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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 064-74(WS)-E
Division Number: IV.
Professional Group: Cataloguing
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 74.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

Medium Specific Designations: Roles and Applications

Sten Hedberg
Uppsala University Library
Uppsala, Sweden
E-mail: sten.hedberg@ub.uu.se


Designations, i.e. the terms used for types of documents and carriers, play a more important role in records for electronic resources than elsewhere. In addition, the mechanism of keeping the rules up to date with new technology depend on a constant open mind towards applying new designations. The main functions of the designations are illustrated, and some of the problems are outlined for further discussion.

Les termes des differents types de documents et des matières jouent une role plus important dans les documents électronique que d'ailleurs. En outre, le mechanisme d'entretien des règles de déscription dépend de ces termes, qu'il faut changer ou compléter selon le développement technologique. Cette partie de la conférence veut illustrer les fonction des règles dans cet aspect et aussi indiquer certain problèmes dans leur usage.

Die versschiedenen Bezeichnungen der Sorten von Dokumenten und ihrer physischen Eigenschaften spielen in elektronischen Dokumenten einen wichtigeren Rolle als in anderen Medien. Ausserdem hängt der Lebensdauer der Beschreibungsregeln davon ab, dass jeder Katalogisatör nach Bedarf die neue Terminologie des Faches in Anspruch nimmt. Dieser Vortrag will die Funktionen der Bezeichnungen illustrieren, sowie auch die wichtigsten Problemgebiete ihrer Verwendung.


The role of designations in bibliographical descriptions is to help the user to get a correct image of the document described. In most media types, no designations or very few are required: in printed text material, only the various physical carriers require designations. For various other media types, a GMD after the title proper enables the user's mind to understanding further special elements, such as the scale of maps, etc, which may in their turn use designations. But, of library materials overall, only electronic resources have use for three sets of specific designations.

In general, designations are based on common language, that of the cataloguer, and chosen from a list of preferred terms without respect to designations used on the item. Still, they are used in the body of the descrip-tion where the first option is to quote what is found on the item. For example, "volume" is the term for a unit of a multi-volume monograph catalogued in the United States, even when the item is in German and carries designations as "Teil 1".

What are their more specific roles in the descriptions of electronic resources? First, we have the GMD (1) , usually found directly after the title proper, giving the catalogue user an early warning that the document described is electronic. A little further ahead, the Resource designation (2) occurs as area 3 (or the first one of several parallel areas 3 if the document is also a serial etc.) and gives the catalogue user a better idea of the type of the resource being described. Lastly, area 5, Physical Descrip-tion, uses Specific material designations (3) in their common usage, i.e. to report on the physical carriers.

For economy, (1) and (2) may be combined, presenting the whole concept in Area 3. Also, (2) is optional in electronic resources distributed on physical carriers, and if that option is used, (1) and (3) may be combined in Area 5. By sheer logic, there can be no Area 5 or set (3) for resources available by remote access since there is no physical carrier. The outcome can be that a description of an Internet resource has all its specific desig-nation information in Area 3, which is quite acceptable. On the other hand, a resource for local access may give no clues as to its internal design until the catalogue user reaches Area 5, which is not quite so user-friendly.

Lists of recommended terms are given in Appendix C of the rules. For (1) , the term shall be "Electronic resource" in Area 1 or the word "Electronic" as prefix in Areas 3 or 5. There are no other options. Also, Area 5 shows a very ordinary application of ISBD(G), with the most common of today's carriers.

The list for (2) has three levels, representing a hierarchy. On top, we have just "Data" and "Program" plus the possibility of a combination of the two. The next level exemplifies six kinds of data and three kinds of programs, and on the bottom level most of these groups are further subdivided. So, "Text data" (one part of "Data" ) has the sub-categories "Bibliographic database", "Document", "Journal", "Newsletter" . Among "Application programs" , one specification is "Game" .

However, the cataloguer must remember to read the fine print of the text, 3.1 and 5.1: "When none of these terms is appropriate, an appropriate designation may be supplied ... In case ... preference is given to a term that is currently well established, in use by both the producers and users of the particular data resource, and is mutually exclusive of other terms used as designations" (3.1.1). In this way, the rules meet one of the basic requirements of the revision of the earlier edition, that they must be easy to update as technology develops and new types of documents and carriers emerge. It may be that usage already has begun to regard the list of Appendix C as God's own words, but that is not intended.

The outcome of it all is very logic and nice:

The first word or data element seen relating to the type etc. tells the user that he or she is up against an elec-tronic resource, which can be a useful first criterion. The next piece tells the user what kind of document it is; if it is a map or a serial, the Media specific area 3 will be repeated to give the special designations directly afterwards. In due course is recorded the physical extent of the carriers.

The problems that arise in the application of this design are of several kinds.

  1. Level: Can the cataloguer decide to stick to the intermediate level in all cases, or is that level sometimes too obtuse, some-times too cumbersome? What can the cataloguer decide without mounting the resource? Can one mix information freely from all the three levels in the same database or catalogue? To answer such questions, experimentation is necessary, and the cataloguer should be very pragmatic.

  2. Classification: As a rule, one should be able to decide if the main scope of a resource is Data or Program, even from the external information. Finer details may be harder to discover: Is a software helping the one to un-install unused software from one's HD drive a system program or a utility program? Must software packages such as MS Office -- containing word processor software, spreadsheet software etc. as one unit -- be designed as "Application programs" with additional comments in the Notes area, which is already overloaded as it is?

  3. Consistency: Since Appendix C is presented as a preferred list, one should expect that the subdivisions presented are comprehensive and logical, but are they? (One example: Why is the Bibliographic database specified, but not a database working as a telephone directory? Is the latter one a "Document"?)