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Intro.01.1 Scope and purpose

Intro.01.11 Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials

Intro.01.11.1 The Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials manuals provide specialized cataloging rules for various formats of rare materials typically found in rare book, manuscript, and special collection repositories. The term “rare materials” is used to refer to any special materials that repositories have chosen to distinguish from general materials by the ways in which they house, preserve, or collect them. Rarity in the narrow sense of “scarcity” may or may not be a feature of these materials. The original DCRM suite was written to accompany Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, second edition and includes six format-specific manuals: books, serials, graphics, cartographic, manuscripts, and music.

Int.01.12 Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (RDA Edition)

Int.01.12.1 When completed, DCRMR will provide guidelines and instructions for descriptive cataloging of rare materials in all formats. The initial release includes only instructions for descriptive cataloging of rare books, that is, printed textual monographs receiving special treatment within a repository. Additional formats will be added as the RBMS RDA Editorial Group completes writing guidelines. DCRMR may be used for resources of any age or type of production. DCRMR is informed by long-standing practice in describing rare materials, as embodied in the DCRM suite of manuals. When creating RDA descriptions, use DCRMR. The DCRM manuals are still appropriate for descriptions based on AACR2.

i.01.13 Need for special instructions

i.01.13.1 Resources in special collections often present situations not ordinarily encountered in the cataloging of typical modern publications (e.g., variation between copies, cancelled leaves, etc.) and may require additional details of description in order to identify significant characteristics (e.g., bibliographical format, typeface, etc.). Such details are important for two reasons. They permit the ready identification of copies of a resource (e.g., as editions, impressions, or issues), and they provide a more exact description of the resource as an artifact.

I.01.14 Scope of application

I.01.14.1 DCRMR is especially appropriate for the description of printed resources produced before the introduction of machine printing in the nineteenth century, for item-level description of manuscripts, and for description of graphic materials collected for the purpose of detailed study. However, it may be used to describe any resource, including machine-press publications, artists’ books, private press books, and other contemporary manifestations. Rare materials are those for which an agency chooses to provide a more detailed description. The treatment may be applied for any reason, including, but not limited to, age, rarity, fragility, enduring value, or importance as part of a collection. These instructions may be applied categorically based on date or place of publication (e.g., all British and North American imprints published before 1831), or may be applied selectively, according to the administrative policy of the institution, which may choose to catalog some or all of its holdings at a more detailed level of description than that provided for in RDA.

I.01.15 Application within the metadata description

I.01.15.1 DCRMR contains instructions for describing the resource, chiefly at the manifestation and item level, with instructions at the work or expression level as needed. It does not address the construction and assignment of access points, although brief instructions relating to access points do appear throughout.

I.01.2 Relationship to other standards

I.01.21 RDA, LC-PCC PS, and other cataloging documentation

I.01.21.1 DCRMR is a revision of the Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials suite (DCRM) based on RDA and informed by the Library of Congress/Program for Cooperative Cataloging Policy Statements (LC-PCC PS). DCRMR deviates in substance from RDA and LC-PCC PS only when required by the particular descriptive needs of rare materials. In matters of style, presentation, wording, and arrangement, DCRMR follows its own conventions.

I.01.21.2 DCRMR builds upon RDA data elements and guidelines. Refer to RDA for guidance and instructions on matters of description not covered in DCRMR. The relevant sections of RDA must be consulted for instructions governing name and title access points. DCRMR is independent of the LC-PCC Policy Statements and does not assume application of LC-PCC PS.

I.01.21.3 For subject headings, numerous controlled vocabularies are available; within the United States, the Library of Congress Subject Headings are widely used. Consult classification documentation for assignment of call numbers. For genre/form headings and other terms of relevance to special collections cataloging, consult the Library of Congress Genre/Form Terms for Library and Archival Materials, the RBMS Controlled Vocabularies, and other controlled vocabularies as needed (e.g., Art & Architecture Thesaurus Online).

I.01.22 Metadata encoding standards

I.01.22.1 At the time of publication, MARC 21 Format for Bibliographic Data is still the most commonly used metadata encoding standard for bibliographic cataloging. Use of DCRMR, however, is not restricted to MARC 21 and may be used with other metadata encoding standards or with production of printed or card catalogs. Use of MARC 21 coding appears only in some of the appendices. Catalogers should follow encoding standard documentation for input and be aware of how their local systems generate display.

