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Cataloging or Cataloguing or Library Cataloging

Cataloging or Cataloguing or Library Cataloging is the process of creating and maintaining bibliographic and authority records in the library catalog, the database of books, serials, sound recordings, moving images, cartographic materials, computer files, e-resources etc. that are owned by a library. The catalog may be in tangible form, such as a card catalog or in electronic form, such as online public access catalog (OPAC). Relative to the movement of materials within technical services, cataloging usually follows the receipt of ordered books in acquisitions. The process of cataloging involves three major activities, namely, Descriptive Cataloging, Subject Cataloging, and Authority Control.

In libraries, metadata creation is often called cataloging¹.

Cataloging is a subset of the larger field called information organization.

It can be defined as, “The process of creating metadata for resources by describing a resource, choosing name and title access points, conducting subject analysis, assigning subject headings and classification numbers, and maintaining the system through which the cataloging data is made available.”--Joudrey, Taylor, and Miller (2015). Introduction to Cataloging and Classification, 11th ed., Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

In other words, it is the process of creating metadata about library resources, which is included in the

A catalog is an organized compilation of bibliographic metadata that represents the holdings of a particular institution or a library network and/or resources accessible in a particular location.

Cataloging, traditionally, has been seen as comprising two specific activities: Descriptive Cataloging and Subject Cataloging.


Descriptive Cataloging or Descriptive Cataloguing includes recording the attributes of a library item, such as the name of author(s), contributor(s), title, edition, publisher, distributor, date, the number of pages, its size, name of series, etc. Descriptive Cataloging enables the user to find and identify a book, by the name of the author, the title, variant titles, etc. Two popular standards for Descriptive Cataloging are Anglo-American Cataloging Rules (AACR) and its successor Resource Description and Access (RDA).

Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR, AACR2, AACR2R) - Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR) is the essential international cataloguing code used for descriptive cataloging of various types of information resources by libraries in the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Australia as well as in many other countries. It was first developed in 1967 and updated regularly until 2005. The revisions and updates of the standard are referred to as AACR2. The second edition of Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR2) is the most widely used cataloging code, designed for use in the construction of catalogs and other lists in general libraries of all sizes. AACR2 comprise a detailed set of rules and guidelines for producing metadata in a surrogate record to represent a library resource. The rules cover the standard description of areas like, the title, publisher, edition, series, etc., as well as the provision of choice and form of access points (headings) for all materials which a library may hold or to which it may have access, including books, serials, cartographic materials, electronic resources, etc. AACR also provides rules for the formulation of standard forms of names and titles to provide access to and grouping of those descriptions. AACR2 standardized cataloging and ensured consistency within the catalog and between the catalogs of libraries using the same code in describing the physical attributes of library materials identically. AACR marked a shift from the previous cataloging rules, which were criticized for being too detailed, complex, and mere compilations of rules to handle specific bibliographic cases. Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules are considered as the most important advances in English-language codes for descriptive cataloging during the twentieth century.

Resource Description and Access (RDA) - RDA stands for “Resource Description and Access” and is the title of the standard, that is the successor to AACR2. Resource Description and Access (RDA) is a standard for descriptive cataloging providing instructions and guidelines on formulating bibliographic data. Resource Description & Access (RDA) is a set of cataloging instructions based on FRBR and FRAD, for producing the description and name and title access points representing a resource. RDA offers libraries the potential to change significantly how bibliographic data is created and used. RDA is a standard for resource description and access designed for the digital world. It provides (i) A flexible framework for describing all resources (analog and digital) that is extensible for new types of material, (ii) Data that is readily adaptable to new and emerging database structures, (iii) Data that is compatible with existing records in online library catalogs. RDA is a package of data elements, guidelines, and instructions for creating library and cultural heritage resource metadata that are well-formed according to international models for user-focused linked data applications. RDA goes beyond earlier cataloging codes in that it provides guidelines on cataloging digital resources and places a stronger emphasis on helping users find, identify, select, and obtain the information they want. RDA also supports the clustering of bibliographic records in order to show relationships between works and their creators.

