PPCM 8111 | January 2013

Descriptive cataloguing is the practice in libraries of describing materials for the purpose of creating a catalogue, enabling users to find materials by author, title, subject (also knows as access points/indexes)

Catalogues consisted of printed cards interfiled into drawers; cards which had limited physical space for information, thereby necessitating standard abbreviations and punctuation.

Cataloguing incorporates authority control and controlled vocabularies, thereby facilitating sharing of the work of cataloguing and the sharing of collection data, and materials.

Standards and vocabularies used in descriptive cataloguing include AACR2R, LCSH via id.loc.gov, LCNAF.

Rare book cataloguing is more like inventorying treasures
- Treats books as objects rather than carriers of content
- Materials with historical significance and/or high monetary value

“Developments in bibliography exercised an increasing influence on rare book cataloguing practices” [i]

Rare book catalogue records feature

1. full, faithful transcription of title page, not abbreviated,
(include the exact wording, e.g., address of printer) to help distinguish among various editions, states and printings (do not substitute modern equivalents of letters, from v to u for example)

1b. facsimile transcription: seeks to reproduce the appearance of the printed title page, including capitalization, notation of borders and line breaks
- this practice varies considerably, is controversial

2. description of the format and collation – a formula for calculating the size in terms of the number of times the original printed sheet was folded to get the resulting number of leaves, which provides another method of distinguishing among manifestations of a title

2b. description of ‘signatures’ which are letters or numerals printed in the tail margin of the first leaf of each gathering or section of a book, as a guide to the binder in assembling them correctly

3. lengthy, detailed notes
copy-specific information
binding – an important access point for rare books
provenance – previous ownership
inscriptions and annotations
rarity, when there are few other copies in existence, or none

4. plenty of access points, no rule of three as per AACR
creators, including publisher and printer
anyone else connected to the work in some way that is significant

The goal is to provide enough info to
- enable a researcher to make an informed choice about whether it is really necessary for them to handle the actual object
- help identify in case of theft, to establish ownership

Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Books. Library of Congress, 1991.

International Standard Bibliographic Description for Older Monographic Publications (Antiquarian)

“Older monographic publications are chiefly those produced prior to the introduction of machine printing in the nineteenth century and include those published for limited distribution or for sale on demand. ISBD(A) may also be used to prepare descriptions for later publications produced by hand or by methods continuing the tradition of the hand-produced book.”

Bibliographic record for Steichen by Lumiere Press at UofT Thomas Fisher

Learn more about rare book cataloguing:
Rare Book School at University of Virginia

Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) of ACRL http://www.rbms.info

Descriptive bibliography, a type of analytical bibliography, is the study of book-as-object. How the book is put together, types and placement of illustration, typography, binding work, and type and quality of paper are all considered when viewing the book as an object.

The standard resource on descriptive bibliography is Philip Gakell’s New Introduction to Bibliography (1995).

Principles of Bibliographical Description by Fredson Bowers is another classic text on descriptive bibliography.

Learn more about descriptive bibliography:

Terry Belanger article on Descriptive Bibliography
Click on the "Bibliography Defined" link on the left to access article.

[i] Russell, Beth M. "Description and Access in Rare Books Cataloging: A Historical Survey." Cataloging & Classification Quarterly 35.3-4 (2003): 491-523.