I.01.3 Objectives and principles

I.01.3.1 The instructions contained in DCRMR are formulated according to the objectives and principles set forth below. These objectives and principles seek to articulate the purpose and nature of specialized cataloging instructions for rare materials. They are informed by long-accepted concepts in bibliographic scholarship and cataloging, as well as by more recent theoretical works, namely the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions’ (IFLA) Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) and Library Reference Model (LRM), and Elaine Svenonius’s The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization. As such, the objectives and principles are also in conformity with the IFLA Statement of International Cataloguing Principles. They assume familiarity with the LRM entities (work, expression, manifestation, item, etc.) as well as bibliographic terms used to differentiate among textual variants (edition, issue, impression, and state). It is hoped that these objectives and principles will provide catalogers, and administrators of cataloging operations, with a better understanding of the underlying rationale for DCRMR instructions.

I.01.31 Functional objectives of DCRMR

I.01.31.1 The primary objectives in cataloging special collections resources are no different from those in cataloging other resources. These objectives focus on meeting user needs to find, identify, select, obtain, and explore. However, users of special collections resources often bring specialized requirements to these tasks that cannot be fully met by general cataloging guidelines, such as those contained in RDA. In addition, the standard production practices assumed in general cataloging instructions do not always apply to special collections resources. The following DCRMR objectives are designed to accommodate these important differences.

I.01.311 Users must be able to investigate physical processes and post-production history and context exemplified in resources described

I.01.311.1 Users of special collections resources routinely investigate a variety of artifactual and post-production aspects of materials. For example, they may want to locate resources that are related by printing methods, illustration processes, binding styles and structures, provenance, genre/form, etc. The ability of users to identify resources that fit these criteria depends upon full and accurate descriptions and the recording of appropriate access points and relationships.

I.01.312 Users must be able to distinguish clearly among different manifestations of an expression of a work

I.01.312.1 The ability to distinguish among different manifestations of an expression of a work is critical to the user tasks of identifying and selecting resources. Users of rare materials require full and faithful transcriptions, detailed physical descriptions, and careful recording of various distinguishing points in order to identify separate manifestations.

I.01.312.2 Additionally, users of special collections resources are typically interested in drawing finer distinctions among variants within manifestations than are users of other resources, including not simply between editions and issues but between variant impressions and states; many also need to distinguish between copies at the item level.

I.01.313 Users must be able to perform most identification and selection tasks without direct access to the resources

I.01.313.1 Users of special collections resources frequently perform identification and selection tasks under circumstances that require the description to stand as a detailed surrogate for the item (e.g., consultation from a distance, limited access due to the fragile condition of the item, inability to physically browse collections housed in restricted areas, etc.). Accuracy of descriptive representation increases subsequent efficiency for both users and collection managers. The same accuracy contributes to the long-term preservation of the materials themselves, by reducing unnecessary circulation and examination of materials that do not precisely meet users’ requirements.

I.01.314 Users must be able to gain access to resources whose production or presentation characteristics differ from modern conventions

I.01.314.1 In special collections resources, explicit evidence concerning details of publication and manufacture will often be lacking or insufficient to distinguish among different manifestations. That which is bibliographically significant may thus be obscured. In order to distinguish among manifestations, the instructions in DCRMR provide guidance for recording bibliographic evidence presented in forms that differ from modern conventions (e.g., signature statements).

I.01.32 Principles of DCRMR construction

I.01.32.1 To meet the objectives listed above, DCRMR relies upon the following six principles. These principles are influenced by the general principles of bibliographic description offered by Svenonius: user convenience; representation; sufficiency and necessity; standardization; and integration.

I.01.321 Instructions provide guidance for descriptions that allow users to distinguish clearly among different manifestations of an expression of a work

I.01.321.1 This principle derives from the general principle of user convenience and has implications for all elements of the bibliographic description. The principle relates to objective 2 stated above.

I.01.322 Instructions provide for accurate representations of the resource as it describes itself, notably through instructions regarding transcription, transposition, and omission

I.01.322.1 This principle derives from the general principles of representation (with its related subprinciple of accuracy) and of standardization. Precise representation is of particular relevance in those elements that require transcription (title and statement of responsibility, edition, publication, distribution, manufacture, and series), but should not be ignored in physical description and notes. The general principles of representation and standardization stand in greater tension with each other when cataloging rare materials. Faithfulness to both principles may require descriptive and annotative treatment necessarily exceeding the norms (and at times the vocabulary) established as sufficient for the description of general materials. The principle relates to objectives 3 and 4 stated above.

