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RDA Alternatives

Resource Description and Access (RDA) Alternatives


In Resource Description and Access (RDA) cataloging rules there are a number of guidelines and instructions that are labeled as alternatives. Alternative guidelines and instructions in Resource Description and Access (RDA) provide an alternative approach to what is specified in the immediately preceding guideline or instruction. A cataloger can choose to follow the rule or the alternative

Example of RDA Alternatives 

At RDA Resource Lacking a Collective Title, the general instruction states: “If: the type of description chosen for the resource is a comprehensive description and the resource lacks a collective title then: record the titles proper of the parts as they appear on the source of information for the resource as a whole … …” Immediately after the examples, an alternative is given as: “Devise a collective title by applying the instructions … If considered important for identification or access, record the titles of individual parts as the titles proper of related manifestations …” If you observe the screen image of RDA Toolkit, just after the label Alternative there are icons that link to various policy statements. If you go to the LC-PCC PS for this alternative, it says: “LC practice/PCC practice for Alternative: Generally, do not apply.” So according to LC-PCC PS on the alternative instruction, the cataloger should not devise a collective title in this case.

RDA Alternatives - Screen image from the RDA Toolkit (

Alternatives Options and Exceptions in RDA : What Every Cataloger Needs to Know

RDA contains a number of guidelines and instructions that are marked as alternatives, options (optional additions, optional omissions), and exceptions. Each of these is clearly identified by an italicized label, which in the RDA Toolkit appears in green color in the instruction (alternative, optional addition, optional omission, exception). A green vertical bar also appears in the left margin next of an alternative, optional, or exceptional instruction in RDA Toolkit. These allow individual libraries or cataloging agencies to make decisions based on individual considerations in cases where two or more provisions are equally valid. Guidelines for alternatives and options are provided in RDA rule 0.8, and instructions for applying exceptions is at RDA 0.9 of chapter 0. 

How to decide whether to apply the alternatives, options, or exceptions?

Whether to apply the alternatives, options, or exceptions is cataloger judgment, unless an LC practice has been identified in an LC-PCC PS (for LC catalogers). Each library or cataloging agency must decide whether or not to use each of these alternatives and options. This can be done by choosing one or more of the following approaches: (a) Establishing local policies for all options and alternatives, or (b) Establishing local policies for some, but not all, options and alternatives, or (c) Following the policy statements of other libraries and programs, such as the Library of Congress-Program for Cooperative Cataloging Policy Statements (LC-PCC PS) or British Library Policy Statements (BL PS), or (d) Allowing individual catalogers to use their judgement who are responsible for creating the metadata for the bibliographic items.

Unlike alternatives and options, exceptions are not subordinate to general instructions, therefore, RDA exceptions generally do not require policy statements, although some exceptional situations may require some additional clarification. Exceptions must be followed when applicable. They are provided when it is necessary to depart from a rule’s instructions because of a specific type of resource or situation.

  • Alternatives in RDA

  • Last Updated: 2019-07-04 
  • Written: 2016-03-28

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