Library catalog

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A library catalog is a directory of a library existing publications (especially books but also DVDs , magazines, etc.) and collection items (paintings, globes , etc.).

There are different types of library catalogs. In the past, the existing publications were entered in the book volumes intended for this purpose (volume catalog) or noted on a slip of paper and the notes were then sorted alphabetically (slip catalog). By far the most common form today is the OPAC ( Online Public Access Catalog ). An OPAC is an electronic library catalog that is created and accessed by computer.

The cataloged publications can be sorted in the catalog according to different characteristics (first letter, subject area, location in the library, etc.). A distinction must be made here between the alphabetical catalog arranged according to authors and elements of the title, the subject catalog arranged systematically or according to key words , and the location catalog listing the books.

The operation for creating a library catalog is the cataloging , which reported in the catalog description of a publication's Katalogisat . Catalogs can be expanded to a digital library by means of tables of contents, cover page images , full texts, links etc. ( catalog enrichment ). Should the current catalog is not recorded legacy portfolios are recorded, the data can be taken of older catalogs ( retro-conversion ) or the media in question individually recataloged ( retrospective cataloging ) are.

Word origin

The German word catalog is derived from the ancient Greek κατάλογος ( katálogos ) and from the Latin catalogus , which can be translated as 'enumeration', 'directory', 'list' or 'register'. In ancient times , however, library catalogs were referred to with other, meaning-like words. They were called pinakes in Greek and indices in Latin .

Catalog types

Band catalog of the SUB Göttingen
Keyword catalog.jpg
Card catalog of the Graz University Library
Screenshot - OPAC of the Vienna University Library.jpg

Library catalogs have changed with the technology available. Until the introduction of the typewriter, cataloging was done by hand, today the media are entered into bibliographical databases using computers .


An early catalog form , already used in the Middle Ages , was the volume catalog . It consists of initially empty book volumes in which the library's media are gradually entered. Tape catalogs were the most common type of catalog until the end of the 19th century, when they were replaced by the emerging card catalog .

A sheet catalog consists of individual catalog sheets that are collected in loose-leaf binders, clip-on folders, ring binders or foil sleeves. It was kept in the form of a list and is rarely used today.

The card catalog (or card catalog) has long been the dominant type of catalog. It consists of catalog cards, whereby exactly one of the publications available in the respective library is listed on each slip and each publication contains at least one slip. The notes are usually stored in specially made catalog boxes in alphabetical order. The card catalog has been superseded by the electronic library catalog that is in use today, but is still in use in isolated libraries. The capsule catalog is a special form of the card catalog .

A microfiche catalog consists of postcard-sized microfiches on which the title recordings are shown. The images are extremely scaled down and cannot be read with the naked eye. The microfiche catalog has been replaced by electronic catalogs and is only used occasionally.

A CD-ROM catalog consists of CD-ROMs on which the catalog data are stored in machine-readable form. CD-ROM catalogs are rarely used today.

Image catalogs (IPAC for short for Image Public Access Catalog ) are publicly accessible online catalogs that consist of scans of old catalog cards.

An OPAC (for Online Public Access Catalog ) is the most important and by far the most widespread type of catalog today. OPACs enable the user to access the catalog database of the respective library at any time , today mostly via the Internet. In the meantime, access via the WWW with search fields in which one can search the library catalog for at least persons, book titles , corporations , keywords , ISBNs , publishers and publication years, is common.

Principles of order


In contrast to electronic catalogs such as the OPAC, it was important for older catalog types according to which order principle the catalogs were sorted. The sorting of the catalogs decided whether a desired work could be found under the first letter of the author, under the relevant scientific field or a suitable keyword. In alphabetical catalogs publications are ordered by the first letter of the title or the author, in keyword catalogs by the first letter of the keywords in keyword catalogs for keywords, in systematic catalogs by topic (astronomy, sports, etc.) and location catalogs after the location of publication the library (room, shelf, compartment, signature, etc.).


In addition to catalogs that list the publications of exactly one library, there are also those that only contain a certain part of these publications (partial and special catalogs). On the other hand, central and meta-catalogs, in which the publications of several libraries are listed, are more extensive than normal catalogs.

Partial and special catalogs

Partial catalogs list very specific parts or groups of the inventory, these media are mostly also listed in the main catalog. Examples are the catalog of the reading room reference library, the catalog of the textbook collection, regional studies catalogs or subject catalogs for fiction in public libraries. In contrast to this, special catalogs list special groups of the holdings that are only listed here. Examples of this are catalogs for incunabula , manuscripts, music, maps, audiovisual media and sometimes periodicals.

