Interview with Matthew Beacom, Chair of the Joint Steering Committee for the Revision of AACR

Miriam Palm, ALCTS Newsletter Online Editor

During ALA Midwinter in San Diego, I interviewed fellow ALCTS-member Matthew Beacom, ALA representative to and Chair of the Joint Steering Committee for Revision of Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (JSC). Beacom has been the ALA representative since summer 2001 and chair since September 2003.

During our interview, Beacom shared a great deal of information about the history of the JSC and its current and future directions. For more detailed information about the JSC, the history of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR) and its future see the JSC Web site at

Beacom catalogs electronic resources at Yale University. His background includes an MLS degree from University of Maryland in 1989, his initial appointment as rare books cataloger at Yale, and his assignment as electronic resources coordinator and cataloger in 1994. Before joining the JSC, Beacom served as a member of the Cataloging and Classification Section's Committee on Cataloging: Description and Access (CC:DA).

The JSC steers a multi-national effort to keep the cataloging rules current. The JSC formally has the responsibility for authoring revisions, but the JSC representatives serve as a sort of legislature that discusses proposals, negotiates agreements, and confirms the changes. Rule change proposals range from changes to wording or even punctuation to rewrites of entire chapters.

The JSC is under the guidance of the Committee of Principals (COP), consisting of representatives of the national libraries of the United States, Canada, and Great Britain, and the co-publishers of the rules (ALA, CLA and CILIP). It is the co-publishers who own the copyright to AACR. Another group affiliated with the JSC and the CoP is the AACR Fund Trustees. The trustees manage the money earned from sales of AACR, its updates and translations. A portion of this money supports development work on AACR.

The JSC itself consists of representatives from six cataloging organizations in the English speaking world: the American Library Association (ALA), CILIP: Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, the Canadian Committee on Cataloguing (CCC), the Australian Committee on Cataloguing (ACOC), the British Library, and Library of Congress. These constituent organizations make rule revision proposals, respond to proposals, discuss them, evaluate them and agree or disagree with the proposals. For example, the work of CC:DA feeds directly into the JSC through its representative..

The JSC representatives do not make rule changes-each of them represents one group and together they facilitate consensus among the constituent groups. Where agreement cannot be reached, the proposed rule changes do not occur. Beacom emphasized that revision of the cataloging rules is "a collaborative and iterative process." JSC does not set policy or make rules independent of a great deal of input.

Since the International Conference on the Future of AACR in 1997, the JSC has taken on a proactive rather than reactive role in the rule revision process. They have done some strategic planning, which is reflected on their Web site, and they have selected topics for further study, assigning work to consultants and working groups to develop rule change proposals. The committee is now working on a new edition of AACR. The JSC and the CoP are holding their next meetings jointly in April 2004 to discuss the new edition and to hire an editor for what is inevitably called AACR3.

Proposals for the new edition include:

  • A conceptual introduction, explaining the rules' purposes and applicability.
  • Incorporation of terms and concepts from Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records ( FRBR).
  • Revised descriptive cataloging rules and a new organization of the rules for Part 1.
  • Revised rules on choice of access points.
  • Revised rules on formulation of headings and a new Part III on authority control.

Beacom also explained that the new edition would be oriented to online catalogs rather than card catalogs.

Beacom emphasized that the JSC does not work in isolation from other organizations and efforts. For example, the JSC maintains close connections with the ISBD Review Group's efforts. He described this as "harmonizing AACR with the ISBDs." Beacom also mentioned recent international work, led by Barbara Tillett of the Library of Congress, on a revision of the 1961 Paris Principles-a foundation text for both the ISBDs and AACR. There is interest in the "internationalization" of description and of authority control to bring the entire world's cataloging community into closer alignment.

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