Janis L. Young and  Daniel N. Joudrey¹ describe Descriptive Cataloging as below:

Descriptive Cataloging
  • Identification of the resource
  • Description of the resource
  • Access points for names and titles
  • Authority work for names and titles

Descriptive cataloging is that phase of the cataloging process that is concerned with the identification and description of an information resource, answering questions such as:
  • What is it?
  • What are its distinguishing and significant characteristics?

It is also concerned with encoding this information for machine processing, for example in:
  • A MARC record,
  • An XML encoded description, or
  • A metadata statement compatible with linked data principles.

It is also concerned with the selection of names and titles useful for providing access to the resources and the establishment of authorized access points for names and titles, answering questions such as:
  • What is it called?
  • Who is responsible for its creation?
  • Who else contributed to it?
  • By what form of name or title are they best known?

Descriptive cataloging describes the makeup of an information resource and identifies those entities responsible for its intellectual and/or artistic contents without reference to its classification by subject or to the assignment of subject headings, both of which are the province of subject cataloging.


Subject Cataloging (or Subject Cataloguing) involves the subject analysis of the resource and providing corresponding subject headings from a controlled vocabulary or subject heading list, such as Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), Medical Subject Headings (MESH) and assignment of classification numbers using schemes such as Library of Congress Classification (LCC) or Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC).

Subject Heading is defined as the most specific word or group of words that capture the essence of the subject or one of the subjects of a book or other library material which is selected from a subject heading list containing the preferred subject access terms (controlled vocabulary) and assigned as an added entry in the bibliographic record which works as an access point and enables the work to be searched and retrieved by subject from the library catalog database. Classification or Library Classification is the process of arranging, grouping, coding, and organizing books and other library materials on shelves or entries of a catalog, bibliography, and index according to their subject in a systematic, logical, and helpful order by way of assigning them call numbers using a library classification system, so that users can find them as quickly and easily as possible. Use of classification enables library users to browse on shelves to find its materials, determines the place of a book and the shelf, and also collocates additional items on the same or related subjects. Classification also enables the library users to find out what documents the library has on a certain subject. The cataloger assigns a classification, or call number, in correlation with the subject headings.

Janis L. Young and  Daniel N. Joudrey¹ describe Subject Cataloging as below:

Subject cataloging is the phase of the cataloging process which is concerned with determining and describing the intellectual or artistic content and the genre/form characteristics of a resource, and translating that understanding into subject headings and classification notations.

After the resource’s aboutness has been determined, as many subject headings as are appropriate are chosen from a standard list. There are many such lists, including: Library of Congress Subject Headings (known as LCSH), the LC Genre/Form Terms for Library and Archival Materials, Medical Subject Headings (which is often referred to as MeSH), the Art and Architecture Thesaurus, and so on.

In addition, a classification notation is chosen from whatever classification scheme is used by the library. In the United States, the most likely candidates are the Library of Congress Classification (often referred to as LCC) or the Dewey Decimal Classification (known as DDC).

Traditionally in the U.S., the classification serves as a means for bringing a resource into close proximity with other resources on the same or related subjects. In the case of tangible resources, the classification is the first element of the call number, which is a device used to identify and locate a particular resource on the shelves. 

Subject Cataloging Phases
  • Two Phases of Subject Cataloging
    • Conceptual analysis
      • What is it about?
      • What is its form or genre?
    • Translation
      • Controlled vocabulary terms
      • Classification

Two popular methods of Subject Cataloging are: (1) Controlled vocabulary terms, and (2) Classification schemes. One popular controlled vocabulary terms list is the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) and one popular library classification scheme is the Library of Congress Classification. These are described in brief below:

Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) - Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) is the list of headings produced from the subject authority file maintained by the United States Library of Congress for use in bibliographic records. It is popularly known by its abbreviation as LCSH and is sometimes used interchangeably with the phrase subject authority file. LCSH is a multidisciplinary vocabulary that includes headings in all subjects, from science to religion, to history, social science, education, literature, and philosophy. It also includes headings for geographic features, ethnic groups, historical events, building names, etc. Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) is the most widely used subject vocabulary in the world. It is the model for many other vocabularies in English and other languages and has been translated into numerous languages. The strongest aspect of LCSH is that it represents subject headings of the Library of Congress, the national library of the United States, one of the richest of national libraries of the world. The administrative and managerial machinery of LC has made it possible for LCSH to stand out as an undisputed leader. LCSH is also used as indexing vocabulary in a number of published bibliographies. LCSH comprise a thesaurus or a controlled vocabulary of subject headings which is used by a cataloger or an indexer to assign subject headings to a bibliographic record to represent the subject of a work he/she is cataloging. LCSH contain the preferred subject access terms (controlled vocabulary) that are assigned as an added entry in the bibliographic record which works as an access point and enables the work to be searched and retrieved by subject from the library catalog database. The controlled vocabulary identifies synonym terms and selects one preferred term among them to be used as the subject heading. For homonyms, it explicitly identifies the multiple concepts expressed by that word or phrase. Cross-references are used with headings to direct the user from terms not used as headings to the term that is used, and from broader and related topics to the one chosen to represent a given subject. The fortieth edition of Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH 40) contains headings established by the Library through January 2018. The headings included in this list were obtained by creating a file consisting of all subject heading and subdivision records in verified status in the subject authority file at the Library of Congress. There were 342,947 authority records in the file then. The subject authority database from which the headings in this edition were drawn indicates that the file contains approximately 24,390 personal name headings of which 23,272 represent family names, 10,034 corporate headings, 6 meeting or conference headings, 481 uniform titles, 242,511 topical subject headings, and 61,885 geographic subject headings. There are 764 general USE references, 4,351 general see also references, 299,751 references from one usable heading to another, and 362,646 references from unused terms to used headings. The creation and revision of subject headings is a continuous process. Approximately 5,000 new headings, including headings with subdivisions, are added to LCSH each year. Proposals for new headings and revisions to existing ones are submitted by catalogers at the Library of Congress and by participants in the Subject Authority Cooperative Program (SACO). More information on SACO may be found at <URL>. Approved proposals become part of the online authority file of subject headings at the Library of Congress, from which various publications are created. Five services provide information about new and revised headings. First, a distribution service supplies the subject headings in the MARC 21 authorities format via Internet FTP on a weekly basis to supplement the master database file of subject authority records. Second, L.C. Subject Headings Monthly Lists are a timely source of information about new and changed subject headings, class numbers, references and scope notes. The lists are posted monthly to the World Wide Web at Third, Classification Web provides World Wide Web access to Library of Congress Subject Headings and Library of Congress Classification to subscribers. Fourth, subject authority records are included in the Library’s Web authorities service and may be searched and viewed at Fifth, subject authorities are freely available for searching and download through the Library’s Linked Data Service at