Central catalogs and metacatalogs

Central catalogs record the holdings of several libraries, its main task is to prove ownership in the holdings of several libraries. Numeric or alphanumeric library tags are used to identify the individual libraries, for example 15 = Leipzig University Library.

They are tools for interlibrary loan . A distinction is made between local or institutional central catalogs, regional, national, international and specialist central catalogs as well as association catalogs.

A national central catalog lists the holdings of the most important libraries in a country. An example of this is the National Union Catalog in the USA. In Germany, no central catalog covering all forms of publication has been developed. The German General Catalog, begun in 1902, only grew to the letter B and was canceled during the Second World War. Only for periodicals is there a comprehensive directory of the holdings in German libraries in the form of the journal database.

An international central catalog records the inventory for certain media on an international level. An example of this is the complete catalog of incandescent prints , a record of all books produced up to 1500 in Europe with ownership information from libraries worldwide. This was started in 1904 and is located in the Berlin State Library .

A specialist central catalog provides evidence of the holdings of several libraries for one subject. An example of this is the catalog of the German Central Library for Medicine in Cologne.

The last category of the central catalog is the union catalog .

Various types of library catalogs are referred to as metacatalogues that provide more information than the holdings of a single library. Here, let metasearch engines , which search queries to different catalogs forward (for example, the Karlsruher Virtual Catalog ), differ from aggregators , the contents of various catalogs in a database to merge (such as OAIster ) and union catalogs , in which various shared libraries catalog their collections.


Rules and data formats

Library rules have been used since the 19th century to create uniform catalogs . In the course of electronic cataloging, uniform bibliographic data formats were established , such as the MARC format , which is now used internationally .

Catalog abort

Before the introduction of electronic catalogs, major changes (for example to a new set of rules or to a different type of catalog) in all larger libraries led to catalog interruptions . The current catalog was canceled and a new catalog started. The old catalog could not always be incorporated into the new one, which is why various old catalogs exist side by side in many libraries.

Service and audience catalog

Originally, library catalogs were only working tools for librarians. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that so-called public catalogs were created that could be viewed by visitors. The mostly qualitatively better, library-internal catalogs were now called service catalogs . With the introduction of electronic catalogs, it was no longer necessary to keep separate catalogs. Libraries that have not yet recorded all their holdings electronically usually make their former service catalogs publicly available.



The size of some ancient libraries already made systems of order necessary that made it possible to choose a desired work from the masses or to find the available literature on a particular topic. Since no ancient library catalog has survived, we only know about them from mentions in ancient sources, where they are referred to as pinakes by Greek authors and indices by Roman authors . Mentioned in three ancient writings is, for example, the catalog of the library of Pergamon . Cataloging information in the Alexandria Library has been preserved along with information on the activities of the scholar and eminent poet Callimachus of Cyrene .

Callimachus of Cyrene and the Library of Alexandria

Callimachus of Cyrene wrote the pinakes (registers), a script that has not survived and is often referred to as the first attested library catalog in library history literature. In fact, it was not a catalog, but a separate, bibliographic work, possibly based on the catalog of the Alexandria Library. The pinakes are said to have been large in size and consisted of 120 rolls. They assigned each of the then known authors to one of ten categories, either rhetoric, law, epic, tragedy, poetry, history, medicine, mathematics or natural science. If an author could not be clearly assigned to one of these subject areas, he came into the category "Miscellaneous". The authors, initially roughly classified, were sorted alphabetically within these thematic classification groups and each presented with a short biography. Within the author's entries, their works were listed together with a "review" above. Since the ancient writings mostly had no fixed, clearly fixed titles, but started directly with the text and the authorship was often unclear, the first words of the text were used for identification during cataloging . It is not known whether the arrangement of the scrolls spatially followed this system. A papyrus from the 3rd century BC. Is instructive for a knowledge of the method introduced by Callimachus.

According to the sources, the new scrolls arriving at the Alexandria Library were registered in the following way before being placed in the library: To distinguish between different copies of the same work, the place where the item was obtained was recorded by the name of the previous owner, the Author of the font, possibly also commentators, publisher or proofreaders and whether it was a mixed or unmixed scroll; The last thing that followed was the indication of how many lines the role comprised.

