Comments by
Lynne C. Howarth, Dean

Faculty of Information Studies,
University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
in Response to
AACR2 and Its Place in the Digital World: Near-term Solutions and Long-term Direction
A Paper by
Ann Huthwaite, Bibliographic Services Manager
Queensland University of Technology Library, Kelvin Grove, Australia

Final version

1.0 Introduction

It is an honour to share this podium with so many distinguished colleagues and to be assigned the distinct pleasure of responding to a paper by an individual who spells "catalogue" with the same ending as I! Ann Huthwaite begins by saying that she wears many hats, though her role as Chair of the Joint Steering Committee (JSC) predominates throughout most of her discussion. I confess to having read the paper with two distinct perspectives foremost among my reactor "hats". First, as past Chair of the ALA CC:DA Task Force for the Harmonization of AACR2 and ISBD(ER), and as a member of the IFLA ISBD Review Group, I am sensitive to the AACR2 and ISBD approaches to bibliographic control. As current Chair of the IFLA Section on Cataloguing Working Group on Metadata Schemes, and as Co-chair of the IFLA Metadata Discussion Group, I appreciate the role and value of metadata applications within a variety of unique, diverse domains.

My own academic research and teaching in the areas of bibliographic control, and metadata schemes[1], respectively, underscore my regard for the two key components addressed in Huthwaite's paper, though I sometimes view that dual interest as a kind of "fox in the henhouse" situation.

2.0 Synopsis of the Highlights of the Paper
2.1 Changes in the Bibliographic Universe

Huthwaite's paper begins with a description of the place of AACR2 in the digital world. She underlines the many and significant changes in the "bibliographic universe" (p. 1) that have occurred since 1978 - when AACR2 was published. I have loosely categorized these changes into three areas, namely, "media formats", "end-users", and "bibliographic players and arenas".

In the more than two decades since, the predominance of print as the medium for recorded information has been challenged by a variety of new media types and information technologies. These emerging formats are, in Huthwaite's words, "notoriously difficult to pin down", inherently "unstable", and hard to "squeeze into the monographic mold" (all quotes from p.1). Electronic documents are characterized as having fuzzy or indefinite boundaries, in contrast to books or other physical media that normally have an identifiable beginning and end.

The paper describes users in the new digital world as having different expectations, best summarized as, "I want it now and in full text". While they may be more technology literate and search savvy, they are also confounded by information overload.

The third key area in which Huthwaite sees substantial change, is that of bibliographic players - enter metadata developers - and operational realities - exit public funding for significant, creative bibliographic control initiatives. She reminds us that the metadata experts that are emerging in other domains and disciplines are, " ... now debating the very issues that cataloguers have been dealing with for generations." (p. 2)


While I dispute neither the extent nor the significance of the post-AACR2 changes that Huthwaite relates, I suggest that what she is describing is consistent with other periods of intense code revision, whether that activity was spurred on by a proliferation of information resources, emerging media formats, new technologies, or new operational realities. Gorman's paper, From Card Catalogues to WebPACS: Celebrating Cataloguing in the 20th Century, provides an eloquent summary of successive - though not always progressive - code revision intent on standardizing cataloguing, and, more recently, on facilitating universal bibliographic control.

2.1 Near-term Solutions

2.2.1 Issues addressed to-date

In terms of near-term solutions for positioning AACR2 in the digital world, Huthwaite begins by describing some perceived short-comings of the code. Briefly summarized, these include:

Huthwaite goes on, however, to paint a compelling picture of an agenda of changes to AACR2 that the JSC has pursued tenaciously since the Toronto Conference in the Fall of 1997. In a mere three years, JSC has initiated a slate of rule revisions that could be characterized as being appropriately responsive to changes in the bibliographic universe, as well as more accommodating and flexible towards emerging new media formats. Such changes include (though are not limited to) the following:

Efforts to tackle the perceived problems with the underlying structure and internal consistency of the code have been addressed by JSC's commissioning of a logical analysis of AACR2 Parts I and II (Delsey 1998 and 1999 cited in Huthwaite references, p. 11), with further work being anticipated on recommendations arising from these entity-relationship modeling projects.


The vigorous - one might venture, unprecedented - agenda of code revision in which the JSC has been engaged over the past three years has likely rendered the adjective, "glacial", less applicable than previously. Such revisions have entailed extensive consultation across international boundaries, and active consensus-building among numerous groups - themselves comprised of individuals with sometimes differing opinions regarding the most appropriate course for rule revision. International consultation and consensus building speak to the strength of AACR2 as a model for standards development, while also hinting of the potential pitfalls of following such an inclusive, time-intensive process.