Library of Congress Classification - The Library of Congress Classification (LCC) is a system of library classification developed by the Library of Congress. It was developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to organize and arrange the book collections of the Library of Congress. Over the course of the twentieth century, the system was adopted for use by other libraries as well, especially large academic libraries in the United States. It is currently one of the most widely used library classification systems in the world. The Library's Policy and Standards Division maintains and develops the system. In recent decades, as the Library of Congress made its records available electronically through its online catalog, more libraries have adopted LCC for both subject cataloging as well as shelflisting. There are several classification schemes in use worldwide. Besides LCC, the other popular ones among them are Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), Universal Decimal Classification (UDC), and Bliss Bibliographic Classification (BC). Out of these, DDC and LCC are the classification systems which are most commonly used in libraries. The potential of Library of Congress Classification (LCC) system is yet to be explored in libraries. This article describes the various aspects of LCC and its suitability as a library classification system for classifying library resources. The Library of Congress was established in 1800 when the American legislatures were preparing to move from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington, D.C. Its earliest classification system was by size and, within each size group, by accession number. First recorded change in the arrangement of the collection appeared in the library’s third catalog, issued in 1808, which showed added categories for special bibliographic forms such as legal documents and executive papers. On the night of August 24, 1814, during the war of 1812, British soldiers set fire to the Capitol, and most of the Library of Congress’s collections were destroyed. Sometimes after, Thomas Jefferson offered to sell to Congress his personal library; subsequently, in 1815, the Congress purchased Jefferson’s personal library of 6,487 books. The books arrived already classified by Jefferson’s own system. The library adopted this system and used it with some modifications until the end of the nineteenth century. Library of Congress moved to a new building in 1897. By this time, the Library’s collection had grown to one and a half million volumes and it was decided that Jefferson’s classification system was no longer adequate for the collection. A more detailed classification scheme was required for such a huge and rapidly growing collection of documents. The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), Cutter’s Expansive Classification and the German Halle Schema were studied, but none was considered suitable. It was decided to construct a new system to be called the Library of Congress Classification (LCC). James C.M. Hanson, Head of the Catalog Division, and Charles Martel, Chief Classifier, were made responsible for developing the new scheme. Hanson and Martel concluded that the new classification should be based on Cutter’s Expansive Classification⁴ as a guide for the order of classes, but with a considerably modified notation. Work on the new classification began in 1901. The first outline of the Library of Congress Classification was published in 1904 by Charles Martel and J.C.M. Hanson – the two fathers of Library of Congress Classification. Class Z (Bibliography and Library Science) was chosen to be the first schedule to be developed. The next schedules, E-F (American history and geography), were developed. But E-F were the first schedules to be published, in 1901, followed by Z in 1902. Other schedules were progressively developed. Each schedule of LCC contains an entire class, a subclass, or a group of subclasses. The separate schedules were published in print volumes, as they were completed. All schedules were published by 1948, except the Class K (Law). The first Law schedule—the Law of United States, was published in 1969, and the last of the Law schedules to publish was KB—Religious law, which appeared in 2004. From the beginning, individual schedules of LCC have been developed and maintained by subject experts. Such experts continue to be responsible for additions and changes in LCC. The separate development of individual schedules meant that, unlike other classification systems, LCC was not the product of one mastermind; indeed, LCC has been called “a coordinated series of special classes”. Until the early 1990s, LCC schedules existed mainly as a print product. The conversion of LCC to machine-readable form began in 1993 and was completed in 1996. The conversion to electronic form was done using USMARC (now called MARC21) Classification Format. This was a very important development for LCC, as it enabled LCC to be consulted online and much more efficient production of the print schedules. In the year 2013, the Library of Congress announced a transition to online-only publication of its cataloging documentation, including the Library of Congress Classification. It was decided, the Library’s Cataloging Distribution Service (CDS) will no longer print new editions of its subject headings, classification schedules, and other cataloging publications. The Library decided to provide free downloadable PDF versions of LCC schedules. For users desiring enhanced functionality, the Library’s two web-based subscription services, Cataloger’s Desktop and Classification Web will continue as products from CDS. Classification Web is a web-based tool for LCC and LCSH. It supports searching and browsing of the LCC schedules and provides links to the respective tables to build the class numbers for library resources. LC has also developed training materials on the principles and practices of LCC and made those available for free on its website.


It is a process that organizes bibliographic information in library catalogs by using a single, distinct spelling of a name (heading) or a subject for each topic, called an authority record. Authority Record is a record which gives the authoritative form (the form selected for a heading) of a personal name, corporate name, family name, place name, uniform or preferred title, series title, subject, etc. in the library catalog or the file of bibliographic records, and are listed in an authority file containing headings of library items. To ensure consistency, an authority record is created for each authorized heading (authorized access point) for a proper name or a subject, etc. An authority record is made when a heading is established, i.e., authorized for use as the main entry (preferred title and, if appropriate, the authorized access point for the creator), an added entry, or subject entry, for the first time, while cataloging of a library item. Authority control is the process that is applied to both descriptive and subject analysis parts of cataloging. It ensures the consistency and correctness of names and subject headings entered into the bibliographic description.

  • Library Cataloging
  • Cataloguing



1. Janis L. Young and  Daniel N. Joudrey, Library of Congress, "Library of Congress Subject Headings: Online Training," (accessed March 17, 2020).


Article Title
  • Cataloging
  • Salman Haider
Website Name
  • Librarianship Studies & Information Technology
Last Updated
  • 2020-03-22
Original Published Date
  • 2015-05-04

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