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International Standard Bibliographic Description

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The International Standard Bibliographic Description or ISBD is a set of rules produced by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) to describe a wide range of library materials, within the context of a catalog. These rules organize the bibliographic description of an item in the following areas:

  • Area 1: title and statement of responsibility (for example: author, editor, artist).
  • Area 2: edition.
  • Area 3: material-dependent information (for example, the scale of a map or the duration of a sound recording).
  • Area 4: publication and distribution.
  • Area 5: physical description (for example: number of pages in a book or number of CDs in the same jewel case).
  • Area 6: series.
  • Area 7: notes.
  • Area 8: standard number (ISBN, ISSN).

The ISBD standard is rigorously sequential, but some pieces can be dropped, as long as the sequence of the remainder is respected. The title must always come first, the author or some other statement of responsibility (as to who is responsible for authoring or editing a document) must always come after, and so on. By respecting this sequence and the standard ISBD punctuation it makes it possible to offer the bibliographical information in a very small and flexible space.

Originally this goal of saving space was devised because library catalogs were created using small three by five inch cards. The same space saving rules are useful in the context of the limited amount of screen space available on current computer displays.

A full (or nearly full, since there are provisions for making it longer for book collectors and others) version of an ISBD description would look like this:

Comics & sequential art / by Will Eisner. — [Expanded edition]. — Tamarac, Florida : Poorhouse Press : North Light Books [distributor], 1990. — 164 p. : ill. ; 29 cm. — Includes index. — ISBN 0961472812 (paperback) ; ISBN 0961472804 (hardcover)

A minimalist version would look like this:

Comics & sequential art / by Will Eisner. — 2nd ed. — Tamarac, Florida : Poorhouse Press, 1990.

This way you know which Will Eisner and which Poorhouse Press, for sure. And that is the goal of a good bibliographical description: Knowing what document and what author or editor we are talking about.

Within this goal there is much room for adaptations. In large or very large libraries, where original cataloguing is done on a daily basis in addition to "copy cataloguing", local variations or special applications of the ISBD are defined, for various needs. For instance, rules for a long version of the ISBD will be developed for application to the incunabula held in a rare book department while a very short version will probably be made up for special collections of published ephemera such as railroad tickets or business cards.

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