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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

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


Code Number: 083-126-E
Division Number: IV.
Professional Group: Cataloguing
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 126.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

The Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules and their Future

Ralph W. Manning
Chair, Joint Steering Committee for Revision of AACR


The Anglo-American cataloguing rules are in a process of constant revision This paper briefly outlines the history of the cataloguing rules and the reasons for holding an International Conference on the Principles and Future Development of AACR in Toronto, Canada in October 1997. The outcome of the conference is described, particularly two projects. The first deals with an analysis of the logic of the rules in order to determine the principles upon which they are based. The second deals with a re-examination of the concept of ongoing publications.


The Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR2) in 1998 are situated in the midst of a continuum of constant revision. This revision has sometimes been sudden and jarring and sometimes gradual.

The process can be taken as far back as the 1839 rules developed by Panizzi for the catalogues of the British Museum. While early cataloguing codes were very much influenced by individuals (Panizzi, 1839; Jewett, 1853; Cutter, 1876) AACR2's predecessors in the 20th century were generally developed in a cooperative environment. International cooperation in catalogue code development began with the joint code published in 1908 by the American Library Association and the Library Association in the United Kingdom.

The theme of cooperation in cataloguing is an important one. In 1901 the Library of Congress began to distribute printed catalogue cards. Libraries had already perceived the great cost savings that could accrue by using the cataloguing of the Library of Congress but another clear benefit of shared cataloguing is the uniformity that results among catalogues in different libraries, a definite benefit to researchers who need not relearn catalogue systems to use different libraries.

The Anglo-American Cataloging Rules were under development for many years following the strong criticism to the American Library Association Cataloging Rules which were published in 1949. During this period, the International Conference on Cataloguing Principles was held in Paris in 1961 with a true international representation from over 50 countries. The resulting Paris Principles provided a strong base for international cooperation in the development of cataloguing rules. Cooperation on a new code between the United Kingdom and the United States was initiated in the early 1960s, shortly after the Paris Conference but in the end, complete agreement on a cataloguing code could not be reached and, lamentably, once again a British text and a separate North American text of the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules were published.

After the publication of AACR in 1967, the IFLA committee on Cataloguing organized an International Meeting of Cataloguing Experts in Copenhagen in 1969. This led to the development of the International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD) which is a pivotal element in the effort to reach the ideal of Universal Bibliographic Control. The first ISBD was published in 1971 and the First Standard Edition of the ISBD for Monographs was published in 1974.

I began this paper with the observation that the Anglo-American Cataloguing rules are in a process of constant revision.

By 1974 events had reached a point where it was clear that a new direction needed to be established for the future. In 1974 a tripartite meeting was held "consisting of one delegate each from the three 'Anglo-American' countries, representing in each case both the library association and the national library--to draw up a new memorandum of agreement and to complete the planning of the project for a second edition of AACR." (1) From the point of view of international cooperation, two of the objectives established by this meeting are particularly important:

A condition of funding by he Council on Library Resources was that an objective of rule revision include a contribution to the development of an international cataloguing code.

At this point, a Joint Steering Committee for Revision of AACR was established consisting of the 5 participating organizations (American Library Association, British Library, Canadian Committee on Cataloguing, The Library Association, Library of Congress) and two editors. After a great deal of consultation and collaboration, particularly with IFLA, the second edition of AACR was published in 1978. Although there was controversy and there were implementation difficulties, AACR2 became firmly established as a cataloguing standard and by the time the 1988 revision was published, AACR2 had found general acceptance in most English-speaking countries.

International cooperation continued to mark the development of the rules through its ongoing process of revision. In 1986 the Australian Committee on Cataloguing was made a full participant in the Joint Steering Committee for Revision of AACR in recognition of its regular contributions since 1981 and in 1989 an agreement was established between the American Library Association, The British Library, the Canadian Library Association, the Library Association (of the United Kingdom) and the Library of Congress in order to clarify the responsibilities and relationship of the various bodies charged with the production and publication of the Anglo-American cataloguing rules. In 1991, the National Library of Canada also became a party to the agreement. These six organizations became known as the Principals of AACR and form the Committee of Principals. One of the key functions of the Committee of Principals is reviewing developments and progress in the work of the Joint Steering Committee for Revision of AACR (JSC) which has responsibility for the ongoing process of rule revision.

At this point I would like to bring to a close this explanation of the ongoing development of cataloguing rules by saying that 1998 marks a new turning point. A new Revision to the second edition of the AACR2 is planned for this year; it will incorporate all rule revisions and corrections that have been identified since the 1998 Revision. The 1998 Revision coincides with a major new development in the history of AACR2: it will be published concurrently in print and in electronic form. The content of the two formats will be identical except for those changes in formatting that are dictated by the requirements of the electronic medium.