2.2.2 Issues still to be addressed

Huthwaite speaks to JSC commitment to maintaining momentum with so many revisions planned and underway, while also noting potential problems with coordinating an increasingly complex program of work. She reminds us, rightly so, that the Joint Steering Committee is comprised of individuals juggling AACR2 with numerous other responsibilities, but underscores her expectation that, "... AACR2 will undergo significant change over the next five years" (p. 7), by listing a number of "intractable" problems which the JSC is committed to tackling over the near-term. These relate, in particular, to ongoing concerns with the internal structure and consistency of AACR2, and to problems characteristic of electronic resources, as follows:

2.3 Long-term Direction

Stepping out of her role as JSC Chair, Huthwaite elaborates on her personal vision of three distinctly different future scenarios for AACR2. These I describe, simply, as (1) status quo, (2) a new "golden age" of cataloguing, and (3) let's all just go home, now! With her JSC hat firmly repositioned, Huthwaite suggests that, regardless of which direction AACR2 ultimately evolves, the code will require strategic balancing between a number of challenges and opportunities.

2.3.1 Challenges

AACR2 - and its drafters, the JSC - must continue to juggle responsiveness to change with constituent input. While eager to embrace new media and information technologies, the code must be respectful of long-established systems (in the broadest sense), inflicting minimal disruption to operational imperatives, and carefully weighing costs to benefits. Or, in Huthwaite's words, "Developments that are theoretically and intellectually desirable may be too costly to implement" (p. 9). While those who are in the process of developing metadata standards may not yet face the same constraints, it appears that they are having to contend with many of the same enduring problems with information storage and retrieval that have confounded the bibliographic control contingent across time. For example, the challenges posed by electronic resources retrieved through remote access are as relevant to metadata developers as they are to the JSC.

2.3.2 Opportunities

There are, however, a number of strategic opportunities for AACR2 presented by the emerging digital world. As Huthwaite notes, where institutions are offering Library Web sites of selected electronic resources in parallel with MARC-enabled catalogues, end-users are denied integrated access to the full range of tangible and intangible materials available to them. There is clearly a role for AACR2 to play in providing the consistency in description that can greatly enhance the search and retrieval experience. Huthwaite maintains that determining the inherent value of an electronic resource (Gorman, 1999, as cited in Huthwaite references, p. 11) will help resolve whether to apply the rules of AACR2 or to use another metadata scheme, such as Dublin Core. Thus, the question shifts from "how" to catalogue to "what to catalogue" - a collection development matter.


In my opinion, this scenario offers an opportunity for cataloguers to become more active partners in the acquisition and processing of a library's electronic resources. Rather than simply reacting to a request to catalogue an item, cataloguers can participate in assigning value to an electronic resource, and to determining the descriptive treatment to be accorded that object.

3.0 Further Considerations and Concluding Remarks

All in all, I think that what Huthwaite's paper highlights, and what this Bicentennial Conference explicitly demonstrates, is that we have expanded our questions around cataloguing codes from those of "what" and "how" to those questions of "where", "when", and, most importantly, "why". Having said that, and recognizing that AACR2 is the focal point of Huthwaite's discourse, I would like to step back and pose a number of practical and philosophical questions which the paper particularly evoked for me. I would suggest these as background or further consideration to inform the eight recommendations presented by Huthwaite at the conclusion of her paper.

Question 1: First and foremost, what is the place of AACR2 relative to other codes and standards, including metadata? At a time when there is obvious and increasing interest in standardization and consistency [2], it may be advantageous to ensure that the nature, purpose, and role of AACR2 are clearly delineated, particularly in reference to the ever-expanding digital environment. There may be areas, not previously identified or articulated, where AACR2 represents the most appropriate standard to apply. Understanding the inherent, relative position of the code will be an important first-step towards determining future directions for the code. A particularly useful model for how rethinking and reframing an existing standard can expand its relevance and range of application, is that of the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC). Viewed (and positioned) most broadly as a subject access system, rather than from the more narrow and limiting perspective of a "shelving device", the DDC is being implemented in web-based knowledge repositories, portals, and intranets as a highly sophisticated, flexible information storage and retrieval tool. Extending beyond its traditional library base, and within the knowledge management arena in both public and private sector organizations, the DDC is being innovatively deployed as a universal taxonomy. One can envision similar opportunities for extending the base of applications for AACR2 with careful, creative rethinking.

Question 2: How can the bibliographic control community ensure that it has, not only a place, but also a "voice" at the metadata developers' table? Others have noted, as Huthwaite observes (p. 9), that library cataloguing codes and metadata schemes perform the same function, but at different levels of complexity and specificity. Assuming that the two sets of standards do or can complement each other, it will be useful to have the relative merits and applications of AACR2 represented wherever metadata standards are being developed. For example, would it not be appropriate to ensure formal JSC participation in the W3C, especially in the discussion of the Resource Description Framework?

