Metadata Input Guidelines: Description

Element Name:


Description Definition

Description of the content attributes of the resource (content description) or physical attributes of the resource (physical description).

How Content Description Works in the Metadata Form

1. Description type – drop-down menu
2. Description – text field
Yes - clicking ‘Add’ repeats all field parts; there should only be two description fields (one for content and one for physical description)
Yes - a content description is required; a physical description is highly recommended. Also see more information about required fields

Note: Given the significant differences for entering description information, guidance sections are repeated separately for content descriptions and physical descriptions below.

Element Name: Content Description

Where Can the Content Description Information be Found?

Like subjects, the item must be read/examined to find the content description but it may come from:

Item Types Information Sources
For text
  • titles
  • abstracts
  • tables of contents
  • section/chapter headings
  • text
For images
  • bottom or back of a photograph
  • visible elements (people, surroundings, objects, etc.)
  • illustrations
For maps
  • statement in a caption
  • notes around the outside of the map
  • geographic area and time period of the map
For music scores
  • title page
  • table of contents
  • lyrics
For videos
  • label on disc
  • container cover
For sound files
  • information on disc/cassette
  • container information
For computer files
  • title page/screen
  • text of document

In some cases a content description may come from accompanying or supplementary information.

How Should the Content Description be Filled in?

  • Describe the subject matter of the item
  • Use complete sentences with proper grammar and punctuation
  • Avoid any commentary on or interpretation of the item being described
Guideline Example
  • The description should start with a statement of the item type
Photograph of...

Yearbook for Central University...
  • Be descriptive but only include detail that would be helpful to users:
  • For photographs and artwork, provide a description of any important elements that are visible in the image (e.g., people, places, foreground/background, etc.)
Photograph of a cowboy riding a brown bull in an arena. A rodeo clown stands off to the right. Behind him, people watch from the other side of a red fence.
  • For texts, give a brief overview of the item
Biography of Alexander Gregg includes background information about his family as well as a sketch of his life and involvement in the church throughout his career until his death in 1893.
  • For letters, be sure to state who the letter is to and from, giving a brief overview of the content
Letter from James E. Sutherlin to his family describing his plans for saving money to buy a new car once he gets home.
  • For postcards, describe them as photographs (or artwork) if there is nothing written on the back; if the postcard has a message written on the back, treat it as a letter
Postcard showing tents of the New Hampshire camp at Ft. McIntosh, Laredo, Texas.

Postcard of the Custom House building in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. The back of the postcard includes a thank you note addressed to Capt. Elmer C. Croom from L. R. de la Peña.
  • For serials, a generic description of the content in the series can be used in every record
    • Make relevant changes regarding topics of specific volumes or indexes

Quarterly publication containing genealogical information about families in East Texas including fifth generation charts, family histories, and lists of records (births, deaths, etc.).

This issue focuses on "Dallas Goes to War: Life on the Homefront"

  • For maps, state the region depicted as well as: important features noted on the map, shading or color that has significance, insets, relief or elevations, and other relevant details.
    • When applicable, the scale of the map can be included at the end of the description (preferably as a proportion of inches). If the scale is known but not stated on the map, it can be included in brackets; approximate scale can be included as "ca. 1:...".

This map shows the western hemisphere including North and South America and the surrounding areas. Bodies of water and geographic features are marked pictorially. There are illustrations of ships in various places around the map.

This map shows parts of North America including most of New Britain (Canada), the United States, and the northern portion of Mexico. U.S. states and territories are shaded in various colors and labeled. Some major cities, bodies of water, and geographic features are marked (with relief shown by hachures). Scale [ca. 1:19,008,000]

  • Cite any statements taken directly from the object(s) to use in the description
"Official publication of the Parks and Wildlife Department, dedicated to protecting and conserving natural resources; to providing and maintaining an excellent park system; and to improving hunting and fishing in Texas" (p. 2).
  • If the item has an index, include a statement at the end of the description

Index starts on page 254.