middle Ages

Page of the St. Gallen catalog

With the end of antiquity, their libraries also disappeared. The first new libraries were built in the Middle Ages in monasteries and bishops, but the knowledge of cataloging was forgotten and had to be re-developed. From the Abbey Library of St. Gallen , one of the most famous medieval libraries, a directory from the middle of the 9th century has been preserved, which gives a picture of the catalog system of that time. This Breviarium librorum de coenobio S. Galli arranges the collection, which at that time consisted of around 450 volumes, into 25 sections and a separate section of the libri scottice scripti , works in insular script that are related to the Irish foundation of the monastery. The arrangement with Bible editions as the first section, followed by the works of the church fathers, is typical of a monastery library . Within the Department of Fathers of the Church, the authors are not sorted alphabetically or chronologically, but roughly according to the importance assigned to them by the Church, taking into account the importance for the monastery. That in this case Gregory the Great and not Augustine of Hippo comes first, Karl Löffler attributes to the fact that Gregory's “unique importance for the liturgy , which of course plays the dominant role in the monastery, could have tipped the balance”. The fact that Augustine is also preceded by Hieronymus could perhaps be due to the fact that he is represented a little more abundantly. After further theological groups, there is finally a department for profane literature. Such an order appears in most medieval monastery libraries.

In other sections of the St. Gallen catalog, the manuscripts were listed according to their location on the desks or in the cupboards. Later additions were only appropriately classified in a factually appropriate manner, provided that there was still room, otherwise just where there was otherwise space, even if they would have belonged to other groups much more objectively. This catalog should also offer the possibility to check at any time whether all items in the collection are present. Since there were no title pages at that time , the catalog gave the opening words of the first page, sometimes also the second, the penultimate and the last page. With this and with later information on external features such as the binding, the format, etc., one wanted to identify certain manuscripts as individual and valuable items; Content information was not intended.

"The catalog does not want to answer the question of whether a certain book that one is looking for is available in the library and where it could be found, but rather it only wants to be an inventory that enables the guardian of the treasures to determine whether all his books are there, for example when the library fell, which we know in some monasteries that it was compulsory annually, or which allows for a review of the holdings when the guardianship is handed over. The catalog serves to secure the library, not its use; it is not intended for the visitor to the collection, but for its manager. "

According to Löffler, this catalog, which can be regarded as a prime example of a monastery catalog from the first part of the Middle Ages, shows that what Callimachos had once worked out as a rule and guideline has disappeared as a law from the librarians' awareness. Although the large group of Bibles still defies the usual norm of registration, “even where alphabetical order would be possible, neither it nor any other ordering principle plays an apparent role in the St. Gallen catalog. Occasionally one sees an attempt to put together those that belong together from the various works of one author. But this is by no means imposing as a clear principle. "

From medieval signatures and indices to alphabetical catalogs

A somewhat higher level, which leads away from the simple location catalog (directory after the location in the library), was also reached in the Middle Ages. Namely with catalogs that listed works with signatures , which with their letters or numbers meant a related subject, regardless of the place of installation, which might originally correspond to it. Alphabetical indices as registers for the location catalogs also emerged in the course of the Middle Ages; A whole series of such registers is known, especially from the 15th century.

With the expansion of libraries, especially since the invention of the printing press , more precise cataloging became necessary. The former indices for the location catalogs have been created into independent alphabetical catalogs and, more and more frequently, in their own volumes. After the oldest prints, the incunabula , still followed the example of the manuscripts and did not have a title, as is common today, the title page soon established itself as a natural part of the book. This formed the prerequisite for title recordings, as they are still common today.

The first printed library catalog appeared in 1595 at the Leiden University Library . In the course of the 17th century, around 30 libraries followed this example until the number of printed catalogs was already unmanageable in the 18th century and almost every major library had a printed catalog. Towards the end of the 19th century, however, the libraries began to discontinue their printed catalogs. The reason for this was that, due to the increasing book production, the prints were no longer up-to-date shortly after publication and therefore supplements or new editions were constantly necessary. In isolated cases, however, the printed catalogs continued into the 20th century.

First regulations

However, precise rules for catalog recordings did not emerge until the beginning of the 19th century. In other countries efforts were made earlier to be short and sweet when recording the title, but in Germany the catalog recordings were expanded and annotated at the discretion of the librarian until the 18th century.

“Yes, one often saw his pride in expanding the title of each book on all pages, especially in the case of printed catalogs, making comments about the literary form of the book, including its features, and adding explanations and comments. The author's name is also given all sorts of learned additions and finally it is not neglected to dissect the meaning of the respective work for the whole of science as spiritually as possible, whereby the poor cataloger also had the opportunity to bring his own wisdom to the man. "

The librarians Albrecht Christoph Kayser (1756–1811) in Regensburg and Martin Schrettinger (1772–1851) in were significant champions for a procedure according to which the actual task of the catalog is to list only what is necessary for the labeling of the book Munich . While Kayser is considered the "father of the title recording", Schrettinger was the first to create fixed rules for the most important points. These Munich rules later served in Wroclaw as the basis for the instructions for the order of the titles in the alphabetical card catalog of the University Library of Wroclaw by Karl Dziatzko (1842–1903). The instructions of the Prussian State Library , which had appeared in several editions since 1899 as instructions for the alphabetical catalogs of the Prussian libraries , known for short as Prussian Instructions , were based on these rules . This set of rules remained formative for the alphabetical catalogs in the entire German-speaking area for decades, even if it was not applied uniformly, and was only superseded by the RAK in the 1970s .

