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Elements for cataloging



The audio document

The increasing importance of audiovisual documents as an integral part of the world's memory has led to a development of archiving activity that has somewhat taken by surprise those who work in the field of institutional archives. However, for a few decades now, the practical experience of audiovisual archiving has provided us with a basis for codifying this activity. Audiovisual archiving - that is to say collecting, preserving, managing and making available the audiovisual heritage - has earned its own place and may now be considered a profession in its own right. As this activity is still in its youth, its resources and skills are still evolving and developing, progressively but at a fast rate.

Cataloging rules and schemes

Over the years, a certain number of rules have been developed for cataloging to allow the consistent creation of catalogs and to facilitate exchanges of information (AACR2; ISBD; FIAF Rules for cataloging film archives; Code international de catalogage de la musique de la IAML, etc.). These models have the drawback, however, of having inherited structures originally developed for books and, therefore, simply a more or less adequate adaptation of these rules. This approach inevitably sacrifices the specific characteristics of audio documents, which are forced into schemes that do not bring out their specificity. It is evident that audio documents have specific physical and bibliographical characteristics and, in particular, audio recording is characterized by the presence of sound produced and reproduced for listening. For example, a musical piece is not immediately accessible, as it needs a translation (in the particular case of a recording) to allow access to it for listening. The recording itself is composed of various passages and elements: a musical work, its performance, its recording, its reproduction in a readable format and, lastly, the actual listening phase. An important step in the intellectual description of the content of this complexity of elements comes from the conceptual scheme of documentation called FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records). It is a structure based on the relationships existing between the work (= musical composition), expression (= performance), manifestation (= formats) and subject matter. This facilitates analytical cataloging, or rather the possibility of using as cataloging units either the carrier as a whole, or each recorded work as an independent unit linked to a multiple content carrier.

The proposal of the IASA that, with its "The IASA cataloging rules", has tried to harmonize the AACR2 and ISBD (NBM) rules, broadening and characterizing them for audiovisual carriers, is also important.

These efforts are a response to the ongoing demand to facilitate exchanges of metadata among the different databases through the use of common platforms and the Internet (for example MARC, Dublin Core and MPEG-7).



Elements for cataloging


The indications that follow are intended merely to establish some general and logical principles in order to avoid apparent contradictions in the cataloging of audio carriers. It is evident that the way in which the data are entered into the system and their form will have to correspond to the rules and methods used by the institution concerned in relation to the needs of its users. The principles are those of every cataloging system: to give the maximum quantity of information and to allow the user to make a search using all the possible access methods.

Source of information:

In this type of material, there is no primary source of information. The information useful for description purposes is disseminated on the carrier itself, on the label, on the cover or on its container, and on any illustrative or accompanying material. To achieve a satisfactory level of consistency of the data, it is important to choose an order of preference.


Categories of information that must not be omitted:

  1. Description of the physical carrier and its publication
  2. Content of the recording and its technical execution
  3. Description of the copies
  4. Identification


Technical and formal indications

Every type of carrier may be a container for any content, but it also has in itself a specificity of "reading" that must be highlighted in order to be able to access the actual content. It is therefore imperative for the cataloging of audio carriers to define the type of carrier and its physical and technical characteristics (carrier type/format, quantity of carriers, speed of reproduction, dimensions, recording technique, material, etc.) as well as its state of preservation.

For the identification of commercial production, the data related to the publication of the carrier are important: the label, the catalogue number assigned by the record company, the stamper IDs or matrix number (above all for historical carriers), the bar code or other identification codes, as well as the date of publication and the holders of the various copyrights and production rights.


Indications on the content:

We may find various titles on a sound carrier, and all of them can be important: the generic Title given to the carrier as a whole, the Title of a series, the Title of a musical work, the Title of a radio broadcast, the Title of an audio recording of a literary work, of an interview, of a scientific research study, etc. Other more detailed descriptions, such as the kind, the language of the recording and, in particular, for oral documents, the summary, key words, names, places and dates mentioned can undoubtedly help the potential user to make the most of a documentary resource.

To the titles must be associated the names of the respective authors (composer, arranger, lyricists, scientific authors, etc.), as well as any type of participant together with details that can identify him or her better (performer with his/her instrument or voice, interviewee, actor with his/her role, informant of a scientific research study, etc.).

The recording technicians, the recording conditions, the date of the recording as well as the locality or place and circumstance of the recording, are details that should not be lost, as they are important for a better contextualization of the sound document.


Description of the copies:

The transfer of the content onto another carrier or format for the purpose of preservation or consultation may be necessary or practical, but this operation entails the risk of causing the loss of essential informational or contextual elements.
In every job of transfer, preservation and restoration, the documentation of the operations carried out and the choices made is therefore essential for the preservation of the integrity of the works in the long term. For the same reason, after the transfer, the preservation team should avoid eliminating the original carrieers together with their packaging, as they are precious sources for technical, historical and cultural contextualization, which cannot be transferred onto a new carrier.



The archiveor call number, which clearly and univocally marks a document, should also make it possible to recognize the type of carrier at the first reading, as well as being used as a basic file name for the digitized copies and stored on a computer system.

Associated material:

It is important and necessary that audiovisual archives collect, together with the holdings of audio documents, also the so-called "Associated or Accompanying Material", which includes all those documents and artifacts that allow us to determine the context of the audio recording. This gives audiovisual archives their double role of archive and museum.

This material may vary and include the equipment and technical instruments necessary to read the audio carriers (period or modern instruments, spare parts, ...), as well as the entire documentation regarding the history of the audio carriers and the recording technique or record production.

All the accompanying documents and all the complementary information (manuscripts, illustrations, testimonies of every kind) linked to any preserved collection also belong to the audio heritage.

The selection criterion for this material is that it is collected not for just for the sake of collecting, but rather it is selected for its intrinsic relationship with particular recordings or personalities, or for the phenomenon of the recorded sound in itself, or for its industrial, artistic or social nature in the world of audio-recording.

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