How to Acquire Cataloging Tools

ALA Library Fact Sheet 18

Providing complete cataloging for a library collection requires simultaneous use of four, sometimes five, different standards and guides. This Fact Sheet will explain the tools needed, along with information on the sources for them.

Cataloging software information is included in ALA Fact Sheet 21 - Automating Libraries: A Selected Annotated Bibliography.

Also see the Cataloging and Classification page at the ALA Professional Tips Wiki.

Cataloging Rules - RDA, AACR2

Designed for the digital world and an expanding universe of metadata users, RDA: Resource Description and Access is the new, unified cataloging standard - an evolution of the cataloging principles from AACR2, the second edition of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (see more details below), with rules carried over or adapted to the RDA model.

The content of RDA has been developed in a collaborative process led by the Joint Steering Committee (JSC; The project is overseen by the Committee of Principals representing the American Library Association (ALA), the Canadian Library Association (CLA), the UK's CILIP: Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, United States Library of Congress, Library and Archives Canada, British Library, and National Library of Australia. JSC was previously responsible for maintenance of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, which RDA has been developed to replace.

For a brief summary of RDA, see the online brochure, RDA: Resource Description and Access: The Cataloguing Standard for the 21st century (PDF) - which is available in several languages.

Benefits of RDA include:

  • A structure based on the conceptual models of FRBR (functional requirements for bibliographic data) and FRAD (functional requirements for authority data) to help catalog users find the information they need more easily
  • A flexible framework for content description of digital resources that also serves the needs of libraries organizing traditional resources
  • A better fit with emerging database technologies, enabling institutions to introduce efficiencies in data capture and storage retrievals

RDA provides a set of guidelines and instructions on formulating data to support resource discovery. Also, RDA provides a comprehensive set of guidelines and instructions covering all types of content and media.

RDA was first published in the RDA Toolkit - at - in June 2010. The RDA Toolkit is published by ALA, CLA, and CILIP. The online RDA Toolkit subscription provides a one-stop resource for evaluating and implementing RDA, and is the most effective way to interact with the new standard. In October 2014 came a new print accumulation of RDA, the RDA: Resource Description and Access Print--2014 Revision. This full-text print version of RDA offers a snapshot that serves as an offline access point to help solo and part-time catalogers evaluate RDA, as well as to support training and classroom use in any size institution. An index is included.

What are the future plans for RDA? As stated in the response in the ALA Store FAQs:

In all cases, the Co-Publishers plan to offer some type of electronic distribution option, currently defined as a formatted PDF that can be downloaded, printed, and integrated into the loose-leaf version already purchased. The cost of this PDF will be determined based on the size and scope of the update, from free for a minor update to a fee for larger updates. The cost for electronic distribution would always be marginally lower than the cost of purchasing a physical package of printed and drilled pages from the Co-Publishers.

In addition to the electronic option, if the size and scope of the update is large enough, the Co-Publishers will also offer the physical package of printed and drilled pages for purchase. We would offer these larger updates in a printed form for users who do not have access to the proper equipment to print and integrate the updates into the printed text (i.e., printing the PDFs two-sided and punching the pages). For these users, buying the physical package from the publisher can be less expensive and certainly more convenient.

For more information and further assistance in understanding RDA, start with the RDA Toolkit Essentials Webinar, the free bimonthly webinar that serves as an introduction and guide to using RDA Toolkit, along with the Webinar and Presentation Archive at RDA Toolkit Teaching and Training. Also see the most current ALA RDA offerings, including scheduled online workshops from ALA TechSource, at the ALA Online Store, as well as Other RDA-Related Resources (print resources included here may be available in multiple formats including bundles of print/electronic formats).

For fast RDA customer service, including technical support, and pricing and subscriptions information, permissions, and translations, please complete a support ticket at the RDA Toolkit Support Center.

Contact with any other questions.

Current RDA Resources

The Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules are "designed for use in the construction of catalogues and other lists in general libraries of all sizes... The rules cover the description of, and the provision of access points for, all library materials commonly collected at the present time." [Rule 0.1]

AACR2 in RDA Toolkit: An online version of AACR2 has been included in the RDA Toolkit subscription since its launch in July 2010. As catalogers and other metadata professionals prepare to implement RDA, having access to both RDA and AACR2 through the same subscription should increase efficiency and productivity.

