Resource designations in cataloguing electronic resources

Vladimir Skvortsov, Olga Zhlobinskaya

Before approaching developing list of resource designations for electronic resources, there is a basic question we should address first of all: do we really need such a list? IFLA Cataloguing Section has not come to clear and solid decision on that issue. Currently list of resource designations is provided in ISBD(ER), Appendix C[i]. It consists of three levels of specificity, the top level including "Data", "Program(s)", and "Data and program(s)". Resource designations are offered as recommendations for use in Area 3 (Type and Extent of  Resource Area) of bibliographic description. Nevertheless, validity of the Area 3 has long been questioned by library community. AACR community did not adopt this list of designations, retaining three generic designations. According to AACR2 Chapter 9, the only terms that may be used in the Type and Extent of Resource Area are the original three designations at the top level. Analysis of modern practices of cataloguing electronic resources shows, that MARC-records for electronic resources are generally made at the top level of specificity determined in ISBD. Library of Congress Rule Interpretation 9.3B1 instructs LC cataloguers not to use Area 3 for original cataloguing of electronic resources, and similar practice is common to some other libraries throughout the world. As a result of extensive discussion, one of recommendations of IFLA ISBD Review Group was that Area 3 should be eliminated altogether with the information relocated elsewhere (namely, Area 5 or Area 7). Rationale for that recommendation sounds as follows: "Bibliographic agencies report the area is redundant with other parts of the description and is problematic"[ii]. Finally, draft revision of the ISBD(ER), which was recommended by the ISBD Review Group and presented for world-wide review[iii], does not include the list of resource and material designations. It states that Area 3 is not used for electronic resources; "in using ISBD(ER) to describe resources that by their content fall within the scope of other special ISBDs (e.g. electronic serial, digitised map), it is recommended that the provisions for this area of the appropriate special ISBD be followed."

Irrespective of what decision will be made on Area 3 in ISBD(ER), the nature of problem of resource designations seems to be more general and objective, that is why we decided to convey our point of view to broad cataloguers' community.

The problem is that the top level description, as it is proposed in new ISBD(ER), does not give sufficient information to describe a resource. To make the bibliographical search the most precise we should give a user the most specific information for him to be able to determine whether or not this particular resource is of use to him. The issue is: why existing list of resource designations for electronic resources  is not widely used in MARC records?

Among possible reasons we could mention:

1) resource designations are not necessary at all

2) current list of resource designations does not satisfy real requirements of cataloguers (and, ultimately, users of catalogues)

3) cataloguers in general are not quite ready to describe electronic resources yet.

Strictly speaking, any of these reasons might bring to the above result. Let us try to briefly examine each of them.

1. Resource designations are not necessary at all?

Library catalogue should enable a user (a) to locate a bibliographic resource he needs; and (b) to collocate resources by a number of criteria such as author, subject, language or place of publication, etc. So, the challenge of cataloguers is to create bibliographic description providing the most precise presentation of the document in terms of future user convenience. Types or categories of resources are commonly used in online catalogues as additional search options and one of criteria for collocation, along with author or subject search. Next, after the search is done, online catalogue should provide a helpful arrangement of retrieved records with clustering the set by various criteria, and again, type of resource could serve as a tool for organising lists of retrieved records to improve displays.

Going back to problematic Area 3 of ISBD, the arguments of advocates of its eliminating do not in fact imply rejecting the information stored in the area. The basic reason for not using Area 3 is as follows: first, descriptive conventions for digital objects are not very fine developed since the objects themselves are released often in uncontrolled and non-standardised ways. Next, the list of types including controlled terms representing exhaustive categories would require constant maintenance and should rather be considered subject terms, thesauri, genre terms, etc. Hence, as most of reviewers say, the list is not appropriate for this area. On the other hand, the very information on the type and extent of resource generally is not impugned, instead it should just be relocated elsewhere in the record where it would be appropriate and where it could be visible to the user. E.g., the type of resource might be considered a note on the nature and scope of the resource and entered in the Area 7. So, it is not the expediency of resource designations  which is questioned, but the very list of types proposed in ISBD(ER) and its location in Area 3 of bibliographical description.

One of the most evident arguments in favour of keeping resource designations in cataloguing electronic resources is that any search server or web directory provides its own list of types of resources. Sometimes the list may be shared by more than one server; in some cases terms from DDC Relative Index are used to denote certain types. But as a rule, most of servers and directories have their own home-made set, i.e. web developers of most servers consider names of resources types to be essential for arranging the whole set of resources and making search more convenient and precise for users.