Index starts after page 18.

  • When referring to a company, organization, school, military installation, etc., the abbreviated version of the name can be used, but the full name must appear at least once in the record (preferably the content description or as a keyword).
Photograph of the library on the University of North Texas main campus.

Description: Postcard of buildings at Ft. McIntosh.
Keyword: Fort McIntosh
  • It is not necessary to research the item unless it is believed that outside information is required to understand or locate the item
    • Put information from research in a note instead of the description if it is important for understanding the item but not directly relevant to the content
    • Be sure to cite any information found in research

Note: The chautauqua movement was a "popular U.S. movement in adult education that flourished during the late 19th and early 20th centuries....At first entirely religious in nature, the program was gradually broadened to include general education, recreation, and popular entertainment"

- from Encyclopedia Britannica

  • Regarding contextual information (e.g., about a person or place in an image),
    • Brief amounts of information may be incorporated into the description, particularly if they are relevant to the specific image/item
    • Generally add longer contextual statements (e.g., biographies, history of building ownership, name or location changes, etc.) in a note instead of the description

Description: Portrait of Dr. Elwin L. Skiles, who was president of Hardin-Simmons University from 1966 to 1977. He is visible from the shoulders up and is wearing a dark-colored suit and a tie with diagonal stripes.

Note: Additional biographical description from accompanying information: Ida Loving Turner was a chosen delegate from Texas to represent the Board of Lady Managers at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. She served as Postmistress in Fort Worth; one of the founders of Fort Worth Children's Hospital (now [2018] Cook County Children's Hospital); and thoroughly involved in many other civic endeavors in Fort Worth. The Alma Turner Building in Fort Worth is named after Ida's daughter, Alma.

Other Content Description Examples

Directory of the City of Fort Worth 1905-06.
Content Description: Directory to the city of Fort Worth, Texas includes lists of important institutions and locations as well as address listings for businesses and individuals. Index to Advertisements is on page 5; Table of Contents is on page 8.
The Texas Spring Palace
Content Description: This pamphlet includes a guide to the Texas Spring Palace including particular sites and places in Texas. Additionally, the Texas and Southwestern Railway Guide starts on page 59 with printed timetables for the train schedules.
Digital photograph: [Bull Riding at Cowtown Coliseum]
Content Description: Photograph of a cowboy, wearing a helmet, riding a brown and white bull in an arena. A cowboy in red stands on the floor, off to the left. People watch from the other side of a red fence.
Quilt pieces
Content Description: 39 cotton quilt squares for making pieced quilt; 4 small blocks make up each large one, each small block being composed of 2 triangles and one central arrow-shaped piece.
The Bronco, Yearbook of Hardin-Simmons University, 2007
Content Description: Yearbook for Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas includes photos of and information about the university, student body, professors, and organizations. Name index starts on page 156.
Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 1, Number 1, Spring, 1989
Content Description: Biannual publication “devoted to the rich history of Dallas and North Central Texas” as a way to “examine the many historical legacies–social, ethnic, cultural, political–which have shaped the modern city of Dallas and the region around it” (p. 3). This issue focuses on “Dallas Then, Dallas Now.”
Photograph: Cattle
Content Description: Photograph of cattle on a farm next to a feeder.
[Map showing the geographical location of Fort Worth, Tex. and Rail Roads]
Content Description: Map accompanying the book, The capitalist, or, The city of Fort Worth: a parody on the Mikado. The map shows railroad lines all over the U.S.
Recueil d’opera
Content Description: Collection of opera excerpts in manuscript (in an unidentified hand).
Moving image: Forget Not These Children
Content Description: This film discusses children with mental disabilities and the people and institutions that help them become functioning members of their communities. Schools include: New Lisbon State Colony; Woodbind State Colony; Vinalyn State School; Totowa North Jersey Training School.
World War II poster: making America strong: competitive companies co-operate to produce important instruments for military aircraft.
Content Description: Black and white poster features comic-book style drawings of an industrial worker, managers, and buildings, and a large outline map of the U.S. containing additional text.
Color slide: [Sydney Harbour and Opera House]
Content Description: Photograph of the Sydney Opera House. In the foreground, the harbor and several ships are visible; the buildings of Sydney, Australia are visible in the background behind the opera house.

