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Charles Ammi Cutter’s Objects of the Catalogue (or Objectives of the Library Catalog)

Charles Ammi Cutter’s Objects of the Catalogue (or Objectives of the Catalog)

The shared vision of information organization has been guided by principles. One of the most influential is Charles Cutter’s “Objects of the Catalogue,” first published in 1876 in his Rules for a Printed Dictionary Catalogue. He discussed what we expect our retrieval tools to do. If we look closely, we can see that subject and genre/form access were considered by Cutter to be important functions of the catalog.¹


  • Cutter's Objects Of The Catalog (1876)
    • FRBR User Tasks as an Update to the Cutter's Objects of the Catalog
  • What Cutter’s Objects of the Catalogue Means for Entries in a Library Catalog
  • Rules for a Printed Dictionary Catalogue (E-book)
    • Bibliographic Information
  • About Charles Ammi Cutter
  • Cutter’s Objects of the Catalogue Quiz


1. To enable a person to find a book of which either:

 (a) the author is known
 (b) the title is known.
 (c) the subject is known

2. To show what the library has:

 (d) by a given author
 (e) on a given subject
 (f) in a given kind of literature

3. To assist in the choice of a book:

 (g) as to its edition (bibliographically)
 (h) as to its character (literary or topical)

The first object (or Objective) is to be able to find a resource if the name of the creator, or the title, or the subject of the resource is known. This finding function insists that the catalog provide access to individual resources in a collection.

The second object is the collocation or gathering function. It states that users should be able to retrieve not only a single resource, but to discover all resources related to a creator, a subject, or in a particular genre or form of material.

The third objective reflects a selection function. It means that users should be able to choose a resource that best fits their needs, based on either its bibliographic characteristics (such as language or format), or as to its subject-related or genre/form characteristics. Cutter’s definition of the catalog has stood the test of time, but it has been updated and expanded over the years.

FRBR User Tasks as an Update to the Cutter's Objects of the Catalog

Most recently, after years of collaboration and discussion among cataloging experts from around the world, new international principles were published in 2009 by IFLA (The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions). In these principles, the functions of the catalog are to enable a user

  • to find bibliographic resources in a collection . . .
  • to identify a bibliographic resource or an agent, which is an entity that is responsible for the resource ...
  • to select a resource that is appropriate to the users’ needs . . .
  • to acquire or obtain access to the resource. . .
  • and to navigate within a catalog and beyond.

These user tasks are based on IFLA’s Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, also known as “Ferber” or FRBR. FRBR is an abstract conceptual model of the bibliographic universe.

In order to meet IFLA’s user tasks, we, as catalogers, must create adequate and well-formed metadata!


1. Author-entry with the necessary references (for "a" and "d").
2. Title-entry or title reference (for "b").
3. Subject-entry, cross-references, and classed subject-table (for "c" and "e")
4. Form-entry and language-entry (for "f").
5. Giving edition and imprint, with notes when necessary (for "g").
6. Notes (for "h")


The original book written by Charles A. Cutter titled Rules for a Printed Dictionary Catalogue is in the Library of the University of Wisconsin. It is digitized and is given below. In this book he published his "Objects" of the catalogue.

Bibliographic Information


Charles Ammi Cutter

Charles Ammi Cutter (March 14, 1837 – September 6, 1903) was an American librarian. Cutter was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His aunt was an employee of the regional library in Boston. In 1856 Cutter was enrolled into Harvard Divinity School. He was appointed assistant librarian of the divinity school while still a student there and served in that capacity from 1857 to 1859. During that time, Cutter began designing a distinct cataloging schema for the library's outdated system. The catalog, dating from 1840, had a lack of order after the acquisition of 4,000 volumes from the collection of Professor Gottfried Christian Friedrich Lücke of University of Göttingen, which added much depth to the Divinity School Library's collection. During the 1857-58 school year, Cutter rearranged the library collection on the shelves into broad subject categories along with classmate Charles Noyes Forbes. During the winter break of 1858-59, they arranged the collection into a single listing alphabetically by author. This project was finished by the time Cutter graduated in 1859. By 1860 Cutter was already a seasoned staff member of the library and a full-time librarian. He became a journeyman to the chief cataloger and assistant librarian to Dr. Ezra Abbot. At Harvard College Cutter developed a new form of index catalog, using cards instead of published volumes, containing both an author index and a "classed catalog" or a rudimentary form of subject index. In 1868 the Boston Athenæum library elected Cutter as its head librarian. His first assignment was to organize and aggregate the inventory of the library and develop a catalog from that and to publish a complete dictionary catalog for their collection. The previous librarian and assistants had been working on this, but much of the work was sub par and, according to Cutter, needed to be redone. This did not sit well with the trustees who wanted to get a catalog published as soon as possible. However, the catalog was revised and published in five volumes known as the Athenæum Catalogue. Cutter was the librarian at the Boston Athenaeum for twenty-five years.³


Charles Ammi Cutter’s Objects of the Catalogue Quiz -- List of questions and answers on Cutter’s Objects of the Catalogue from Library and Information Science Questions Answers Quizzes. Please visit this collection and locate questions given below under the heading "Unit V - Information and Knowledge Organization and Management" where you will also find their URLs having answers and further explanations.

  • Complete Cutter's "objects" of the catalog. Fill in the Blanks. To enable a person to ________ a resource of which the ________, title, or ________ is known. To show what the library has by a given ________, on a given ________, or in a given ________ of literature.



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

2. Charles Ammi Cutter (1904). "Objects and Means." Rules for a Printed Dictionary Catalog, 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.

3. Wikipedia, "Charles Ammi Cutter," (accessed January 19, 2019).


Image1: By Hari Krishnan - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, (modified)

Image 2: By Boston Athenaeum - The Athenæum Centenary. 1907., Public Domain,


Article Title
  • Charles Ammi Cutter’s Objects of the Catalogue (or Objectives of the Library Catalog)

Website Name

  • Librarianship Studies & Information Technology



Last Updated

  • 2020-03-21

Original Published Date
  • 2020-03-17

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