Physical description

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A description of an item's physical characteristics, such as pagination and height. Particularly in RDA and FRBR, physical description is distinct from intellectual description. A work's subject, such as dentistry or dogs, is its content; its physical manifestation, such as being a book with 780 pages or a 96-minute DVD, is referred to as the work's carrier. This distinction allows library users to specify whether they want, for example, an ebook version of Hamlet or a book that can be held in their hands.

There are different cataloging standards for different carriers. AACR2 has a chapter for each of several types of carrier, including books, audiovisual materials, and electronic resources; DCRM(B) encourages detailed physical description of rare books in order to distinguish between manifestations or even individual copies (III.1.1); there are manuals for map cataloging and for graphic materials.

Common physical characteristics described by catalogers include:

  • extent
  • illustrations
  • color content
  • dimensions
  • format
  • accompanying material
  • inscriptions, e.g. author's signature
  • binding information
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