Element Name: Physical Description

Where Can the Physical Description Information be Found?

  • Physical description comes from physically examining the item including:
    • physical dimensions
    • pagination
    • printing methods or process (tintype, daguerrotype, woodcut, etc.)

How Should the Physical Description be Filled in?

  • Enter physical descriptions including: dimensions, extent, pagination, and related physical and process details
  • When dimensions are given, specify the units, e.g., “cm.” for centimeters or “in.” for inches
  • When possible, follow AACR2 rules including exact punctuation (extent : physical details ; dimensions + accompanying materials)
  • “Extent” should always be included but “Physical details” may be shortened or left out if not apparent and “Dimensions” can be omitted if not available
  • Physical description rules are explained by item type:

Books, pamphlets, and printed sheets

Guideline Example
extent (number of pages)
  • number of (numbered) pages
  • different kinds of pagination (Roman numerals, numbers, etc.) can be separated by commas in the order that they appear
  • if the item does not have page numbers, the page count can be included in brackets
  • numbered pages that do not start at "one" can be expressed as a range
  • folded pamphlets may be described as "1 pamphlet" with an option to include number of pages in parentheses (e.g., if there are numbered panels or pages rather than a single folded sheet)
30 p.

iv, 320 p.

A-M p.

[41] p.

182-536 p.

1 pamphlet (12 p.)
physical details (illustrations within the text, including photographs
  • black and white illustrations
  • colored illustrations
  • important illustrations can be listed alphabetically by type - coats of arms, facsims. (facsimiles), forms, genealogical tables, maps, music, plans, ports. (portraits) - and separated by commas
  • if the item is entirely or mostly illustrations: "all [ill. or type]" or "chiefly [ill. or type]"
: ill.

: col. ill.

: ill. (some col.)

: maps, ports.

: ill., col. maps

: all ill.

: chiefly ports.
  • height in centimeters; always round the number up to the next whole cm.
  • if the width is much less or much more than the height, give: h x w cm.
  • if the text is folded (e.g., a pamphlet) include total dimensions and folded dimensions
; 23 cm.

; 28 x 10 cm.

; 22 x 28 cm., folded to 22 x 10 cm.


[41] p. : ill. ; 18 cm.

680 p. ; 28 cm.

xi, 83 p. : col. ill., maps ; 36 cm.

[3] p. (If the text is not illustrated and the dimensions are unknown, only the number of pages will be in the description.)

1 pamphlet : ill. ; 22 x 28 cm., folded to 22 x 14 cm.

Also see Other Examples.

Photographs and other “graphic” materials

Guideline Example
  • list the number and kind(s) of items: activity card, art original, art print, art reproduction, chart, filmslip, filmstrip, flash card, lip chart, photograph, picture, postcard, poster, radiograph, stereograph, study print, technical drawing, transparency, wall chart
  • Note: for slides, we treat the digital image as a "photograph" since the physical slide is not scanned
1 photograph

2 art prints

1 postcard
physical details
  • include the medium and base for originals (chalk/oil/pastel on board/canvas/fabric, etc.), process of production/reproduction for ints and technical drawings (engraving, lithograph, photogravure, collotype, blueprint, photocopy, etc.)
  • for photographs, include medium, when appropriate, e.g.: positive, negative, glass photonegative, tintype, ambrotype, digital (for born-digital photos only), etc.
  • include notes about colors (col., b&w, sepia, tinted) for all items except art originals, radiographs, and technical drawings
  • when there are only one or two colors, both can be listed, for more than two, use 'col.'
: engraving, tinted

: sepia

: positive, b&w

: col.

