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International Standard Bibliographic Description for Older Monographic Publications (Antiquarian)

Second revised edition

Recommended by the Project Group on the International Standard Bibliographic Description for Older Monographic Publications (Antiquarian)

Approved by the Standing Committees of the IFLA Section on Cataloguing and the IFLA Section on Rare Books and Manuscripts

(Originally issued by K.G. Saur, Muenchen, 1991 as Vol. 3 in the UBCIM Publications, New Series)


Members of the ISBD Review Committee:

John D. Byrum, Jr (Chairman) Chief, Descriptive Cataloging Division,
Library of Congress,
Washington D.C.
Lenore Coral Music Librarian & Senior Lecturer,
Cornell University
Genevieve Boisard Bibliothčque Nationale, Paris
C. Donald Cook Faculty of Library Science,
University of Toronto
Sue A. Dodd Information Systems Specialist
Institute for Research in Social Science,
University of North Carolina
Mette Stockmarr Danmarks Laererhojskoles Bibliotek,

Members of the ISBD(A) Working Group

Richard A Christophers (Chairman) Humanities and Social Sciences
The British library, London
John D. Byrum, Jr. Descriptive Cataloging Division,
Library of Congress,
Washington, D.C.
Elie Cockx-Indestege Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Albert 1, Brussel
Jeanne-Marie Doreau École nationale supérieure des bibliothéques,
Izabella Galamb Országos Széchényi Könyvtár, Budapest
Piero Innocenti Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Firenze
Brian McMullin Graduate School of Librarianship
Monash University,
Clayton, Victoria
Irena Polonskaya Gosudarstennaya Biblioteka SSSR im.
V.I.Lenina, Moskva


Introduction Notes

End Notes

International Standard Bibliographic Description arose out of a resolution of the International Meeting of Cataloguing Experts, organized by the IFLA Committee on Cataloguing at Copenhagen in 1969, that a standardization of the form and content of bibliographic description be established.1 The International Standard Bibliographic Description for Monographic Publications was the first of the ISBDs created pursuant to the mandate of 1969. The first text of the ISBD(M) was published in 1971 as a set of recommendations. By 1973 this text had been adopted by a number of national bibliographies and, with translations of the original English text into several other languages, had been taken into account by a number of cataloguing committees in redrafting national rules for description. By this time it had also been claimed that older books present special problems not adequately addressed by the ISBD(M). Consequently when the "First standard edition" of the ISBD(M) was published in 1974, it included the statement "The ISBD(M) is primarily concerned with current publications. It therefore makes no provisions for the special problems of older books".

A first step toward specially addressing older books was taken in 1975 when the IFLA Committee on Rare and Precious Books and Documents (now designated a Section) set up a working party to produce a draft ISBD(A), the "A" standing for "Ancien" "Antique", "Antiquarian", "Alt", etc. The next step reassessed the whole matter: a Working Group representing both the Rare Book and the Cataloguing Sections of IFLA was set up to consider whether the provisions of ISBD(M) were satisfactory for the description of older books;2 or whether necessary stipulations could be contained in revised ISBD(M), as footnotes or alternative rules; or whether there was the need for a separate ISBD(A). After thorough deliberations, the conclusion was reached that a separate ISBD(A) was warranted, and work proceeded along this line from 1977 onward, until 1980 when the first edition of the ISBD(A) was published. The introduction to this first edition justified the ISBD(A) as being separate from the ISBD(M) by pointing to the special needs of older books and then showing how the first edition of the ISBD(A) met these needs. This introduction also comments on the uses to which the ISBD(A) might be put. This text is repeated here verbatim:

    It has indeed fairly been asked if any books merely because of their age present any problems which are not met in other books. The ISBD family is capable of formulating descriptions for any material from data files to artifacts, from encyclopaedias to single sheets. Why then should certain items in one medium, that of the printed word, be considered worthy of special treatment. The answer the Working Group would give is that descriptions of older books are usually formulated for a somewhat different purpose from that guiding the professional skills of those recording current information. Here, the structure of the entry is particularly useful in determining for the user the extent of responsibility, the edition number and basic details of originator and extent, especially if the description is in a language with which the cataloguer (if not the user) is unfamiliar. The user seeks a recognizable entry in a predictable form for an item by a sought author or on a sought topic. On the other hand, in most libraries, the older books are considered as artifacts to be described in such a way as they can be clearly distinguished for the purpose of comparison with other copies and other editions of the same work. The aim of the rare book librarian here is not only description of an antique, but, more important, the clarification of the transmission of the text and the "points" which distinguish editions. Within the bounds of a catalogue, particularly a general catalogue, he cannot, of course, resort to title-page transcription nor to drawing attention to accidentals that is for the literary bibliographers. But within the confines of a catalogue such descriptions should pay close attention to detailed accurate transcription in the two areas of the title and the imprint and give an exact statement of the extent of the work as published.

