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DATE: May 27, 2016

NAME: Defining a New Subfield in Field 340 to Record Color Content in the MARC 21 Bibliographic Format

SOURCE: The Cataloging Advisory Committee (CAC) of The Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA)

SUMMARY: This paper discusses defining a new repeatable subfield in field 340 (Physical Medium) in order to record the color content of resources in the MARC 21 Bibliographic Format.

KEYWORDS: Field 340 (BD); Physical Medium (BD); Color content (BD)


05/27/16 – Made available to the MARC community for discussion.

06/26/16 – Results of MARC Advisory Committee discussion: There was general agreement that subfield $g should be made repeatable so that different instances of color content occurring within the same resource can be recorded discretely. It was noted that the use of code “rda” in 340 subfield $2 in the examples is problematic. The code “rda" represents the overall description conventions applied to the record rather than the specific vocabularies recorded in the 340 subfields $a, $c, $d, $f, $k, $m, $n, and $o. NDMSO will liaise with the RDA Steering Committee (RSC) in order to establish new codes for RDA vocabularies in the 34X tags as a whole. The paper will return as a proposal.

Discussion Paper No. 2016-DP22: Defining a New Subfield in Field 340 to Record Color Content


Field 340 is currently defined in the Bibliographic format as follows:

Field Definition and Scope:
Physical description information for an item that requires technical equipment for its use or an item that has special conservation or storage needs.

Coded physical information is contained in field 007 (Physical Description Fixed Field). The field is repeated for each subfield $3 (Materials specified).

Following the adoption of Proposal 6JSC/CILIP/4, RDA instructions on color content have recently been modified. According to the new instructions, catalogers must indicate the presence of color, tone, etc. in the content of the resource either by recording the term “monochrome” or “polychrome”, or by using one or several equivalent terms from a substitute vocabulary. In addition, instructions under RDA (Details of colour content) allow catalogers to record specific information concerning the color content of a resource if considered important for identification or selection (e.g. as a free-text note).

The main advantage offered by the revised RDA 7.17 is that it relies on the use of a controlled vocabulary — thus favoring machine manipulation — while providing enough flexibility for catalogers to record important details of color content. The CAC believes that these changes constitute a positive step, especially for the description of art-related resources and visual documents. In order to support adequately the automated manipulation of color-related information, this paper proposes that a new subfield, specifically defined for color content, be created in MARC field 340 (possibly subfield $g?).

As an alternative solution, the CAC considered the possibility of using MARC field 007 (Physical Description), since it provides a position to record color content for certain types of resources. Unfortunately, for textual resources, no such position has been defined to qualify the color characteristics of illustrative matter. As a consequence, it would be impossible to record color content as a separate element for resources like art catalogs, fine press publications and artists’ books, which combine text and images. Furthermore, RDA allows catalogers to record specific colors, yet field 007 does not support this level of specificity. Also, there is currently no provision in field 007 for indicating the source of a term. Since catalogers may want to use terms from specialized vocabularies (e.g. the Art and Architecture Thesaurus), it is important that the MARC field chosen to record color content supports the use of codes to indicate specific sources. Lastly, RDA 7.17 asks catalogers to record controlled terms, i.e. actual words, not codes. Hence, we believe that field 340, which allows the use of natural language, is a better option than field 007.

As a final point, the CAC would like to stress that field 340 already has subfields defined for most material properties of the resource. This is why we consider it would be the most appropriate field to record color content.


Currently, color content information is recorded in field 300 (Physical Description) subfield $b (Other physical details), with several other data elements (e.g. base material, applied material, mount, production method, etc.). For art resources, most elements which are traditionally recorded in field 300 $b may also be recorded in separate subfields in field 340. Unfortunately, no specific subfield has been yet defined for color content.

In the MARC 21 documentation for field 340, some examples show color content information being recorded in subfields for other descriptive elements (e.g. 340 $ccolored inks). As a matter of fact, art catalogers generally consider color as a property of applied and/or base material. However, since RDA defines color content as a separate element, we believe it should be recorded in a discrete subfield. We propose subfield $g as a possibility.


Example 1

For an original poster before letters:

340 ## $awove paper$cink$cgouache$dlithography$dcollage$gpolychrome

For a calotype :

340 ## $asalted paper$dcalotype process$gblack and white$opositive

Example 2

To contextualize the information recorded in subfield $g, a note may be provided in field 500, or field 340 may be used in combination with field 300 $b.

340 ## $awove paper$cink$cgouache$dlithography$dcollage$gpolychrome
500 ## $aColor lithography and collage, with white highlights in gouache, on beige wove paper


300 ## $a1 poster :$blithography and collage, color inks and white gouache on beige wove paper ;$c
340 ## $awove paper$cink$cgouache$dlithography$dcollage$gpolychrome

[Cataloging agencies may decide to display the information recorded in field 300 $b and/or 340]

Example 3

Finally, subfields $2 and $3 may be used to specify the source of terms (if coming from a controlled vocabulary) as well as the part of the resource to which the characteristics apply.

For a poster published as part of a larger resource:

340 ## $3poster$awove paper$cink$doffset lithography$gmonochrome

For a color postcard:

340 ## $acardboard$cink$dcollotype$gpolychrome$2rda


BIBFRAME contains the property colorContent with domain ColorContent, accommodating either a designation of the color characteristic as a URI from a list or as a literal.


5.1. Should subfield $g be defined for color content in field 340?

5.2. Are there any drawbacks to defining this subfield? Are there any alternatives not explored in this paper?

5.3. The 340 field is currently defined as “Physical description information for an item that requires technical equipment for its use or an item that has special conservation or storage needs.” But information on color content and indeed on all physical attributes covered by this field also supports user tasks unrelated to either of the named purposes. For example, a publisher may want only color reproductions of paintings, a film festival organizer may want only black and white motion pictures, a researcher may be looking for examples of prints produced by specific processes. Should the definition be broadened to reflect this?

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