Report: ‘Beginner’s Guide to Cataloguing: AACR2 and MARC21 Basics’, ARLIS/UK&Ireland Cataloguing and Classification Committee, 10 March 2017

On 10 March 2017 I attended the event ‘Beginner’s Guide to Cataloguing: AACR2 and MARC21 Basics’, organised by the ARLIS/UK & Ireland Cataloguing and Classification Committee.

The event was held at the National Portrait Gallery, in a pleasant training room with enough space to mill about and get to know other participants during the coffee and lunch breaks.

The day opened with a Welcome and Introduction by Joseph Ripp (National Portrait Gallery), where we discussed questions such as ‘What is a library catalogue?’ and ‘Why learn to catalogue?’ and were given a clear outline of the programme for the day. Joseph explained that we would be looking at the ‘whatness’ rather than the ‘aboutness’ of books – i.e. that we would be focusing on the descriptive cataloguing of books as individual artefacts. He emphasised that an understanding of library cataloguing is useful not just for cataloguers, as this understanding enables us to help readers use catalogues more effectively. The benefits (and fun!) of rules were stressed, in terms of facilitating resource discovery across institutions and across countries, through a collaborative networked environment.

In the next session, Simine Marine (Architectural Association Library) explained the basic structure of AACR2 (Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, 2nd revision) and MARC21 (Machine-Readable Cataloguing). Her presentation covered the chronology of their introduction and the layout of MARC21 fields, indicators and subfields.  Simine explained how having standards in place enables libraries to share records (saving time and money), and to limit hassle when changing to a different Library Management System, as well as enabling library users to make use of different libraries without having to learn a new system every time.

We then began the nitty-gritty of learning descriptive cataloguing, with a session by Nicky Ransom (University for the Creative Arts) introducing the concept of structured bibliographic description and explaining the basics of how to describe title and edition information. After the coffee break, we moved on to how to describe publication and distribution details. This was followed by a session led by Jennifer Laurenson (University of Bath), in which we learnt how to describe some of the physical characteristics of a book, such as its dimensions, the number of pages, the presence of illustrations, maps, plans, portraits. etc., and whether these are colour or greyscale. The last session before lunch was called ‘Putting it all together’, in which we practised writing out a MARC21 300 field (extent, illustrations and dimensions) based on examples put up on the screen. We also learnt about the 020 (ISBN) field, the 504 (bibliographical references) field, and the 500 (general note) field – in which useful information that doesn’t fit into the descriptive fields of a bibliographic record can be recorded.

In the afternoon, Simine Marine gave a presentation entitled  ‘Access points : Intro, Main and Added Entries’. The concept of ‘main’ and ‘added’ entries originated as necessities in card catalogues, as it was most practical to include the full description of an item on only one ‘main’ card (filed under personal author, corporate body, or title) with further ‘added’ cards (filed under the names of editors, illustrators, additional authors, or the museum where an exhibition was held, for example) providing only a brief cross-reference to the main entry. We were shown how to indicate main and added entries in MARC21 and provided with rules for how to decide which information to put as which.

After a tea break, there was a practice session for everybody to have a go at completing AACR2 descriptions of real books, which were handed out along with sheets of paper with boxes for all the MARC21 fields we were to fill in. This provided a simple and unintimidating way to put what we had learnt into practice. The day closed with a look ‘Beyond the basics’, in which art-specific cataloguing issues were discussed, such as the general need to use more ‘cataloguer’s judgement’ when dealing with the complexity and eccentricities of exhibition catalogues and artists’ books. Finally, we were told about RDA, the new set of cataloguing rules that will eventually supplant AACR2. However, I feel reassured that my new AACR2 skills will prove useful, as it was emphasised that AACR2 records will continue to exist and be created (in a hybrid environment alongside RDA) for a very long time yet.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day, and it has confirmed my belief that I would like to do cataloguing work in future. The organisation of the event was excellent, and I was particularly grateful that the training was divided into bite-size sessions with alternating speakers, in order to break up the day. It was also great to be provided at the start with a hand-out of all the slides shown (with space to take notes), as I will be able to look back at the material presented on the day whenever any of the information covered proves handy in future, as I’m sure it will.

Rachael Seculer

Courtauld Institute of Art Library