Skip to main content

Cataloging Tools and Resources: Descriptive Cataloging

Overview of standards underlying library cataloging, with links to sources for the tools.

Purchasing RDA

RDA Customer Support

Definition and Brief History

Descriptive cataloging involves applying a standardized set of rules, currently RDA: Resource Description and Access, to record the title, authorship, and publication data for a work, describe the physical extent of the work, add bibliographic notes as necessary, and add access points for persons or entities associated with the creation of the work. 

In 1841, Antonio Panizzi wrote 91 Rules for Compilation of the Catalogue for use at the British Museum (now the British Library).  These were the first attempt to regularize bibliographic description for the catalog, then planned as a printed book catalog.  In the ensuing decades, other cataloging theorists and practitioners revised, expanded, and restated these rules.  

In 1876, Charles Ammi Cutter (1837-1903), librarian of the Boston Atheneum, and later the Forbes Library in Northampton, Massachusetts, published the first edition of Rules for a Printed Dictionary Catalogue, as part of a commission from the United States Bureau of Education to report on the state of libraries in the United States.

By 1908, the American Library Association and the Library Association collaborated on the first international cataloging code, published in the U.S. as Catalog Rules: Author and Title Entries.

Over the next century, there were subsequent revisions prepared by committees of the American Library Association, but it was not until 1967 when there were again two texts of the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules (AACR).

AACR was maintained by an international committe and revised in 1988, 1998, and 2002. In 2004, work began on a comprehensive revision and recasting of the rules, RDA: Resource Description and Access.  RDA was published in the RDA Toolkit in June 2010.