: blue and white

: negative, col.
  • give the height x width rounded up to the next whole cm.
  • for standard photograph sizes 'in.' or 'mm.' can be used instead
    • if there are fractions in the standard size, represent them with decimals
    • do not use '.0' for numbers that are not fractions
  • for 'born digital' images, give the size in pixels (px.)
  • if the image is mounted or framed include the image size, followed by the size of the entire item (using the words "on sheet," "in frame," etc.)
; 10 x 14 cm.

; 35 mm.

; 10 x 8 in.

; 1648 x 2464 px.

; 13 x 21 cm., on mat 22 x 27 cm.

; 17 x 22 cm., in frame 21 x 26 cm.

Note: For individual scrapbook pages, use # scrapbook page(s) ; dimensions of whole page in cm.


1 postcard : b&w ; 8 x 13 cm.

1 photograph : positive, col. ; 35 mm.

1 art print : lithograph, b&w ; 21 x 26 cm.

1 photograph : b&w ; 13 x 21 cm., on mat 22 x 27 cm.

1 photograph : hand col. ; 25 x 20 cm.

1 photograph : col.
(In some cases, particularly with born-digital photographs, the dimensions may not be known.)

1 photograph : b&w ; 8 x 6 cm., in folder 10 x 14 cm., folded to 10 x 7 cm.

Also see Other Examples.

Maps and other cartographic materials

Guideline Example
extent (number and kinds of items)
  • when possible, use these terms: atlas, diagram, globe, map, model, profile, remote-sensing image, section, view
  • specify multiple maps or parts
  • for an atlas, include pagination and plates in the same format as texts in parentheses
1 globe

5 maps on 1 sheet

1 atlas (57 p.)
physical details
  • 'physical details' can be added in the following order and separated by commas: layout; production method; number of maps, etc. in an atlas; color; medium; material; mounting
  • layout: 'both sides'
  • production method: includes photocopy, blueline, computer printout, blueprint, white print
  • number of maps, etc. in an atlas: give an exact or approximate (using 'ca.') number of maps, views, etc. in the atlas
  • color: refers only to the color of the map (not outside of it) and can be 'col.', 'some col.', 'hand col.', etc.
  • medium: includes pencil or ink used to draw or color a map (for printed works, this refers to hand-coloring)
  • material: what the map is printed on, if not paper
  • mounting: if the map is mounted, indicate how
: both sides

: blueprint

1 atlas (23 p.) : 14 maps

: hand col.

1 atlas (25 p.) : 20 col. maps, ink

: col., wood

1 globe: col., wood, on brass stand
  • for two dimensional maps round up to the next whole centimeter and give: h x w cm.
  • if the size of the map is significantly different than the page it is printed on (especially if there is text, illustrations, etc. on the sheet outside the map), give the dimensions of both
  • for atlases, give the height in cm.
; 22 x 41 cm.

; 16 x 22 cm., on sheet 28 x 22 cm.

; 45 cm.


1 map : hand col. ; 44 x 60 cm.

3 maps on 1 sheet ; 47 x 77 cm.

1 atlas (30 p.) : some col. ; 52 cm.

Also see Other Examples.

Manuscripts (maps, musical scores, and other documents that are handwritten)

  • Formatting is essentially the same as for books and other texts:
Guideline Example
  • list the number of leaves or pages using brackets when necessary
  • include number of lines or columns in parentheses when applicable
vi, 25 p.

[24] leaves, bound

19 leaves (2 columns, 32-56 lines)
physical details
  • include the material if it is not printed on paper
  • include notes about illustrations in the same way as they are used for text
: col. ill., maps

: vellum, ill.

: parchment, ill., maps
  • give the height rounded up to the next whole cm.
  • include the width if it is much more or less than the height
  • if it is kept folded, include the folded dimensions
; 36 cm.