    It is in these areas that the hand-printed books show certain distinct characteristics, which in western Europe at least become less distinct from about 1820 when machine processes of printing made format less significant and revolutionized the organization of the book trade. ISBD(A) accordingly departs in detail, but not in principle, from ISBD(M) chiefly in the three areas of title, imprint and collation.

    To take the title first: the modern title-page, unless striving for a archaic effect, tends to give the title and authorship of the book as succinctly as possible, using the space as much as the letters - it is, to a greater or lesser extent, designed. Such title-pages are by no means uncommon in earlier books, but many either lack title-pages altogether, for example, incunabula, which are in the manuscript tradition, or run to the detail of a complete advertisement for the work, for example, eighteenth-century political pamphlets, I not to mention the whole area of ephemera and single sheet material. Furthermore, the requirement of exact transcription, not only as to the order of the elements on the title-page, but also in certain circumstances as to punctuation (probably not capitalization) could lead to some conflict with the prescribed punctuation and structure of ISBD or the inconvenient duplication of actual and prescribed punctuation. ISBD(A) attempts to preserve the wording and, with only certain limited exceptions, the order of the title-page or title-page substitute: exact punctuation may be found necessary in some catalogues and for some items, but has been made an option.

    In the imprint area the inter-connection of printer, bookseller and publisher is so close and often so undefined that it may prove easier to transcribe imprints in full as they occur, not only for literal accuracy but to avoid subjective judgement: the possibility of using the elements of the imprint for retrieval of places and publishers cannot really by entertained when they can appear in a multitude of forms. In ISBD(A), however, the concept of a principal place of publication is retained and this place is stated first in the imprint area.

    The collation area should stress the number of leaves in the ideal copy - for older books all leaves are important, even blanks - and, for books which come from an era when there is no publishers' binding and which have suffered much library rebinding, bibliographical format is significant. The fingerprint, as a potential unique identifier, has been given place as a substitute for the ISBN of the older book.

    It should be said at this point that in the view of one member of the [original] Working Group the need for an ISBD(A) was not proven, and that ISBD(M) linked to some unique identifier akin to an ISBN or "fingerprint" would be most satisfactory for general use. On the other hand, another member considered that taking the normal ISBD order of elements in the title resulted in an unacceptable distortion of the layout of the title-page. An attempt has been made to accommodate both these views to some extent, but, in that they represent opposite ends of the spectrum, what has resulted cannot but be a compromise, with ample room for degrees of strictness of application, between the disciplines of a consistent structured entry and of a full bibliographical description.

    The ISBD(A) is intended to provide for the description of older books in general catalogues, bibliographies and data-bases containing records of approximately equal detail for books, and other library material, of all periods, and has been developed within the ISBD(G) framework and its annotated text. It is not, therefore, a set of rules for the full bibliographical description of older books, nor is it presented as a definitive text to be used as it stands for specialized analytical bibliographies. Several options are given is ISBD(A) concerning the detail in which such items as punctuation, imprint, collation and notes should be given. It is recognized that each catalogue or bibliographic agency will have pragmatic reasons for adopting its own choice of options and that records contributed for international exchange must be viewed critically in the light of the options adopted before being used as records for ostensibly similar books in other collections. For older material, however, the "duplicity of duplicates", to quote F. Madan, has always been a problem and no amount of standardization can remove all doubts in the bibliographer's mind.

    In the search for examples (occasionally fruitless), we have been all too aware that older books pose more problems than can be provided for other than by a text which would be unacceptably lengthy and complex, and still not fully comprehensive: for those items which appear to defy any rules, I can offer only the advice to act by the spirit of ISBD(A) and employ common sense. Catalogue entries for older books have inevitably always been a compromise between full bibliographic description and the finding list approach, in that, on the one hand, a general catalogue cannot accommodate all the detail of the first, while on the other hand, full descriptions may never be made of some items, many of which exhibit unique characteristics identifying them as members of a given edition, etc., and that, therefore, they should receive more than summary treatment. It cannot be too strongly stressed that different libraries and catalogues may wish to apply the provisions of ISBD(A) to different extents and may choose greater or less detail according to the aims of their catalogues: statements that such policies and practices are followed should, however, be stated in notes to the catalogues or provided for individual records.

