RE: Consolidated ISBD

Posting to RDA-L

Bernhard Eversberg wrote:

ISBD, however, is not a code of cataloging rules.

The introduction says:
“The International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD) is intended to serve as a principal standard to promote universal bibliographic control, that is, to make universally and promptly available, in a form that is internationally acceptable, basic bibliographic data for all published resources in all countries. The main goal of the ISBD is, and has been since the beginning, to provide consistency when sharing bibliographic information.”

I’m trying to understand how ISBD is *not* a code of cataloging rules, or as I prefer to think of it: standards for input of bibliographic information.

The printed records were thus conceived, at that time, as a communication format for the transmission of structured information. No verbal or numeric tagging could be employed in printed bibliographies, as goes without saying, but the punctuation had to do double duty for that purpose.

While I can understand this idea that the primary goal was to communicate structured information, and the only way of doing that in a print world was through punctuation, I think that this obscures the fact that the focus was still on the information to be communicated, and the punctuation was less important. My evidence is to compare the ISBD with the user guide for Dublin Core ( So for example, the DC guidelines for “Title” are (in their entirety)

4.1. Title
Label: Title
Element Description: The name given to the resource. Typically, a Title will be a name by which the resource is formally known.
Guidelines for creation of content:
If in doubt about what constitutes the title, repeat the Title element and include the variants in second and subsequent Title iterations. If the item is in HTML, view the source document and make sure that the title identified in the title header (if any) is also included as a Title.
Title=”A Pilot’s Guide to Aircraft Insurance”
Title=”The Sound of Music”
Title=”Green on Greens”
Title=”AOPA’s Tips on Buying Used Aircraft”

Contrast this to the in-depth ISBD guidelines for title (available through and anybody can see immediately DC gives practically no guidance when compared with ISBD. This is not to criticise, but merely to point out that one has standards for input (cataloging rules) and the other does not.

In many ways, I see the current discussions as very similar to those in the later 19th century when libraries wanted to exchange catalog cards. The problem was: each library had their own size card and cabinets, and a uniform size card was absolutely necessary if they were going to be exchanged. It was also one of those debates that you either won completely or lost completely, since if your size card was not accepted, you had to recatalog everything, which was a terrifying prospect even then. So, you were either a big winner or big loser but in the end, they discovered that all they had agreed upon was an empty card with a hole in the same place!

While that was important, it paled in comparison with the need for and the complexity of sharing the information on the cards in some kind of coherent way–which was the entire purpose. It was *not* about just sharing cards, but sharing the information on those cards. Figuring out a standardized empty card was only the first, and relatively easiest step.
(As an aside, at Princeton Univeristy the cards were too big and Ernest Richardson, then the librarian, tried having his catalogers cut down the cards and then write somewhere else on the card what was cut off. That one didn’t succeed!)

Certainly we should not have to enter punctuation by hand today. Not that it’s so difficult to learn to do (pretty much the easiest part of ISBD) but it’s a little bit like plowing a field with an ox and plough. There are better and more productive tools available.

And concerning displays, we must emphasize the possibility of multiple displays. I think having a standardized one, primarily for use by librarians, is a good idea, but other displays are much more useful for our public, e.g. citations they can copy and paste, exportable records for personal reference databases, and others. I have also felt that the displays of multiple search results could be made far more useful for both users and catalogers than those I have seen.