I.01.323 Instructions provide guidance for the inclusion of manifestation-specific and item-specific information that permits users to investigate physical processes and post-production history and context exemplified in the item described

I.01.323.1 This principle derives from the general principle of sufficiency and necessity (with its related subprinciple of significance). Application of the principle requires that instructions for rare materials cataloging provide additional guidance on access points, particularly in cases where such information is not integral to the manifestation, expression, or work described. Instructions for item-specific information appearing in notes may recommend standard forms for presentation of information (addressing the general principle of user convenience and its related subprinciple of common usage). Application of such instructions presumes both a user’s need for such information and a cataloger’s ability to properly describe such aspects. The principle relates to objective 1 stated above.

I.01.324 Instructions provide for the inclusion of all elements of bibliographical significance

I.01.324.1 General cataloging codes like RDA routinely strive for both brevity and clarity, principles affiliated with the general principle of sufficiency. In describing rare materials, too great an emphasis on brevity may become the occasion for insufficiency and lack of clarity. Brevity of description may be measured best against the functional requirements of the particular bibliographic description rather than against the average physical length of other bibliographic descriptions in the catalog. A natural tension exists between the requirements of accurate representation of an item and the requirements of sufficiency. Reference to the principle of user convenience may offer correct resolution of such tension. This principle is related to all of the objectives stated above.

I.01.325 Instructions conform to the RDA Toolkit to the extent possible

I.01.325.1 This principle relates to general principles of standardization and user convenience (with the latter’s subprinciple of common usage). DCRMR assumes that users of bibliographic descriptions constructed in accordance with its provisions operate in contexts where RDA and LC-PCC PS are the accepted standards for the cataloging of general materials. DCRMR does not introduce instructions that are not required by differences expected between special collections and general collections resources.

I.01.325.2 DCRMR uses existing RDA vocabulary in a manner consistent with the RDA Toolkit; any additional specialized vocabulary necessary for description and access of rare materials occurs in a clear and consistent manner in DCRMR instructions, appendices, and glossary entries.

I.01.325.3. The structure and numbering of DCRMR are new. Since the revised Toolkit does not present elements in any given order, DCRMR introduces order based generally on ISBD, but grouping notes with the element they describe (e.g., Note on title has been added to the Title chapter) and adding a chapter for statement of responsibility.

I.01.326 Instructions are compatible with the DCRM suite except in cases where changes are necessary to align more closely to the RDA Toolkit or to conform to the above principles

I.01.326.1 This principle relates to general principles of standardization and user convenience (with the latter’s subprinciple of common usage). Records created according to DCRM/AACR2 and DCRMR/RDA will co-exist in catalogs. Therefore, changes to DCRM cataloging practices were introduced only after careful consideration of the value or necessity of such changes. Although DCRMR instructions are compatible with the RDA Toolkit, the text is an update to the instructions in the DCRM manuals rather than directly modeled on RDA. This is a departure from past practice; in DCRM, when an existing AACR2 rule satisfied the requirements of cataloging rare materials, DCRM text was modeled on AACR2 text, using carefully considered alternative wording only in cases where the language of AACR2 was not precise enough.

I.01.4 Options

I.01.4.1 Available options are indicated in one of three ways.

  • Alternative rule” designates an alternative option which affects all or several elements of the description, and which must be used consistently throughout. In DCRMR, alternative rules apply to the transcription of original punctuation and to the creation of separate records for individual impressions, states, binding variants, or copies. Alternative rules may be found at,,,,,, 5.33.35.
  • Optionally” introduces an alternative treatment of an element.
  • “If considered important” indicates that more information may be added in a note, and thus signals choices for more or less depth in the description. This phrase covers the entire range between best practice on the one end, and highly specialized practices on the other.

I.01.4.2 The cataloging agency may wish to establish policies and guidelines on the application of options, leave the use of options to the discretion of the cataloger, or use a combination of the two.

