For other uses, see Catalog (disambiguation).
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.

In library and information science, cataloging (or cataloguing) is the process of creating metadata representing information resources, such as books, sound recordings, moving images, etc. Cataloging provides information such as creator names, titles, and subject terms that describe resources, typically through the creation of bibliographic records. The records serve as surrogates for the stored information resources. Since the 1970s these metadata are in machine-readable form and are indexed by information retrieval tools, such as bibliographic databases or search engines. While typically the cataloging process results in the production of library catalogs, it also produces other types of discovery tools for documents and collections.

Bibliographic control provides the philosophical basis of cataloging, defining the rules for sufficiently describing information resources to enable users to find and select the most appropriate resource. A cataloger is an individual responsible for the processes of description, subject analysis, classification, and authority control of library materials. Catalogers serve as the "foundation of all library service, as they are the ones who organize information in such a way as to make it easily accessible".[1]

Six functions of bibliographic control

Ronald Hagler identified six functions of bibliographic control.[2]

History of bibliographic control

While the organization of information has been going on since antiquity, bibliographic control as we know it today is a more recent invention. Ancient civilizations recorded lists of books onto tablets and libraries in the Middle Ages kept records of their holdings. With the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, multiple copies of a single book could be produced quickly. Johann Tritheim, a German librarian, was the first to create a bibliography in chronological order with an alphabetical author index. Konrad Gesner followed in his footsteps in the next century as he published an author bibliography and subject index. He added to his bibliography an alphabetical list of authors with inverted names, which was a new practice. He also included references to variant spellings of author's names, a precursor to authority control. Andrew Maunsell further revolutionized bibliographic control by suggesting that a book should be findable based on the author's last name, the subject of the book, and the translator. In the 17th century Sir Thomas Bodley was interested in a catalog arranged alphabetically by author's last name as well as subject entries. In 1697, Frederic Rostgaard called for subject arrangement that was subdivided by both chronology and by size (whereas in the past titles were arranged by their size only), as well as an index of subjects and authors by last name and for word order in titles to be preserved based on the title page.[6]

After the French Revolution, France's government was the first to put out a national code containing instructions for cataloging library collections.[7] At the British Museum Library Anthony Panizzi created his "Ninety-One Cataloging Rules" (1841), which essentially served as the basis for cataloging rules of the 19th and 20th centuries. Charles C. Jewett applied Panizzi's "91 Rules" at the Smithsonian Institution.

Types of cataloging

Descriptive cataloging

"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."[8]

Subject cataloging

Subject cataloging may take the form of classification or (subject) indexing. Classification involves the assignment of a given document to a class in a classification system (such as Dewey Decimal Classification or the Library of Congress Subject Headings). Indexing is the assignment of characterizing labels to the documents represented in a record.

Classification typically uses a controlled vocabulary, while indexing may use a controlled vocabulary, free terms, or both.


Libraries have made use of catalogs in some form since ancient times. There is evidence of catalogs dating back to approximately 2300 B.C.E. in Sumer.[9] The Library of Alexandria is reported to have had at least a partial catalog consisting of a listing by Callimachus of the Greek literature held there.[10] The Chinese Imperial Library of the Han Dynasty of the 3rd century A.D. had a catalog listing nearly 30,000 items, each item similar in extent of its content to a Western scroll.[11] The first catalogs in the Islamic world, around the 11th century, were lists of books donated to libraries by persons in the community. These lists were ordered by donor, not by bibliographic information, but they provided a record of the library's inventory.[11]

Many early and medieval libraries in Europe were associated with religious institutions and orders, including the Papal library in Rome. The first Vatican Library catalog is from the late 13th century. These catalogs generally used a topical arrangement that reflected the topical arrangement of the books themselves.[11] Meanwhile, the Sorbonne library in Paris had accumulated more than one thousand books, and in 1290 their catalog pioneered the use of the alphabet as an organizing tool.[10]

It was the growth in libraries after the invention of moveable-type printing and the widespread availability of paper that created the necessity for a catalog that organized the library's materials so that they could be found through the catalog rather than "by walking around." By the 17th century libraries became seen as collections of universal knowledge. Two 17th century authors, Gabriel Naudé, in France, and John Dury, in Scotland, both developed theories of systematic organization of libraries.[11] The development of principles and rules that would guide the librarian in the creation of catalogs followed. The history of cataloging begins at this point.

