Before a bibliographic record can be created for a monograph or group of monographs awaiting cataloging in an institution’s special collections, appropriate decisions must be made regarding the array of descriptive options available to the cataloger.  These precataloging decisions include:  determining whether DCRM(B) or AACR2 rules will govern the description, choosing the level of cataloging that will be applied, and determining the extent to which various options in the rules will be exercised.

Because DCRM(B) was written to address the special needs of users of rare materials, it is likely to be the appropriate cataloging code for the majority of printed monographs held in special collections.  However, for some categories of materials, the cataloging objectives (see introductory section III) may be met by use of AACR2 or by the application of options within the DCRM(B) rules that permit less detail in the description.  Full-level DCRM(B) records that employ all possible descriptive options will not necessarily be the best choice for every item.

The following section provides guidance for catalogers and cataloging administrators faced with these decisions and identifies some of the institutional and contextual factors that should be taken into consideration.  It assumes that certain routine choices will already have been made, such as whether the encoding standard for the description will be MARC 21 and whether a resource issued as part of a monographic series or multipart monograph will be analyzed.

Institutions may promote efficiency by setting cataloging policies for specific categories of materials in their collections rather than making decisions on an item-by-item basis.  For example, an institution may decide to catalog all pre-1831 books using DCRM(B), trace printers and booksellers for all pre-18th-century books, but give signature statements and expansive descriptive notes for 15th- and 16th-century books only.  It may choose to catalog all later books according to AACR2, but add selected genre/form or provenance name headings.  It may decide that collection-level cataloging is sufficient for brochures.  A mechanism for easily making exceptions to general cataloging policy is desirable as well.  If, for example, a curator buys a book for its notable cloth binding, description of and access to the binding ought to be given in the bibliographic record, even if it is not the institution’s usual policy to describe bindings.

X.1.  Decisions to make before beginning the description

X.1.1.  Item-level vs. collection-level description

Determine whether the material will receive item-level description, collection-level description, or some combination of the two.

Item-level cataloging represents the normative application of the DCRM(B) rules.  Guidelines for creating collection-level descriptions are found in Appendix B.  Collection-level cataloging is usually faster than item-level—sometimes dramatically so—but is attended by such a substantial loss of specificity that its use as the sole final cataloging for a group of items should be chosen only after careful consideration.  The lack of specificity can be mitigated through provision of some sort of item-level control, such as an inventory list, finding aid, or database, and such an approach is highly recommended.  Collection-level cataloging of rare materials is most suitable when items have minimal value in themselves but derive value as part of a collection.  Use of collection-level control by itself may be appropriate when users are unlikely to be seeking known items, or the risk of inadvertent purchase of duplicate individual items is considered insignificant.  Collection-level control alone is unlikely to provide adequate evidence to identify materials following a theft.

A combination approach would entail individual cataloging of all or selected items in the collection in addition to the creation of a collection-level record.  Such an approach may involve phased processing, whereby the cataloger creates a collection-level record to provide immediate basic access to the collection, and then later creates item-level records for priority items as time and resources permit.

X.1.2.  Cataloging code:  AACR2 vs. DCRM(B)

Determine which cataloging code will govern the description.  Both codes contain optional rules in addition to the required ones, and each allows varying levels of cataloging depth.

In item-level bibliographic records, use of AACR2 results in a description that highlights the basic features of a publication and obscures some of the differences between manifestations or between variants of a single manifestation.  AACR2 is generally considered to be easier and quicker to apply than DCRM(B).  AACR2 is most suitable when, in an institutional context, an item was acquired and is of significance primarily for its content rather than its artifactual value.  In contrast, use of DCRM(B) produces more faithful transcriptions and more accurate physical descriptions.  It will be more likely to facilitate differentiation between manifestations and reveal the presence of bibliographic variants among seemingly identical items.  DCRM(B) is most suitable when an item carries artifactual or bibliographical significance, or it is otherwise important to provide distinctions between issues, bibliographical variants, or individual copies.

LC Rare Book Team Guidelines:  Apply DCRM(B) to all pre-1801s and selectively for later publications per cataloger’s judgment or based on a collection-wide (processing plan) decision.

X.1.3.  Encoding level:  DCRM(B) minimal vs. core vs. full

Determine whether the description will be done at a minimal, core, or full level.  Each level has its particular uses with attendant advantages and disadvantages.

DCRM(B) minimal level
provides for faithful transcription and exact physical description, but requires neither notes nor headings.  Minimal-level records can be produced quite quickly.  Because name and subject headings may be lacking, the materials represented by these records may be inaccessible through all but known-item searches, and so should be used only after careful consideration.  DCRM(B) minimal level may be suitable when accurate physical description is desired but a record with few or no access points is acceptable, or when particular language expertise among current cataloging staff is insufficient for proper subject analysis.  For further information on creating DCRM(B) minimal-level descriptions, see Appendix D.

DCRM(B) core level
provides for faithful transcription and exact physical description, a full complement of name headings, and at least one subject heading, but requires few notes (FN).  Core-level records may be suitable for items or collections that carry enough bibliographical or artifactual significance to benefit from detailed description and controlled heading access, but for which the omission of most notes is acceptable.  For further information on creating DCRM(B) core-level descriptions, see Appendix C.