I have spent a considerable amount of time outlining the context in which AACR2 finds itself. I have done this for two reasons. Firstly, I want to emphasize the importance of cataloguing history in the long continuum of cataloguing rules since 1839 which has an impact on the principles and structure of our modern cataloguing rules as well as to show how rules develop over time in response to changing conditions in publishing and in libraries. Secondly, I wanted to emphasize the importance of international cooperation in the development of the rules. Over the past century, the cooperation has been well established between the United Kingdom and the United States and the inclusion of Australia and Canada has recognized a wider sphere. But AACR2 has had considerable emphasis in many other parts of the world. The majority of the English-speaking world has adopted the code. However, it has also been translated or is being translated into 18 other languages! This would appear to mark a distinct tendency towards an international cataloguing code, meeting the requirement established in the mid-1970s to make a contribution to such an international code. The sharing of cataloguing among libraries has become an essential component of management planning, particularly in national libraries, and this has continued to encourage international cooperation and harmonization of cataloguing practices beyond national boundaries.

Now let us begin to look at the future. A number of continuing issues affecting implementation of AACR have been compounded in recent years by the fast-moving pace of technological development with its concomitant impact on publishing patterns. Some of the issues date from the difficulties in implementing AACR but in the years since then we have witnessed the creation of a considerable opus of specialized manuals which were developed to enhance or improve AACR for certain types of material. More recently we have seen the publication of cataloguing interpretations outside the structure of AACR2 such as the American Library Association's Guidelines for bibliographic description of interactive multimedia (2) and Guidelines for bibliographic description of reproductions. (3) Such issues led to the need for an in-depth consultation and review of AACR2.

As part of its ongoing mandate to respond to changing needs, therefore, JSC undertook with the support of the Committee of Principals, the International Conference on the Principles and Future Development of AACR. This invitational conference was held in October 1997 and generated a number of action items which will be dealt with by JSC and the Committee of Principals over the next months and years, always balancing the need for change with its impact on libraries and their catalogues.

The idea of holding an invitational meeting of cataloguing experts to deal with issues facing AACR2 was first discussed by JSC at its meeting in March 1994. Interest in such a meeting continued to increase, particularly as momentum grew. In the United States, many of the issues surrounding AACR were the subject of a Preconference of the American Library Association held in Chicago on June 22, 1995 with the title The Future of the descriptive cataloging rules. (4) In Canada, the development of the Rules for archival description (5) which were heavily based on AACR2, gave rise to an expressed need for clear direction and eventual stability for the cataloguing rules. The Canadian Committee on Cataloguing, a member of JSC, therefore prepared a formal proposal for a meeting of experts which was discussed at the May 1995 meeting of JSC. This resulted in the development of an initial framework for a conference which was enhanced by the Committee of Principals; the final proposal was approved and detailed planning began in the summer of 1996.

The Conference was held October 23-25, 1997 in Toronto, Canada. The objective was to provide the Joint Steering Committee for Revision of AACR with guidance on the direction and nature of future cataloguing rule revision. Sixty-five cataloguing experts were invited to contribute their views on many issues, including, for example, the principles of AACR2, how to handle serials, the question of "content versus carrier", internationalization of the rules, and amendments to the rule revision process. The conference proceedings are being edited by Jean Weihs, former Chair of JSC, and will be published jointly by the American Library Association, Canadian Library Association and Library Association (of the United Kingdom).

A number of actions and recommendations resulted from the conference and the JSC is establishing a plan to be implemented in conjunction with the Committee of Principals for AACR. The following items for immediate action were approved during the JSC meeting held immediately following the conference:

Although action is being taken on all of these recommendations, two major projects have been undertaken since the conference.

The first deals with the recommendation to undertake a logical analysis of the principles and structures upon which AACR2 is based. In his presentation at the Conference, Tom Delsey recommended that such an analysis be done, noting that such an analysis would provide a framework for evaluating the end product of the cataloguing code against the criteria of accuracy, flexibility, user-friendliness, compatibility and efficiency.

As noted above, the environment within which AACR2 exists has changed and continues to change. We also recognize new opportunities presented by the same technologies that have generated much of this change. In his presentation, Delsey introduced the concept of modeling in the following way: "Several of those who have advocated a re-examination of conventional data structures have endeavoured to illustrate and test the value of re-conceptualizing the bibliographic record by sketching out (and in a few cases, developing in considerable detail) conceptual models for the restructuring of bibliographic records and databases. Not long after the publication of the second edition of AACR, Michael Gorman posited a new schema for the logical restructuring of bibliographic data into a number of "linked packages" of information for use in what he envisioned as the "developed" catalogue. (6) More recently, that same notion has been further developed by Michael Heaney, who has "deconstructed" the MARC record using the techniques applied in object-oriented analysis, (7) and by Rebecca Green, who has used an entity-relationship analysis technique for the same purpose. (8) Building on work done by Barbara Tillett on the representation of relationships in bibliographic databases, (9) Gregory Leazer and Richard Smiraglia have developed a conceptual schema for modeling derivative relationships within "bibliographic families" of works. (10) And in what is in some respects the most comprehensive undertaking of this kind to date, the IFLA Study Group on Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records has used the entity-relationship analysis technique to develop a model designed to serve as a framework for relating bibliographic data to user needs." (11)