Cataloging standards

Cataloging rules have been defined to allow for consistent cataloging of various library materials across several persons of a cataloging team and across time.

Anglo-American Cataloging Standards

The English-speaking libraries have shared cataloging standards since the early 1800s. The first such standard is attributed to Anthony Panizzi, the Keeper of the Printed Books of the British Museum Library. His 91 rules, published in 1841, formed the basis for cataloging standards for over 150 years.[12]

Subsequent work in the 19th century was done by Charles Coffin Jewett, head of the Smithsonian library, which at the time was positioned to become the national library of the United States. Jewett used stereotype plates to produce the library's catalog in book form, and proposed the sharing of cataloging among libraries. His rules were published in 1853.[12]

Jewett was followed by Charles Ammi Cutter, an American librarian whose "Rules for a Dictionary Catalog" were published in 1876. Cutter championed the concept of "ease of use" for library patrons.[12]

In the 20th century, library cataloging was forced to address new formats for materials, including sound recordings, movies, and photographs. Seymour Lubetzky, once an employee of the Library of Congress and later a professor at UCLA, was tasked to do extensive studies of the current cataloging rules over the time period from 1946-1969. His analyses shaped the subsequent cataloging rules.[12]

The published American and Anglo-American cataloging rules in the 20th century were:[12]

The 21st century brought renewed thinking about library cataloging, in great part based on the increase in the number of digital formats, but also because of a new consciousness of the nature of the "Work" in the bibliographic context, often attributed to the principles developed by Lubetzky.[13] This was also supported by the work of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions on the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR), which emphasized the role of the work in the bibliographic context.[14] FRBR created a tiered view of the bibliographic entity from Work to Item. This view was incorporated into the cataloging rules subsequent to AACR2-R, known as Resource Description and Access (RDA).


The Bodleian Library at Oxford University developed its cataloging code in 1674. The code emphasized authorship, and books by the same author were listed together in the catalog.

Germany and Prussia

The Prussian government set standard rules for all of its libraries in 1899. The rules were based on those of the University Library at Breslau by Karl Dziatz. These were adopted throughout Germany, Prussia and Austria. After the adoption of the Paris Principles in 1961, Germany developed the Regeln für die alphabetische Katalogisierung: RAK in 1977.[15]

Cataloging codes

Cataloging codes 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 codes 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 cataloging code 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. The German-speaking world uses the Regeln für die alphabetische Katalogisierung (RAK), also based on ISBD.

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.

Digital formats

Most libraries currently use the MARC standards—first developed during the 1960s—to encode and transport bibliographic data.[16][17] These standards have seen critiques in recent years for being old, unique to the library community, and difficult to work with computationally.[18] The Library of Congress is currently developing BIBFRAME, a new RDF schema for expressing bibliographic data.[17] BIBFRAME is still in draft form, but several libraries are already testing cataloging under the new format.[19]

Library digital collections often use simpler digital formats to store their metadata. XML-based schemata, particularly Dublin Core and MODS, are typical for bibliographic data about these collections.


Library items that are written in a foreign script are, in some cases, transliterated to the script of the catalog. In the United States and some other countries, catalogers typically use the ALA-LC romanization tables for this work. If this is not done, there would need to be separate catalogs for each script.