Before the first appearance of the ISBD(A) in 1980, at meetings held during the IFLA World Congress, Brussels (August 1977), the Standing Committee of the IFLA Section on Cataloguing made important new decisions in relation to IFLA's programme of ISBDs. It was agreed that all ISBD texts would be fixed to a life of five years, after which revision would be considered for all the texts, or for particular texts. Consequent on this decision, IFLA established an ISBD Review Committee, which proceeded to revise the four ISBDs: ISBD(CM), ISBD(M), ISBD(NBM), and ISBD(S), at least for the following purposes:

    1) clarify wording and achieve consistency of definitions and stipulations
    2) make the ISBDs hospitable to non-roman scripts
    3) review the use of the equals sign
    4) include more and better examples

Initially the ISBD(A) was not due for attention, but its turn came at the end of 1985, and a new working party group was formed to undertake the necessary review.

The work of the ISBD Review Committee and particularly that of the ISBD(M) Working Group gave the ISBD(A) Working Group a firm foundation for considering whether changes were necessary in arrangement and wording of stipulations and whether special stipulations of ISBD(A) should be dropped, because they were found to have been incorporated into the mainstream of ISBDs, as being not so special after all. There was also the matter of experience with the first edition of ISBD(A). A circular posing some questions which had arisen in its implementation in the British Library and elsewhere, together with other comments and suggestions, was sent to interested parties in 1986 and a summary of the results was circulated in August 1987.

In general, the new edition continues the special features of the first, in seeking exact transcription of titles, following the order of the title-page wherever possible and allowing options for fullness of prescribed and/or actual punctuation. Its wording, however, seeks to conform to that of the other ISBDs. The fingerprint as a unique identifier for older material has not been pressed to the point to being a mandatory field akin to that of an ISBN, since, although the means of transcribing it has now been regularized, it did not appear to most correspondents that it was either a uniquely fool-proof device of identification or that its usefulness warranted the time spent on its computation.

The revised ISBD(A) effectively carries out a major thrust of the revision process, i.e., the resolution of the problems that non-roman scripts and languages pose. While all revised texts now recognize oriental publications and some of their special problems, the ISBD(A), as a particular ISBD for books, allows the use of the colophon as the prescribed source of information in special cases that arise commonly in oriental books, as for some early Western books published without title-pages.

The ISBD(A) includes an index and three appendices. The first appendix offers a generally standardized prescription for the special technique of multi-level description. The second appendix carries out a measure of the thrust mentioned above to satisfy users working with non-roman publications: it provides a brief sketch of the way in which data should be transcribed when partly in a script reading from right to left and partly in a script reading from left to right. A final appendix conveys the examples formulated to offer an illustration of the result of applying ISBD stipulations in all areas of a record.

This new edition of the ISBD(A) has been approved by the IFLA Sections on Cataloguing and on Rare and Precious Books.

Washington, D.C. and London, U.K. John D. Byrum, Chairman ISBD
September 1990 Review Committee
Richard Christophers, Chairman ISBD(A)
Working Group

Introduction Notes

¹Report of the International Meeting of Cataloguing Experts, Copenhagen, 1969. Libri, vol. 20, no. 1, 1970; pp. 115-116.

²For this the English-speaking reader is advised to consult:

    Dunkin, P. How to catalog a rare book. 2nd ed. ed., rev. - Chicago : A.L.A., 1973.
    Bowers, F.T. Principles of bibliographical description. - Princeton : Princeton UniversityPress, 1949. Gaskell, P. A new introduction to bibliography. - Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1972.
The definitions given in ISBD(A) are generally confined to terms used in a special sense within ISBD(A) : for other terms users are advised to consult the works listed above, and Carter, John. ABC for book collectors. 5th ed., rev. London : Hart-Davis, 1972.

Further discussion of the use of ISBD concepts in the cataloguing of early books is to be found in:

    Alston, R.C. and Jannetta, M.J. Bibliography, machine-readable cataloguing and the ESTC. London : British Library, 1978
    Alston, R.C. and Christophers, R.A. "Machine-readable cataloguing and early printed books". In: International cataloguing, vol. 8, no. 1-3, Jan/Mar. - July/Sept. 1979.
    Jolliffe, J.W. Computers and early books. London : Mansell, 1974.
    Tanselle, G.T. "Descriptive bibliography and library cataloguing". In: Studies in bibliography, vol. 30, 1977, pp. 1-56, and in his: Selected studies in bibliography. Charlottesville : University Press of Virginia, 1979, pp. 37-92.
    Bibliographic description of rare books / Office for Descriptive Cataloguing Policy, Processing Services. - Washington : Library of Congress, 1981.

End Notes

1 "Title-page" refers to a title-page or title-page substitute when the publication lacks a title-page.

