Catalog and cataloging

A catalog is an ordered list of bibliographical records (document representations or document surrogates) that represent the documents in a particular collection of documents. All records are supposed to represent a document in the collection and every physical document in the collection is supposed to be represented by a catalog record (whereas articles, for example, is mostly not represented in catalogs). Catalogs enable users to identify, verify, locate and retrieve books and other physical units from the collection.

                      A catalog may be helpful in identifying know items or known works when some attributes can be used as search keys (e.g. author name or title). In electronic catalogs a combination of serch keys such as words from titles and printing year may be used for known item searching. A catalog may also be helpful in identifying not know items dealing with a particular subject such as World War II. This last kind of searches are especially facilitated by classification codes (such as Dewey Decimal Classification codes) or subject terms (such as Library of Congress Subject Headings) in the records. A distinction is often made between “descriptive cataloging” and “subject cataloging” and in major research libraries the two processes may be administratively separated. (For example, the Library of Congress, in 1941 reorganized the Classification Division and the Catalogue Division into the Subject Cataloging Division and the Descriptive Cataloging Division). The descriptive cataloging is performed according to some rules (such as Anglo American Cataloging Rules, AACR2), while the subject cataloging may be performed by some kind of classification scheme and/or controlled or uncontrolled vocabular. In major research libraries is “subject cataloging” often made by subject specialists, while “descriptive cataloging” is done by librarians without subject specialializion. Wilson (1989) questions the phrase “descriptive cataloging”. (This question is at the deepest level a question of the differences between proceses such as descriptions, analyses, interpretations and evaluations, differences that are not simple to separate). 

                      Anderson (2003, s.472) uses the term ”indexing” as a broader generic term for both “classification” and “cataloging” because cataloging means producing record for a catalog, while indexing and classification are broader activities used on both catalogs and bibliographies among others. 

                      The term “cataloging” is often understood as “descriptive cataloging” (as opposed to subject indexing). The processes are quite different intellectual processes. While “descriptive” cataloging is mainly based on the knowledge of a set of rules, subject analysis and indexing/classification is mainly based on subject knowledge related to the documents being indexed. 



ALA (American Library Association). (2000). Committee on Cataloging: Description and Access (CC:DA) Task Force on Metadata. Final report. Available:


Andersen, J. D. (2003). Organization of knowledge. I: International Encyclopedia of Information and Library Science. 2nd Ed. Ed. By John Feather and Paul Sturges. London, New York: Routledge. S. 471-490.


Calhoun, Karen (2006). The Changing Nature of the Catalog and its Integration with Other Discovery Tools. Final report. Prepared for the Library of Congress. (No publication place indicated).


Denton, W. (2003). FRBR and Fundamental Cataloguing Rules.    


Library of Congress (1996-2001). Historical Note on the Library of Congress Classification. (Visited March 30, 2004). 


Wilson, P. (1989). The Objectives of the catalog and the means to reach them. The second objective. IN: The Conceptual Foundations of Descriptive Cataloging. Ed. By Elaine Svenonius Academic Press (pp. 5-16).



FRBR and Fundamental Cataloguing Rules