RDA Toolkit recognizes that AACR2 is an important tool for catalogers during the transition to RDA and for the foreseeable future, and in December 2013, RDA Toolkit enhanced the AACR2 display with links to the several of the cataloging-related documents found in the Cataloger's Desktop. Those who subscribe to both RDA Toolkit and Cataloger's Desktop can benefit from bidirectional links in both products.

The very last Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules text is the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, Second Edition, 2002 Revision, 2005 Update, which incorporates all changes approved by the Joint Steering Committee for Development of RDA (JSC) - formerly known as the Joint Steering Committee for Revision of AACR, Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules - through February 2005. Due to being in its second edition, the current text is known as AACR2. The rules are published jointly by the American Library Association, the Canadian Library Association, and the UK's CILIP: Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.

For information on purchasing AACR2, visit the AACR2 website and choose your country from the menu on the left side of the page; each publisher has its own set of ISBNs, ordering information, and relevant currency pricing. In the U.S., AACR2 products, including ring binder updates and other Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules publications, may be ordered from the ALA Online Store.


Classification is the process of assigning a number to an item so as to be able to shelve the item with other items on the same subject. In the United States there are two commonly used classification schemes: the Dewey Decimal Classification and the Library of Congress Classification. Both are used widely and actively updated.

The Library of Congress Classification (LCC) was initially designed at the beginning of the 20th century for the collection of the Library of Congress (LC). Since then, many other large American academic and research libraries have adopted it. The Cataloging Distribution Service (CDS) of the Library of Congress publishes and distributes all of the Library of Congress cataloging records and cataloging-related publications, tools, and resources. CDS provides the most current and authoritative bibliographic resources produced by the Library of Congress, including web-based cataloging tools, cataloging manuals, cataloging records, and MARC documentation. The complete Library of Congress Classification (LCC) system plus all LC subject and name headings are available by subscribing to the web-based service, Classification Web.

The Dewey Decimal Classification® (DDC®) system, devised by library pioneer Melvil Dewey in the 1870s and owned by OCLC (Online Computer Library Center, Inc.) since 1988 (through its purchase of Forest Press), provides a dynamic structure for the organization of library collections. Now in its 23rd edition, and available in print and in Web (as WebDewey) versions, the DDC is the world's most widely used library classification system, available directly from OCLC Dewey® Services. For full details, see the online brochure, Dewey Services: Dewey Decimal Classification System (PDF).

Subject Headings

Adding subject headings to a catalog record allows the catalog user to retrieve all items on a given subject in a consistent manner. The most commonly-used sets of subject headings in the United States:

  • The Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) are updated daily in Classification Web.
  • The latest print edition, Sears List of Subject Headings, 21st Edition (2014), was published April, 2014, while EBSCO maintains the Sears List of Subject Headings online database.

  • The BISAC Subject Headings, 2013 Edition, also known as the BISAC Subject Codes List, comes out of the Book Industry Study Group. The BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) Subject Headings List, an industry-approved list of subject descriptors, each of which is represented by a nine-character alphanumeric code, was developed to standardize the electronic transfer of subject information. The headings can be used for transmitting information between trading partners, as search terms in bibliographic databases, as access points for database searching and as shelving guides. Many businesses require that publishers use BISAC Subject Headings when submitting data for all formats (physical and digital). Many businesses and most major publishers within the North American book industry use the headings in a variety of ways. Some libraries are also utilizing the BISAC Subjects to facilitate the browsing experience for patrons.

Tagging for Machine-Readable Cataloging, MARC

Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC) has been the standard in library automation for nearly 30 years. It forms the backbone of today's automated library systems, networks, and bibliographical utilities around the world. The MARC format is the data communication protocol for "translating" the text of a catalog record for use in an online catalog. The MARC products developed at the Library of Congress set the standard for MARC cataloging documentation. The Library of Congress, the British Library, and the National Library of Canada harmonized the USMARC, UKMARC, and CAN/MARC formats, and joined their MARC documentation to form MARC 21. All USMARC products have become MARC 21 products. Further details and information on MARC 21 can be accessed at the MARC Standards Frequently Asked Questions of the Network Development and MARC Standards Office of the Library of Congress.

Cataloging Subscription Services and Other Online Support Tools

The Library of Congress bibliographic resources available from CDS include:

The Dewey® Services available from OCLC include:

Last updated: October 2014

For more information on this or other fact sheets, contact the ALA Library Reference Desk by telephone: 800-545-2433, extension 2153; fax: 312-280-3255; e-mail:; or regular mail: ALA Library, American Library Association, 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611-2795.