2 When the script is not in current use or is otherwise not available a suitable alternative script should be used, for example, Cyrillic (civil) for Cyrillic (Church Slavonic).

3 If titles are not expanded it may be necessary to construct uniform titles to ensure correct interfiling of such titles.

4 The provisions of 0.6 apply to the language, script and form of letters and diacritics to be used for transcription.

5 However, an imprint such as "London printed, in the year 1742" would be transcribed "London printed : [s.n.], in the year 1742" (cf. 4.1.5, 4.2.9), and "London, printed in the year 1742" transcribed "London : [s.n.], printed in the year 1742".

6 For pages or leaves of plates, maps, etc., not included in the numbering of pages or leaves containing text, see

7 The publication Standard citation forms for published bibliographies and catalogs used in rare book cataloging. Washington, D.C. : Library of Congress, 1982, is recommended as a source for citations.

8 A definitive formula for fingerprint has yet to be determined by international agreement. Until such an agreement is made, various forms of fingerprint will be considered acceptable in this area.

Description of a method of fingerprint construction is found in: Fingerprints = Empreintes = Impronte.
- Paris : Institut de Recherche et d'Histoire des Textes, 1984. 2 vol. which is supplemented by the periodical: Nouvelles des empreintes = Fingerprint Newsletter. - no. 1 (1981)-. - Paris : Institut de Recherche et d'Histoire des Textes, 1981-


Abbreviations 0.7

Abridgements 0.7

Accompanying material statements 5.4

in Other title information 1.4.3
in Titles proper

Alternative titles

Availability terms
notes 7.8

Bi-directional records B

Bibliographic references 7.0

Binding notes 7.8

Capitalization 0.8

Collective titles

Common titles

Contents notes 7.7

Contraction 0.7.6

Copy notes 7.9

Dates of printing 4.7

Dates of publication, etc. 4.4

Definitions 0.2

Dependent titles

Dimensions of items 5.3

Edition area 2
notes 7.2

Edition statements 2.1
in Series 6.3.3
transcription 2.1.2

Examples 0.9, C

Extent of items 5.1

Fingerprint area 8

Format of items 5.3

General material designation 1.2

Illustration statements 5.2

Initialisms 0.7.6
as Other title information 1.4.3
in Titles proper

Imperfections 0.12

International Standard Book Number

International Standard Serial Number

comparison 0.3


in Series and sub-series 6.5

Language of the description 0.6

Letters in titles

Material (or type of publication) specific area notes 3
notes 7.3

Misprints 0.10

Multi-level description 5.4.4, A

Names of printers 4.2, 4.5, 4.6

Names of publishers, etc. 4.2

National bibliographies 0.1.1

Note area 7

Numbering data
in Series and sub-series 6.6

Numbers in titles

Other title information 1.4
in Series and sub-series 6.3
notes 7.1.3, 7.1.4
transcription 1.4.4

Parallel edition statements 2.2

Parallel names of publishers, etc. 4.2.5

Parallel other title information

Parallel places of publication, etc. 4.1.11

Parallel statements of responsibility
in Edition statements 2.3.5

Parallel titles 1.3
in Series and sub-series 6.2
notes 7.1.3, 7.1.4
transcription 1.3.4,

Physical description area 5
notes 7.5

Places of printing 4.5, 4.6

Places of publication, etc. 4.1, 4.2

Preferred order of sources of information 0.5.1

Preliminary notes 0

Prescribed sources of information 0.5.2

Printers' names 4.2.6, 4.5, 4.6

Privilege dates 4.4.4, 4.4.5

Publication, etc., area 4
notes 7.4

Publishers' names 4.2

Punctuation 0.4

Script of description 0.6

Section titles

numbering data 6.6
other title information 6.3
parallel titles 6.2
titles 6.1

Series area 6
notes 7.6

Sources of information 0.5

Specific material designations 5.1

Standard numbers 8

Statements of responsibility 1.5
in Common and dependent titles 1.5, 4.14
in Edition statements 2.3, 2.5
in Other title information 1.4.2
in Series and sub-series 6.4
in Titles proper
notes 7.1.5
transcription 1.5.4

numbering data 6.6
other tide information 6.3
parallel titles 6.2
titles 6.1

Supplement titles

Symbols 0.11

Title and statement of responsibility area 1
notes 7.1

more than one
substitute 0.5.2

Title proper 1.1
choice 1.1.3
in series and sub-series 6.1
notes 7.1.1
transcription 1.1.4

Translation notes

Transliterated titles

Variant titles


Latest Revision: May 10, 2001 Copyright © 1995-2000
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