It should be noted, though, that since different lists of types are in use, objects are indexed in different ways, and as a result, any search can not be as full and precise as it could and should be. In ideal, the list of type of resource designations should be unique. Is not this a challenge for cataloguers, who are highly experienced in description of various types of objects, to provide an instrument for coordinated approach?

2. Current list of resource designations does not satisfy real requirements of cataloguers?

This reason seems to be more real. Indeed, this kind of material (namely, electronic resources) being highly heterogeneous, is quite difficult to categorise. Furthermore, inventory of electronic resources and their names are in a state of flux, and today we need some instrument, which is more up-to-date, informative and descriptive, than  list of resource designations proposed in acting ISBD for electronic resources, which can hardly be considered complete and actual enough. Though, in fact, there is no reliable statistics on usage of this list. As M. Ann Sandberg-Fox wrote: "Unfortunately, no data is available on how extensive the list in the ISBD(ER) has been applied, or when it has, how effective or successful it has been judged for users in retrieving remote content. Experience in the practical application of the list would be helpful in providing some much-needed insights into its value and usefulness."[iv] One of indirect indicators of actuality of the ISBD list could be its comparison with typologies found at search servers, which by definition are more mobile and more reactive to changes in the field. The comparison shows, that matching of types listed in ISBD and those cited by search servers is quite low (though exists).

But if we are not sure whether some mechanism is used and whether its usage is satisfactory, is it really sufficient reason to decline the mechanism completely? Or this fact should push forward investigations aimed to finding out the usability of the mechanism in question, and if needed, developing new typology and making it workable, but not abandoning the resource designations as such?

So, we came to the third reason, which we believe to be the most likely.

3. Cataloguers in general are not quite ready to describe electronic resources yet?

Traditions of cataloguing books, magazines, serials and other printed materials have quite long history, and it took much time to codify description and to develop cataloguing codes. Librarians, being in charge of preserving printed history, are quite conservative in what concerns practices and standards. As for electronic resources, cataloguing of this kind of materials is quite young. Electronic resources differ from traditional documents, which have being processed by cataloguers for decades in that they are unstable, and their description is not always obvious. Not surprisingly, that some cataloguers might not have been prepared for describing objects which are still quite new for them. They are trying to keep thinking in terms of good old days of traditional cataloguing. Indeed, in general our current practices can be used to accommodate new kinds of material, but nevertheless additions or modifications, new approaches and techniques are required. Cataloguers are faced with the problem of changing not only their every day routine, but also the very way of thinking on the documents they describe. Currently there is some gap between traditional cataloguing rules and cataloguing of electronic resources. But still electronic resources must be described, and the description must be the most precise and complete to enable user to find a resource and to provide a helpful arrangement of retrieved records. As we have noted above, this precise and complete description for electronic resource should include information on type of resource, and unreadiness of cataloguers to provide workable list of type of resource designations can not be considered sufficient reason to eliminate the whole area of ISBD even if this area is some problematic.

When discussing list of resource designations presented in ISBD, many reviewers consider that instead of using comprehensive list of types of resources one could use subject thesauri, contents notes, etc. It corresponds to the fundamental shift in focus from description to access[1]. Indeed, type of resource could and should be used as additional option for subject access. However, without belittling importance of subject access, we would state with confidence, that such list of types is necessary in descriptive cataloguing which is more standardised. We can not have pretensions of any scientific approach to develop system of subject access to electronic resources. Moreover, constructing such a system is quite time-consuming and labour-intensive task. It is not our intention to discuss this issue here. But, electronic resources need to be catalogued right now, and we believe that it is direct challenge for cataloguers with all their responsibility, experience, qualification to provide an instrument for cataloguing another kind of resources.

Here we would like to offer an approach, which was used when constructing list of resource designations for electronic resources aimed to using it in RUSMARC bibliographic format (Russia). The analysis was based on sample investigation survey of a number of web directories and was carried out in the following stages:

1. Analysis of about 30 web directories and search servers, featuring list of categories of resources indexed (,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, Categories, or types of electronic resources cited at all the servers reviewed were brought to a single list. List of resource designations provided in acting ISBD(ER) was also included in the list.

2. Arranging similar types of resources to groups or classes. Surprisingly enough, compiling such classes proved to be quite easy. Though some types could be attributed to more than one class, nevertheless such categorisation still could be done, and in general it was quite reliable.

3. In every class a single concept was determined, which represented the whole group. It should be noted that not a term was selected as a "representative" of a class, but a concept. The selection was based on simple count of servers where every concept was cited, and further analysis included only concepts with frequency more than 30% (in percentage to the overall number of search servers investigated). The choice of the threshold (30%) was not arbitrary. From examining the classes it appeared, that every class had one evident leader with frequency of occurrence more than 30%.