Ethical issues

Ferris maintains that catalogers, in using their judgment and specialized viewpoint, uphold the integrity of the catalog and also provide "added value" to the process of bibliographic control, resulting in added findability for a library's user community.[20] This added value also has the power to harm, resulting in the denial of access to information.[21] Mistakes and biases in cataloging records can "stigmatize groups of people with inaccurate or demeaning labels, and create the impression that certain points of view are more normal than others".[22]

Social responsibility in cataloging is the "fair and equitable access to relevant, appropriate, accurate, and uncensored information in a timely manner and free of bias".[23] In order to act ethically and in a socially responsible manner, catalogers should be aware of how their judgments benefit or harm findability. They should be careful to not misuse or misrepresent information through inaccurate or minimal-level cataloging and to not purposely or inadvertently censor information.[24]

Bair states that it is the professional obligation of catalogers to supply thorough, accurate, high-quality surrogate records for databases and that catalogers also have an ethical obligation to "contribute to the fair and equitable access to information."[25] Bair recommends that catalogers "actively participate in the development, reform, and fair application of cataloging rules, standards, and classifications, as well as information-storage and retrieval systems".[25] As stated by Knowlton, access points "should be what a particular type of library patron would be most likely to search under -- regardless of the notion of universal bibliographic control."[22]

A formal code of ethics for catalogers does not exist, and thus catalogers often follow library or departmental policy to resolve conflicts in cataloging. While the American Library Association created a Code of Ethics, Ferris notes that it has been criticized for being too general to encompass the special skills that set catalogers apart from other library and information professionals.[20] As stated by Tavani, a code of ethics for catalogers can "inspire, guide, educate, and discipline" (as cited in Bair, 2005, p. 22). Bair suggests that an effective code of ethics for catalogers should be aspirational and also "discuss specific conduct and actions in order to serve as a guide in actual situations". Bair has also laid out the beginnings for a formal code of cataloging ethics in "Toward a Code of Ethics for Cataloging."[21]


Sanford Berman, former Head Cataloger of the Hennepin County Library in Minnetonka, Minnesota, has been a leading critic of biased headings in the Library of Congress Subject Headings. Berman's 1971 publication Prejudices and Antipathies: A Tract on the LC Subject Heads Concerning People (P&A) has sparked the movement to correct biased subject headings. In P&A, Berman listed 225 headings with proposed alterations, additions, or deletions and cross-references to "more accurately reflect the language used in addressing these topics, to rectify errors of bias, and to better guide librarians and readers to material of interest".[22] Berman is well known for his "care packages," mailings containing clippings and other materials in support of changes to subject headings and against racism, sexism, homophobia, and governmental secrecy, among other areas for concern.

In "Three Decades Since Prejudices and Antipathies: A Study of Changes in the Library of Congress Subject Headings," Knowlton examines ways in which the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) has changed by compiling a table of changes described in P&A, followed by the current status of headings in question. Knowlton states that his intent for this table is to "show how many of Berman’s proposed changes have been implemented" and "which areas of bias are still prevalent in LCSH." In the discussion of Knowlton's findings, it is revealed that of the 225 headings suggested for change by Berman, only 88 (39%) have been changed exactly or very closely to his suggestions (p. 127). Another 54 (24%) of headings have been changed but only partially resolve Berman's objections, and "which may leave other objectionable wording intact or introduce a different shade of bias." 80 (36%) headings were not changed at all according to Berman's suggestions.[22]

Queer Theory and Cataloging

Building on Berman's critique of cataloging practices, queer theorists in Library and Information Science such as Emily Drabinski and Amber Billey have written about the implications of creating stable categorizations for gender identities.[26] This work has resulted in the modification of RDA Rule 9.7, governing how gender is represented in record creation. At the ALA Midwinter meeting in January 2016, the controlled vocabulary for gender in RDA was abolished, allowing catalogers and libraries to describe a person's gender in whatever terms best represent that person.[27]