Question 3: To what extent is the "vision" and "reach" (relevance) of AACR2 restricted to the Anglo-American context only? The code was developed within, and reflects the values of, the cataloguing cultures of North America, Great Britain, and Australia. Gorman in his keynote paper recounted the history of bringing the "Anglo" and "American" perspectives together in the 1978 code. While respecting the roots of AACR2, it may be advantageous to review how the code reflects a set of cataloguing norms or values that may be restricting a broader relevance or applicability for the standards.

Question 4: How far is the AACR2 community willing to support the "international" focus and applicability of the code? This was a key question at the Toronto Conference in 1997, but one which ultimately received a lower priority than those regarding "content versus carrier", or seriality, or the underlying structure and principles of AACR2. Nonetheless, as revision of the International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD) for various formats continues - as occurred with the publication of the ISBD for electronic resources (ISBD(ER), and subsequent JSC consideration of harmonizing AACR2, and ISBD(ER) - the degree to which AACR2 will and should incorporate or reflect international cataloguing by having descriptive rules based on the ISBD will recur as a key question. Will a restrictive "Anglo-American" focus cast ISBD as Trojan horse, or is there genuine will for an AACR2 with "global vision"?

Question 5: In continuing to revise AACR2 within a dynamically evolving technology-enabled bibliographic environment, how best can the current adherence to principles-oriented code revision be maintained as counterbalance to pressures for systems-driven code revisions, or ad hoc rule interpretations? Changes in technical functionality may render the allure of developing a code that is more reflective, or takes greater advantage of, systems capabilities more irresistible. Throughout its history, while AACR2 has generally responded to changes in technology, it has remained fully independent of any particular automated system. How, or how successfully this separation can continue will require some concerted thought and perhaps a resolution.

Question 6: What role should/must cataloguers play in determining/defining the "value" of Web resources? Evaluating library resources for possible acquisition has traditionally resided within the domain of Collection Development. But when cataloguers are increasingly responsible for authoring Web-enabled tools, for organizing content-intensive databases, portals, and subject-specific Websites - in some cases serving as Information Architects, or e-Content Managers - their formerly circumscribed roles are coming under review. The somewhat limited picture of cataloguers as organizers of information reacting to Collection Development selections stands in sharp contrast to the more proactive role of cataloguers as content creators working at the beginning as well as at the later stages of the information lifecycle. Rethinking the roles and responsibilities of cataloguers within the digital environment must also entail a review of their education and training needs.

Question 7: Will metadata be a "bridge" or another "wedge" between cataloguers and others? The IFLA Metadata Discussion Group is co-sponsored by the Section on Cataloguing and the Section on Information Technology. Metadata has become the focus and common talking point linking the two Sections. While the Section on Cataloguing looks at metadata from the perspectives of content description and management, the Section on Information Technology considers technical issues of metadata, such as mark-up standards, and metadata-enabled search engines and functionality. Metadata as focus provides each group with an opportunity to learn about and from one another, as well as with a forum for exploring commonalities while also respecting differences. Notwithstanding the joint programming of the IFLA Metadata Discussion Group, there remains, in some circles, a sense of cataloguing codes and metadata schemes as "two solitudes" with unique, domain-specific, and mutually-exclusive application. Is there an argument to be made for maintaining such a separation?

As a participant commented earlier, it may not be necessary to throw out the baby with the bath water, but rather, to refocus our attention on the bathtub! An apt metaphor for metadata as container. While there is no denying that some domains require unique and highly-specific metadata, as is the case with the digital geospacial domain, for example, there may be opportunities for exploring complementary applications which will mutually engage metadata schemes and cataloguing codes, as exemplified by AACR2. At the very least, both "camps" stand to benefit from the experiences of the other. Those in the AACR2 community need to remain open to the potential "value add" to be derived from other metadata schemes while also acknowledging their domain-specific applications and constraints. For example, while AACR2 is in no way sufficient to the task of describing electronic texts to the degree provided for through the TEI metadata set, the former can provide an important and concise link to the electronic publication through a library catalogue, database, or Web-enabled gateway. Used in tandem, AACR2 and TEI offer humanities scholars targeted and effective access to important electronic sources.

For metadata scheme developers, and those who apply and use the schemes, there may be valuable lessons to be derived from the experiences of the AACR2 community. The long-standing history of cataloguing code development and continuous revision represents decades of consensus-building, international cooperation, and vigorous advocacy on behalf of consistency and standardization. This may be a process worthy of emulation by metadata communities seeking common agreement on global interpretation and application of general and domain-specific schemes. Whether the paths of AACR2 and metadata schemes remain parallel but divergent, or convergent and complementary must ultimately be determined with the best interests of a diverse and globally-situated population of information seekers firmly in mind.

1.) The author thanks the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC GRG # 410-99-1287) for its generous assistance in funding the metadata mapping and modeling project currently in progress.
2.) Witness the demand for expertise in developing and maintaining taxonomies for enterprise portals, or for standardizing vocabulary usage in intranet knowledge repositories.

Library of Congress
December 19, 2000
Library of Congress Help Desk