4. All the higher and the lower levels for the "representative" concept were excluded, e.g.:

Games & Fun



There were a number of concepts (e.g. Games – Educational gamesEducation), where it was not clear, how the concept should be treated. In our example, should Educational games be attributed as Games or as Education. In those cases the concept was considered to be worth of including to any of these categories. So the concept in question (in our example - Educational games) was excluded from the list, but we understood that the format should provide adequate representing and cataloguing of these categories. Namely, existence of such concepts means that one position in coded field would not be sufficient for precise and unambiguous representing the typology, and in the above example there should be separate codes for games and education, thus Educational games should be encoded by combination of both values.

That analysis resulted in the following typology of 22 categories with subcategories:

1.      Operating system and platform

1.1.  BIOS

1.2.  MS-DOS

1.3.  Windows

1.4.  Macintosh

1.5.  OS/2

1.6.  Unix

1.7.  Mobile (including Palm, Handheld, Cell Phones, WAP, Personal Digital Assistance, Pocket, New Release)

1.8.  Amiga

1.9.  Atari

1.10.   Play Station

2.      Internet

2.1.  Web Creation

2.2.  Retrieval Programs

2.3.  Intranet

2.4.  Search Engines

2.5.  Internet Security

2.6.  Internet Applications

3.      Networking

3.1.  Servers

3.2.  Groupware

3.3.  Transaction Processing

4.      Music

5.      Editing digital audio

6.      Other programs for processing digital audio

6.1.  Voice recognition

7.      Movies

8.      Editing digital films

9.      Other programs for processing digital films

10.  Graphic Editors

10.1.   Design

10.2.   Animation (including 3D Animation)

10.3.   Document Imaging

11.  Word Processors

11.1.   Desktop Publishing Programs

11.2.   Text Editors

11.3.   Translation

11.4.   Grammar

11.5.   Scripts

11.5.1.  Sets (including Unicode)

11.5.2.  Editors

11.5.3.  Conversion

11.6.   Text Recognition

12.  Games & Fun

12.1.   Hobbies

12.2.   Simulators

12.3.   Biorhythm

12.4.   Genealogy

12.5.   Horoscope

12.6.   Easter Eggs

13.  Programming

14.  CAD

14.1.   CAD

14.2.   Software Engineering

14.3.   Robotics

15.  Device drivers

16.  Utilities

16.1.   System Management

16.2.   System Enhancement

16.3.   Optimisers & Diagnostics

16.4.   Testing Services

16.5.   File Management

16.6.   Data Compression

16.7.   Disk Management

17.  Database programs

18.  Desktop customisation

19.  Business

19.1.   Business Accounting

19.2.   Business Solutions

19.3.   Manufacturing

19.4.   Industry-oriented

19.5.   Marketing

19.6.   Workflow

19.7.   Human Resources

19.8.   Business Management

20.  Office

21.  Scientific

22.  Education

One could have various opinion on the list, consider it justified or non-justified, but nevertheless we can state for sure that its usage guarantees correct work of the resources indexed at least at 30 Internet search servers being analysed. In fact, to our firm conviction, number of servers which could work (and really work) with the categories selected is much higher, since the sampling investigated revealed some definite regularities.

There is another important thing that should not be forgotten. Progress in technology results in emerging new types of resources, and some types become out-of-date and diminish. Generally speaking, list of types cited at search servers is dynamic - both set of types and terms used to denote them are changeable over time.  Nevertheless the analysis revealed that we could speak on existence of core and peripheral types depending on frequency of usage at search servers. This core set of types is offered for encoding electronic resources.

Some notes in conclusion. With the growth of amount of electronic resources to be catalogued there is a large demand and urgent need for improved description methods and tools, and our intention here was (1) to rehabilitate list of resource designations for electronic resources, which in practice proves to be helpful and hence needs to be developed and implemented, and (2) to suggest one of possible approaches to developing the list.

[1] Some researchers even point to a tendency "to belittle the importance of descriptive cataloguing" (Gorman, Michael. From Card Catalogues to WebPACS: Celebrating Cataloguing in the 20th Century. Presented at the LC Bicentennial Conference on Bibliographic Control, 2000, Washington DC. Available:


[i] ISBD (ER): International Standard Bibliographic Description for Electronic Resources. Revised from the ISBD(CF): International Standard Bibliographic Description for Computer Files. Recommended by the ISBD(CF) Review Group.

[ii] Proposals initiated by the IFLA Section on Cataloguing’s ISBD Review Group

[iii] ISBD(ER): International Standard Bibliographic Description - 2004 revision

[iv] Ann M. Sandberg-Fox. The ISBD(ER) and New Developments in Cataloging Electronic Resources.

Дата обновления: 12-11-2015