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:
- color content
- accompanying material
- inscriptions, e.g. author's signature
- binding information