With this, a separation into several types of catalog according to different principles of order began to be established, whereby in addition to the aforementioned alphabetical catalog, a location catalog was still required and a systematic catalog and a keyword catalog were added.

For the physical form of the catalog more and more of the proved card catalog as a viable solution. The first card catalog was created by Gottfried van Swieten at the court library in Vienna in 1780 , but the card catalog was only widely used in the course of and above all towards the end of the 19th century.

20th and 21st centuries

After the rules for cataloging were solidified in the 20th century and the card catalog was established, another major upheaval took place in the 1960s with the introduction of EDP . Since the end of the 20th century, most libraries have been using an EDP catalog with OPAC , which can now typically be accessed via the WWW . The catalog data can be exchanged between the libraries in formats such as MARC or MAB . In addition, existing card catalogs have often been digitized using OCR and can often be queried in this form separately from the current IT catalog.

Due to the new possibilities of EDP cataloging, adjustments to the regulations were also necessary. For example, the question was raised as to whether the concept of differentiating between main entry and secondary entry for author names or titles still makes sense.

See also


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Henry George Liddell , Robert Scott : A Greek-English Lexicon , 9th Edition, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1940 ( online ).
  2. ^ Klaus Haller: Catalog customer. An introduction to formal and subject indexing , 3rd extended edition, Saur, Munich 1998, p. 17.
  3. ^ Klaus Haller: Catalog customer. An introduction to formal and subject indexing , 3rd extended edition, Saur, Munich 1998, p. 69 f.
  4. ^ Klaus Haller: Catalog customer. An introduction to formal and subject indexing , 3rd extended edition, Saur, Munich 1998, pp. 67–69.
  5. ^ Roger S. Bagnall: Alexandria. Library of Dreams. In: Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society , Vol. 146, No. 4, 2002, pp. 348–362, here: p. 356 ( PDF; 1.2 MB ( Memento from May 1, 2015 in the Internet Archive )).
  6. Cécile Orru: A Flames Rape? The Royal Library of Alexandria. In: Wolfram Hoepfner (Ed.): Antike Bibliotheken , Von Zabern, Mainz 2002, ISBN 3-8053-2846-X , pp. 31–38, here: p. 33.
  7. Papyrus Vindobonensis G 40611.
  8. Angelika Zdiarsky: Library considerations on the library of Alexandria. In: Elke Blumenthal , Wolfgang Schmitz (Hrsg.): Libraries in antiquity. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2011, ISBN 978-3-447-06406-4 , pp. 161–172, here: p. 171.
  9. Cécile Orru: A Flames Rape? The Royal Library of Alexandria. In: Wolfram Hoepfner (Ed.): Antike Bibliotheken , Von Zabern, Mainz 2002, ISBN 3-8053-2846-X , p. 31–38, here: p. 33; Angelika Zdiarsky: Librarian considerations on the library of Alexandria. In: Elke Blumenthal, Wolfgang Schmitz (Hrsg.): Libraries in antiquity. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2011, ISBN 978-3-447-06406-4 , pp. 161–172, here: p. 170.
  10. Codex Sangallensis 728 ( online )
  11. ^ Karl Löffler: Introduction to cataloging , 1935, pp. 11-13.
  12. ^ Karl Löffler: Introduction to cataloging , 1935, pp. 13-14.
  13. ^ Karl Löffler: Introduction to cataloging , 1935, p. 15.
  14. ^ Karl Löffler: Introduction to cataloging , 1935, p. 16.
  15. ^ Karl Löffler: Introduction to cataloging , 1935, p. 17.
  16. ^ Karl Löffler: Introduction to cataloging , 1935, p. 19.
  17. ^ Karl Löffler: Introduction to cataloging , 1935, p. 20.
  18. Dietmar Strauch, Margarete Rehm: Lexikon Buch, Bibliothek, neue Medien , 2nd, updated and expanded edition, Saur, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-598-11757-2 , p. 250.
  19. ^ Karl Löffler: Introduction to cataloging , 1935, p. 22.
  20. ^ Karl Löffler: Introduction to cataloging , 1935, p. 39.
  21. ^ Austrian National Library: 1780 - the oldest card catalog ( memento from February 9, 2009 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on January 2, 2009
  22. Willy Troxler: Experiences from the information network for German-speaking Switzerland: Abolition of the main entry? , July 10, 2002, accessed January 2, 2009.