I.01.5 Language preferences

I.01.5.1 DCRMR is written for an English-speaking context. Cataloging agencies preparing descriptions in the context of a different language should replace instructions and guidelines prescribing or implying the use of English with counterparts in their preferred language (see,,,,,, Physical description, and Additional notes).

I.01.55 Spelling and style

I.01.55.1 DCRMR uses the most recent edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary as its authority in matters of spelling and the most recent edition of the Chicago Manual of Style as its authority in matters of style.

I.01.6 Acronyms

Abbreviation Used for
3R Project RDA Toolkit Restructure and Redesign Project
AACR2 Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, second edition
BDRB Bibliographic Description of Rare Books
BIBCO Monographic Bibliographic Record Program of the PCC
BIBFRAME Bibliographic Framework Initiative
BSC Bibliographic Standards Committee, Rare Books and Manuscripts Section, Association of College and Research Libraries, American Library Association
BSR BIBCO Standard Record
CC:DA Committee on Cataloging: Description and Access, Association for Library Collections and Technical Services, American Library Association
CONSER Cooperative Online Serials Program
CSR CONSER Standard Record
DCRB Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Books
DCRM Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials
DCRM(B) Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (Books)
DCRM(C) Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (Cartographic)
DCRM(G) Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (Graphics)
DCRM(M) Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (Music)
DCRM(MSS) Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (Manuscripts)
DCRMR Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (RDA Edition)
DCRM(S) Descriptive Cataloging of Rare Materials (Serials)
IFLA International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
ISBD International Standard Bibliographic Description
FRBR Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records
LC Library of Congress
LC-PCC PS Library of Congress and Program for Cooperative Cataloging Policy Statements
LCRI Library of Congress Rule Interpretations
LRM Library Reference Model
MARC MAchine Readable Cataloging
PCC Program for Cooperative Cataloging
RBMS Rare Books and Manuscripts Section, Association of College and Research Libraries, American Library Association
RBMS PS RBMS Policy Statements
RDA RDA: Resource Description and Access
RSC RDA Steering Committee

I.01.7 Examples and notes

I.01.7.1 Examples. The examples are not in themselves prescriptive, but are meant to provide a model of reliable application and interpretation of the instruction in question. A word, phrase, element, or entire area may be illustrated. Many examples are formatted according to ISBD punctuation to improve clarity.

I.01.7.2 Notes. The instructions and guidelines in the note elements are written in imperative form. This does not imply that all notes are required; on the contrary, most notes are not (see Consult the other chapters of DCRMR in order to ascertain what is required and what is optional in any given situation (see Additional notes).

I.01.8 Integrity of the copy

I.01.8.1 Defects and sophistication. A greater vulnerability to damage, defect, and loss means that rare materials, especially older printed materials, are less likely than modern materials to be in a perfect or complete state when they reach the cataloger. One of the cataloger’s tasks is to ascertain (within reasonable constraints) whether and how much the copy in hand deviates from its original state as issued. Imperfections and defects are usually easy to spot. Harder to spot during casual examination are replacement leaves, plates, or sections from another exemplar of a manifestation, and the cataloger is not expected to verify the integrity of each leaf in a manifestation unless there is reason to suspect that the item in hand may have been made up, doctored, or falsified (“sophisticated”). Bibliographers’ and booksellers’ descriptions are the usual source of such information. For item-specific modifications see

I.01.8.2 Dust jackets. In the context of rare materials cataloging, dust jackets issued by the publisher are appropriately considered part of a resource, and are included in these instructions as preferred sources for edition, production, publication, distribution, manufacture, and series. Dust jackets often contain valuable information not found in any other source in the resource. Their easy detachability, however, coupled with their original function as protection for the binding only until it was safely in the hands of a reader, pose considerable difficulties for the rare materials cataloger. A fine dust jacket from a poor copy may have been exchanged with a poor dust jacket from a fine copy; the dust jacket of an original printing may end up on the exemplar of a later manifestation, and so on. When considering whether to transcribe information that appears only on a dust jacket, consider that the dust jacket was issued with the resource, unless there is reason to suspect otherwise.

I.01.9 Precataloging decisions

I.01.9.1 Development of this section is temporarily on hold, pending future developments. We will add this information as soon as we’re able. If you believe you’ve reached this in error, please consider reporting the broken/bad link by adding a comment to this GitHub issue or email the DCRMR editor directly.

Kind regards,

The RBMS RDA Editorial Group

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