is presented for the user; It may also aid to sort the entries in printing (parts of) the catalog.

Currently, most cataloging rules are similar to, or even based on, the International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD), a set of rules produced by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) to describe a wide range of library materials. These rules organize the bibliographic description of an item in the following eight areas: title and statement of responsibility (author or editor), edition, material specific details (for example, the scale of a map), publication and distribution, physical description (for example, number of pages), series, notes, and standard number (ISBN). The most commonly used set of cataloging rules in the English-speaking world are the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, 2nd edition (AACR2). AACR2 provides rules for descriptive cataloging only and does not touch upon subject cataloging. AACR2 has been translated into many languages, for use around the world. In the German-speaking world there is also the Regeln für die alphabetische Katalogisierung (RAK).

Library items that are written in a foreign script are, in some cases, transliterated to the script of the catalog.


In libraries, national cataloguing codes based on the International Standard Bibliographic Description, such as AACR2, and MARC have long been internationally accepted standards. In subject databases such as Chemical Abstracts, MEDLINE and PsycINFO the Common Communication Format (CCF) is meant to serve as a baseline standard. Different standards prevail in archives and museums, such as CIDOC-CRM. Resource Description and Access (RDA) is a recent attempt to make a standard that crosses the domains of cultural heritage institutions. All these standards differ from the standards used by authors to refer to their sources. Each standard represents alternative ways of recording bibliographic information.

Common Communication Format[edit]

"The users of the CCF on the other hand coming from many different backgrounds (some indeed national libraries), would never consider aiming at such a level of homogeneity between records originating in different systems. They have been able to accept that there will be different practices in record creation resulting in records which, when merged into a database, will show their different origins.".

"Early in its deliberations the Group undertook a comparison of all of the data elements in:

-- the Reference Manual [Martin, 1975; Simmons & Hopkinson, 1992], -- UNIMARC [IFLA, 1987], -- ISDS Manual [ISDS, 1983], -- MEKOF-2 [ICSTI, 1979], -- ASIDIC/EUSIDIC/ICSU-AB/NFAIS Interchange Specifications [ASIDIC, 1978], and -- the USSR-US Common Communication Format [USSR, 1978].

With these six standard formats as a guide, the Group identified a small number of data elements which were used by virtually all information-handling communities, including both libraries and abstracting and indexing organizations. These commonly used data elements formed the core of the CCF. A technique was developed to show relationships between bibliographic records, and between elements within bibliographic records. The concept of the record segment was developed and refined, and a method for designating relationships between records, segments, and fields was accepted by the group. The first edition of CCF: The Common Communication Format [UNESCO, 1984] was published in 1984." (Hopkinson, 1996).

Descriptive cataloging[edit]

"Descriptive cataloging" is a well-established concept in the tradition of library cataloging in which a distinction is made between descriptive cataloging and subject cataloging, each applying a set of standards, different qualifications and often also different kinds of professionals. In the tradition of documentation and information science (e.g., by commercial bibliographical databases) the concept document representation (also as verb: document representing) have mostly been used to cover both "descriptive" and "subject" representation. Descriptive cataloging has been defined as: "The part of cataloging concerned with describing the physical details of a book, such as the form and choice of entries and the title page transcription." (Office of Library Development, the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, 2004) See also Wilson (1989).

Subject cataloging[edit]

This is mostly known as classification and (subject) indexing. Library classification involves the assignment of a given document to a class in a classification system (such as Dewey Decimal Classification). Indexing is the assignment of characterizing labels to the documents represented in a record. Classification is a kind of controlled vocabulary while indexing may use a controlled vocabulary, free terms, or both. A relatively early example of an effort to study and to standardize controlled vocabulary in French, to correspond to English, within a U.S. Library of Congress subject headings approach, is the Université Laval's Cataloging Service's document Index anglais-français des termes utiliés dans le "Répertoire de vedettes-matière" (Québec, QC., 1972).

Cataloging terms[edit]

  • Main entry or access point– generally refers to the first author named on the item. Additional authors are added as "added entries." In cases where no clear author is named, the title of the work is considered the main entry.

See also[edit]


  • ASIDIC (1978). ASIDIC/EUSIDIC/ICSU-AB/NFAIS. Recommended Interchange Specifications for Computer Readable Bibliographic Data Bases. April 1978.
  • Bade, David (2007). Rapid cataloging. Three models for addressing timeliness as an issue of quality in library catalogs. Cataloging & classification quarterly, 45(1), 87-123.
  • Cutter, C. A. (1876). Rules for a Printed Dictionary Catalogue. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
  • Hopkinson, Alan (1996). The future of communication formats. The Common Communication Format (CCF).
  • ICSTI (1979). International Centre for Scientific and Technical Information. Communicative Format of Data Recording on Magnetic Tape. International Exchange Format; MEKOF-2. Moscow: International Centre for Scientific and Technical Information.
  • IFLA (1987). International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. UNIMARC Manual. London: IFLA UBCIM Programme
  • ISDS (1983). International Serials Data System. ISDS Manual. Paris: ISDS International Centre.
  • ISO 2709. (1981). International Organization for Standardisation. Format for Bibliographic Information Interchange on Magnetic Tape. Geneva, ISO, 1981 (ISO 2709-1981).
  • Martin, M. D. (Ed.). (1974). Unesco. UNISIST Reference Manual for Machine-readable Bibliographic Descriptions. Paris: Unesco.
  • Simmons, P. & Hopkinson, A. (eds.) (1992). CCF/B. the common communication format for bibliographic information, and CCF/F: the common communication format for factual information. Unesco.
  • UNESCO (1984). CCF: the Common Communication Format. Paris, UNESCO.
  • USSR (1978). USSR Council of Ministers, State Committee on Science and Technology (and) USSR State Public Library for Science and Technology. Draft Implementation of the USSR-US Common Communication Format. Moscow: 1978
  • Weihs, Jean and Shirley Lewis (1989). Nonbook Materials: the Organization of Integrated Collections. 3rd ed. Ottawa: Canadian Library Association. ISBN 0-88802-240-9
  • Wilson, P. (1989). The second objective. IN: The conceptual foundations of descriptive cataloging, edited by Elaine Svenonius. San Diego: Academic Press.