Cataloging terms

See also


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Library cataloging and classification.
  1. Bair, Sheila (13 September 2005). "Toward a Code of Ethics for Cataloging". Technical Services Quarterly. 23 (1): 14. doi:10.1300/J124v23n01_02.
  2. Hagler, Ronald (1997). The Bibliographic Record and Information Technology, 3rd ed. Chicago: American Library Association.
  3. 1 2 3 Taylor, Arlene G., & Daniel N. Joudrey (2009). The organization of information. 3rd ed. Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, p. 5
  4. 1 2 Taylor and Joudrey, p. 6
  5. Taylor and Joudrey, p. 7
  6. Strout, Ruth French (1956). "The Development of the Catalog and Cataloging Codes." Library Quarterly 26(4): 254-275
  7. Smalley, Joseph (1991). "The French Cataloging Code of 1791: A Translation." Library Quarterly 61(1): 1-14.
  8. "Trustees' Glossary". Office of Library Development, the Oklahoma Department of Libraries. 2004. Archived from the original on 12 August 2007. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  9. Lionel Casson (2002), Libraries in the Ancient World, New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, ISBN 0300097212, 0300097212
  10. 1 2 Matthew Battles (2003), Library, New York: W.W. Norton, ISBN 0393020290, 0393020290
  11. 1 2 3 4 Fred Lerner (March 15, 2001), The Story of Libraries, Continuum Intl Pub Group, ISBN 9780826411143, 0826411142
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 Lois Mai Chan (September 28, 2007), Cataloging and classification (Cataloging and Classification ed.), The Scarecrow Press, Inc., ISBN 9780810859449, 0810859440
  13. Richard P. Smiraglia (2001), The nature of "a work", Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, ISBN 0810840375, 0810840375
  14. Barbara B. Tillett (2004), What is FRBR?, [Washington, D.C.]: Library of Congress, Cataloging Distribution Service, OCLC 54962277
  15. Wiegand, Wayne A, and Donald G. Davis. Encyclopedia of Library History. New York: Garland Pub, 1994.
  16. Schudel, Matt. "Henriette Avram, 'Mother of MARC,' Dies". Library of Congress. Retrieved June 22, 2013.
  17. 1 2 Miller, Eric; Uche Ogbuji; Victoria Mueller; Kathy MacDougall (21 November 2012). Bibliographic Framework as a Web of Data: Linked Data Model and Supporting Services (PDF) (Report). Library of Congress. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  18. Kroeger, Angela. "The Road to BIBFRAME: The Evolution of the Idea of Bibliographic Transition into a Post-MARC Future". Cataloging & Classification Quarterly. 51 (8): 873–890. doi:10.1080/01639374.2013.823584.
  19. "BIBFRAME Implementation Register". Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  20. 1 2 Ferris, Anna M. "The Ethics and Integrity of Cataloging". Journal of Library Administration. 47 (3-4): 173–190. doi:10.1080/01930820802186514.
  21. 1 2 Bair, Sheila (13 September 2005). "Toward a Code of Ethics for Cataloging". Technical Services Quarterly. 23 (1). doi:10.1300/J124v23n01_02.
  22. 1 2 3 4 Knowlton, Steven A. "Three Decades Since Prejudices and Antipathies: A Study of Changes in the Library of Congress Subject Headings" (PDF). Cataloging & Classification Quarterly. 40 (2): 123–145. doi:10.1300/J104v40n02_08. Retrieved 31 May 2014.
  23. Bair, Sheila (13 September 2005). "Toward a Code of Ethics for Cataloging". Technical Services Quarterly. 23 (1): 22. doi:10.1300/J124v23n01_02.
  24. Bair, Sheila (13 September 2005). "Toward a Code of Ethics for Cataloging". Technical Services Quarterly. 23 (1): 16–18. doi:10.1300/J124v23n01_02.
  25. 1 2 Bair, Sheila (13 September 2005). "Toward a Code of Ethics for Cataloging". Technical Services Quarterly. 23 (1): 16. doi:10.1300/J124v23n01_02.
  26. Billey, Amber; Drabinski, Emily; Roberto, K. R. (24 April 2014). "What's Gender Got to Do With It? A Critique of RDA Rule 9.7". Cataloging and Classification Quarterly. 52 (4): 412–421. doi:10.1080/01639374.2014.882465.
  27. "RDA Changes through April 2016" (PDF). Library of Congress. Retrieved 29 October 2016.
  28. "Frequently Asked Questions about Cataloging". Cataloging and Acquisitions - Library of Congress. Library of Congress. 2013-07-19. Retrieved 2014-09-16.

Further reading

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