DCRM(B) full level
represents the normative application of these rules, yet encompasses a range of potential levels of detail.  Full-level records provide for faithful transcription and detailed, complete physical description.  Although some notes are required (e.g., the source of the title proper if not the title page), most are optional and can be applied selectively depending on the nature of a collection or an institution's needs.  For example, signature statements, descriptions of illustrative elements, names of illustrators and others responsible for such elements, and particular attributes of the item in hand may be included or omitted as desired.

Although treatment of headings is outside the scope of DCRM(B), full-level records typically contain a full complement of name and subject headings.  In addition to those typically given to general materials, DCRM(B) full-level records may contain headings for printers, publishers, illustrators, engravers, former owners, binders, etc.  The name headings need not be established using authority records, although full authority work, especially if contributed to the LC/NACO Authority File, will result in greater consistency of headings and improved access (FN).

The addition of genre/form headings is particularly encouraged in full-level records.  These may be used to provide access by literary genre (e.g., Herbals, Booksellers’ catalogs) or by physical form (e.g., Imposition errors, Annotations).  Prefer the terminology used in controlled vocabularies issued by the RBMS Bibliographic Standards Committee.  Terms from other authorized vocabularies (e.g., the Art & Architecture Thesaurus) may also be used as appropriate.

X.1.4.  Bibliographic variants

If two or more items can be identified as bibliographic variants of an edition, decide whether to describe them using a single bibliographic record or multiple records.

It is taken as a default approach in DCRM(B) that a separate record will be made for each variant that represents what is referred to as an "edition" in AACR2 and an "issue" in bibliographic scholarship.  However, this default approach is not prescriptive and indeed may not be desirable in every situation.  Within the rules, alternatives are provided (see 2B3.2, 2B4.2, 2D2, 4G) that permit the creation of separate records for individual impressions, states, binding variants, or copies.  Once the decision has been made to apply these alternative rules, the cataloger must be consistent in applying them to all areas of the description.  For further guidance on the cataloging of bibliographic variants, see Appendix E.

LC Rare Book Team Guidelines:  Generally follow DCRM(B) by cataloging at the edition level with exceptions per cataloger’s judgment or based on a collection-wide (processing plan) decision.

X.2.  Factors to consider in making these decisions

Consider the following factors when determining appropriate levels of description and access for materials awaiting cataloging.  These factors will help to identify items that might deserve more detailed descriptions or higher priority treatment.

X.2.1.  Institution's mission and user needs

Evaluate the relevance of the items awaiting cataloging to the institution's mission and the needs of its users.  Ideally, the institution will have developed internal documentation that will facilitate such an evaluation, including a mission statement, collection development guidelines, and a listing of constituent users and their anticipated needs.  The needs of both patrons (researchers, teachers, students, etc.) and staff (collection development, reference, technical services, etc.) should be taken into consideration.

X.2.2.  Institutional and departmental resources

Evaluate institutional and departmental resources, especially staffing levels, expertise, and current workloads.

Is staff able to keep up with the inflow of new materials?

Is there a reasonable balance between resources devoted to acquiring materials and those devoted to processing them?

Is current staff expertise in languages, subject areas, descriptive standards, and encoding standards adequate for implementing and/or completing proposed work plans?

Is staff able to work concurrently with more than one code and/or description level?

Are funding and space available for hiring new temporary or permanent staff with the necessary qualifications?

Are adequate reference sources, such as specialized bibliographies, available for staff use?

How many other projects are in process and what are their requirements and priorities?

The regular review of cataloging priorities is highly recommended and should include discussions with curatorial, public services, technical services, and preservation staff.

X.2.3.  Market value and conditions of acquisition of the item or collection

Consider the conditions of acquisition and the estimated market worth of the item or collection awaiting cataloging.

Does the monetary or public relations value of the material justify a higher level of access than would otherwise apply?

Have any access requirements been imposed by a donor as part of the terms of acquisition?

Is the item or collection accompanied by bibliographic descriptions that will facilitate cataloging?

X.2.4.  Intellectual and physical characteristics of the item or collection

Finally, evaluate the intellectual and physical characteristics of the items awaiting cataloging.

Is there a unifying characteristic that would justify and facilitate the description of the materials as a collection (e.g., author, publisher, place of publication, genre/form, etc.)?

Is a particular collection renowned?

Do the materials have a topical focus that has recently acquired importance or urgency (e.g., due to a scholarly conference hosted by the institution or the hiring of a new professor with a particular specialty)?

Is cataloging copy generally available?

Were the items purchased primarily for their content?

Do the specific copies have bibliographic or artifactual value?

Is the institution collecting deeply in the area?

Are detailed descriptions likely to reveal bibliographic variants that will be of interest to researchers?

Are detailed descriptions likely to help prevent the inadvertent purchase of duplicates or the failure to acquire desirable variants?

Is the item or collection vulnerable to theft or vandalism?

Would a more detailed description help prevent unnecessary handling by staff and researchers?

See also:


Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (Books):  Contents