With the approval of the Committee of Principals, JSC has asked Tom Delsey to proceed with the development of a formalized schema to reflect the logical structure underlying AACR2. The objective is to use the schema as a tool to assist in the re-examination of the fundamental principles underlying the code and in setting directions for its future development. In the meantime, JSC is developing a list of the principles that it believes underly the code. Eventually, that list will help to inform the discussion when the Delsey study reveals the true logical structure underlying the data in the record. A comprehensive analysis of the logic of the code will be essential in order to satisfy ourselves that its theoretical underpinnings are sound, that it is capable of accommodating change, that it can continue to be responsive to user needs, that it can interface effectively with other systems for bibliographic control, and that it is cost effective.

The second major thrust that JSC has undertaken since the conference deals with issues related to seriality. In their proposal to the International Conference, Crystal Graham and Jean Hirons recommended that the concept of "serial" be redefined by removing the requirement for numbering and successive parts. I remind you of the definition of "serial" used in AACR2: A publication in any medium issued in successive parts bearing numeric or chronological designations and intended to be continued indefinitely.

While this definition is consistent with other internationally accepted definitions, including those in the ALA Glossary of Library and Information Science, the ISBD(S), ISDS, and ISO 5127, Graham and Hirons felt that it needed to be modified to accommodate ongoing publications that did not strictly meet the current definition. In their subsequent consultations, however, they have discovered that a more encompassing approach would be superior and they are now investigating an alternative approach which would embrace the concept of "ongoing entity" as the overarching concept under which other categories of entities such as "serial" "loose-leaf" and "database" will fall. Intensive consultation will take place during 1998 with a view to making formal recommendations to JSC by late 1999. While this has the appearance of being somewhat slow, it does ensure that a wide consultation can take place before change is made and also ensures the possibility of coordination with the international community including CONSER, ISDS and IFLA.

The International Conference on the Principles and Future Development of AACR has helped JSC to develop a plan of action which will test the applicability of AACR in the current and future environments and balance the need for a sound and workable cataloguing code with the cost of cataloguing and the cost of change. Projects are underway to investigate potential approaches. Before deciding on any change to the cataloguing code, JSC will give careful consideration to the implications of such change, particularly on the costs of cataloguing. As is its ongoing policy, wide consultation will be undertaken and further use will be made of the JSC Web site.

The JSC action plan and other relevant information are available from the AACR Web site: http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/jsc/index.htm


  1. Anglo-American cataloguing rules / prepared by the American Library Association, the British Library, the Canadian Committee on Cataloguing, the Library Association, the Library of Congress. Edited by Michael Gorman and Paul W. Winkler. - 2nd ed. - Chicago : American Library Association, 1978. P. vi.

  2. Association for Library Collections & Technical Services. Interactive Multimedia Guidelines Review Task Force. Guidelines for bibliographic description of interactive multimedia. Chicago : American Library Association, 1994.

  3. Association for Library Collections & Technical Services. Committee on Cataloging: Description and Access. Guidelines for bibliographic description of reproductions. Chicago : American Library Association, 1995.

  4. AACR2000 (1995 : Chicago, Ill.). The future of the descriptive cataloging rules : papers from the ALCTS Preconference, AACR2000, American Library Association annual conference, Chicago, June 22, 1995 / edited by Brian E.C. Schottlaender. Chicago : American Library Association, 1998. (ALCTS papers on library technical services and collections ; no. 6)

  5. Rules for archival description. Ottawa : Bureau of Canadian Archivists, 1990-

  6. Gorman, Michael. "Cataloguing and the new technologies" in The nature and future of the catalog, edited by Maurice J. Freedman and S,. Michael Malinconico (Oryx Press, 1979), 127-36.

  7. Heaney, Michael "Object-oriented cataloguing" Information technology and libraries, vol. 14, no. 3 (September 1995), 135-53.

  8. Green, Rebecca. "The design of a relational database for large-scale bibliographic retrieval" Information technology and libraries, vol. 15, no. 4 (December 1996), 207-21.

  9. Tillett, Barbara B. "A taxonomy of bibliographic relationships" Library resources and technical services, vol. 35, no. 2 (1991), 150-58.

  10. Leazer, Gregory H. and Richard P. Smiraglia "Toward the bibliographic control of works : derivative bibliographic relationships in an online union catalog" in Proceedings of the ACM International Conference on Digital Libraries. Bethesda : Association for Computing Machinery, 1996. P. 36-43.

  11. IFLA. Study Group on the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records. Functional requirements for bibliographic records : final report. München : K.G. Saur, 1998.