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Descriptive Cataloging

Descriptive Cataloging or Descriptive Cataloguing

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.

  • Descriptive Cataloguing



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

    • Last Updated: 2020-03-22
    • Written: 2016-05-26

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