About the ISBD Review Group

ISBD Review Group (Singapore August 2013)


The main objective of the ISBD Review Group is to maintain the International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD), which is intended to serve as a principal standard to promote universal bibliographic control, to make universally and promptly available, in a form that is internationally acceptable, basic bibliographic data for all published resources in all countries. The ISBD's main goal is, and has been since the very beginning, to offer consistency when sharing bibliographic information.

In the ISBD, national bibliographic agencies are called upon to "prepare the definitive description containing all the mandatory elements set out in the ISBD insofar as the information is applicable to the resource being described." This practice is also recommended for application by libraries that share bibliographic data with each other. A small number of elements of the description, such as a title, are mandatory and must be included in any ISBD description. Other elements, such as an edition statement, are mandatory if the information is available. Elements are designated by the term Mandatory or Mandatory if available or Mandatory if applicable after the heading for the element. In the text, terminology such as is given or are given is used for these elements, while terminology such as may be given is used for elements that are not mandatory (see A.1.3).

With the publication of the consolidated edition of the ISBD in 2011, and to continue in line with its main objective to maintain the standard, the ISBD Review Group will work according to IFLA CATS Strategic Plan 2011-2013, Actions 3 Continue ISBD Revision and 4 Develop additional approaches, standards, rules, and lists for information that provide access to bibliographic and authority data in all languages on the following tasks to:

1)  promote the use, translation into various languages and implementation of the ISBD in library systems and services; it is anticipated that national or international committees responsible for preparing codes of cataloguing rules will use the ISBD as the basis for their rules on description of library materials to describe all aspects of each resource, including its content, its carrier, and its mode of issuance.

 2)  prepare documentation for the next revision of the standard due to begin in about four years; to reach this second task the ISBD Review Group plans to:

  • monitor developments in the publishing and other relevant communities that have impact on the content form, media type, and mode of issuance of library resources;
  • explore and further develop the representation of the ISBD in the W3C RDF standard to enhance the portability of bibliographic data in the Semantic Web environment, and the interoperability of the ISBD with other content standards;
  • take part in activities regarding alignment of ISBD data elements and FRBR attributes within the task of consolidating the FRBR conceptual models by the FRBR Review Group;
  • continue activities on harmonization of the ISBD, ISSN, RDA and other national and international cataloguing rules aligned with the FRBR model and the International Cataloguing Principles;
  • co-ordinate other activities regarding ISBD user communities requirements concerning development of the ISBD.

Origins of the ISBD

The International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD) dates back to 1969, when the IFLA Committee on Cataloguing (subsequently renamed the Standing Committee of the IFLA Section on Cataloguing, and now known as the Standing Committee of the IFLA Cataloguing Section) sponsored an International Meeting of Cataloguing Experts. This meeting produced a resolution that proposed creation of standards to regularize the form and content of bibliographic descriptions. As a result, the Committee on Cataloguing put into motion work that ultimately would provide the means for a considerable increase in the sharing and exchange of bibliographic data. This work resulted in the concept of the International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD), which has now endured for more than 30 years. The individual formats to which the ISBD concept has been applied are now used by bibliographic agencies, national and multinational cataloguing codes, and cataloguers in a wide variety of libraries throughout the world, because of their potential for promoting record sharing.

The first of the ISBDs was the International Standard Bibliographic Description for Monographic Publications (ISBD(M)), which appeared in 1971. By 1973, this text had been adopted by a number of national bibliographies and, with translations of the original English text into several other languages, had been taken into account by a number of cataloguing committees in redrafting national rules for description. Comments from users of the ISBD(M) led to the decision to produce a revised text that was published in 1974 as the "First standard edition."

In 1975, the Joint Steering Committee for Revision of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules proposed to the IFLA Committee on Cataloguing that a general international standard bibliographic description suitable for most common types of library resources should be developed. The ISBD(G), published in 1977, was the result. The ISBD(M) was then revised to bring it into line with the ISBD(G), and the "First standard edition revised" was published in 1978.

An ISBD Review Committee was formed by the Standing Committee of the IFLA Section on Cataloguing, and it met in 1981 to make plans for reviewing and revising the ISBDs covering monographic publications, serials, cartographic materials, and non-book materials. There were three major objectives set out for this project: (1) to harmonize provisions among the ISBDs, achieving increased consistency; (2) to improve examples; and (3) to make the provisions more applicable to cataloguers working with materials published in non-roman scripts. In addition, two narrower objectives motivated this particular revision effort: (a) to review the use of the equals sign; and (b) to consider proposals regarding the ISBD(NBM) emanating from specialist groups such as the International Association of Music Librarians (most prominent of which was to remove "machine-readable data files" as a format from this standard). By the end of the 1980s, this project had been completed.

The ISBD consolidated edition and FRBR

In the early 1990s, the IFLA Section on Cataloguing with the cooperation of the Section on Classification and Indexing set up the IFLA Study Group on the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR). One immediate consequence of this development was the decision to suspend most revision work on the ISBDs while the FRBR Study Group pursued its charge to "recommend a basic level of functionality and basic data requirements for records created by national bibliographic agencies." In 1998, the FRBR Study Group published its Final Report after its recommendations were approved by the IFLA Section on Cataloguing's Standing Committee. At that time the ISBD Review Group was reconstituted to resume its traditional work. As expected, the IFLA Section on Cataloguing's Standing Committee asked the ISBD Review Group to initiate a full-scale review of the ISBDs. The objective of this "second general review project" was to ensure conformity between the provisions of the ISBDs and FRBR's data requirements for the "basic level national bibliographic record." It also involved a document Mapping ISBD elements to FRBR entity attributes and relationships, developed by Tom Delsey and approved by the Cataloguing Section's Standing Committee in 2004.

Therefore, the main task in pursuing the second general review has entailed a close examination of the ISBD data elements to make optional those that are also optional in FRBR. In no case is a data element mandatory in FRBR but optional in the ISBDs. Despite the changes introduced by the revision projects summarized above, the essential structure and data components of the ISBDs have proved relatively stable over the years and continue to be widely used in full or part by creators of cataloguing codes and metadata schemes.

Starting in 2003, a consolidated ISBD was developed to merge the seven specialized ISBDs into one. The preliminary consolidated edition was published in loose-leaf format in the summer of 2007, with the consolidated edition published in 2011.


In November 2000, representatives of the ISBD(S) Working Group met with representatives of the Joint Steering Committee for Revision of AACR (JSC) and of the ISSN Network to work out a harmonization agreement for the three standards. After the publication of RDA: Resource Description & Access in 2010, the representatives of the ISBD Review Group and the ISSN Network met with the Joint Steering Committee for Development of RDA in Glasgow (3-4 November 2011) to begin to renew the harmonization process as an ongoing effort. The outcomes of the meeting are available from January 2012.

See also: Mapping ISBD Elements to FRBR Entity Attributes and Relationships

ISBD (International Standard Bibliographic Description), Cataloguing

Last update: 1 July 2019