; 31 x 15 cm.

; 42 x 71 cm., folded to 11 x 16 cm.


60 p. ; 26 cm.

[3] p. : parchment ; 29 cm., folded to 12 x 22 cm.

Also see Other Examples.


Guideline Example
  • list the number of scores or parts (using the terms: score, condensed score, close score, miniature score, piano [violin, etc.] conductor part, vocal score, piano score, chorus score, part)
  • include page numbers when applicable
1 score

1 cello part (5 p.)
physical details
  • include the material if it is not printed on paper
  • include notes about illustrations in the same way as they are used for text
: parchment, col. ill.
  • give the height rounded up to the next whole cm.
  • include the width if it is much more or less than the height
; 36 cm.


1 score ; 31 cm.

1 vocal part (3 p.) ; 28 cm.

1 score : ill. ; 41 cm.

Also see Other Examples.

Sound recordings

Guideline Example
  • list the number and kind(s) of items: sound cartridge, sound cassette, sound disc, sound tape reel, sound track film
  • give playing time in hours (hrs.), minutes (min.), and seconds (sec.) in parentheses (use 'ca.' if it is approximate)
1 sound disc (20 min.)

2 sound reels (1 hr., 4 min.)
physical details
  • include these details in the following order and separated by commas: type of recording; playing speed; groove characteristic (analog discs); track configuration (sound track films); number of tracks (tapes); number of sound channels; recording and reproduction characteristics
: digital

: analog, 33 1/3 rpm
  • give diameter of discs in inches
  • give the gauge (width) of film in millimeters
  • give dimensions of a cartridge in inches (height x width)
; 12 in.

; 4 3/4 in.

; 16 mm.


1 sound disc (56 min.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.

1 recording (1 hr., 3 min., 50 sec.) : digital
(e.g., a born-digital recording)

Also see Other Examples.

Motion pictures and videorecordings

Guideline Example
  • list the number and kind(s) of items: film cartridge, film cassette, film loop, film reel, videocartridge, videocassette, videodisc, videoreel
  • give playing time in hours (hrs.), minutes (min.), and seconds (sec.) in parentheses (use 'ca.' if it is approximate)
1 videodisc (1 hr., 45 min.)

2 film reels (ca. 55 min. each)
physical details
  • include audio details using sd. (sound) or si. (silent)
  • include color details using col. (color) or b&w (black and white)
  • if projection speed is important and non-standard, it can be added using frames per second (fps)
: si., b&w

: sd., col.

: sd., b&w, 25 fps
  • for motion pictures: give gauge (width) in millimeters (mm.), and for 8 mm. state: single, standard, super, or Maurer
  • for videotape: give gauge (width) in inches (in.) or millimeters (mm.)
  • for videodiscs: give diameter in inches (in.)
  • for born-digital recordings: use "digital" and, optionally, include other information in parentheses if important
; standard 8 mm.

; 1/2 in.

; 8 in.

; digital


1 film (28 min.) : sd., b&w ; 16 mm.

1 recording (30 min., 9 sec.) : sd., col. ; digital

Also see Other Examples.

Three-dimensional objects

Guideline Example
  • list the number and kind of items
  • use the terms: art original, art reproduction, braille cassette, diorama, exhibit, game, microscope slide, mock-up, model (if none fit, state the kind of object as concisely as possible)
  • include the number of parts or pieces in parentheses when applicable (use 'various pieces' when it would be difficult to count them)
1 art original

1 pair shoes

1 game (1 board, 80 cards, 2 dice)

1 saucer
physical details
  • include the material if it is known
  • include information about color when it is important: list up to two colors if they are readily known, otherwise use 'col.' (or b&w when appropriate)
  • when including both the material and color, separate the details with a comma
1 pipe: clay

1 model: balsa wood and paper

1 goblet: glass, col.

1 saucer: porcelain, green and white
  • give the height x width x depth rounded up to the next whole cm.
  • if clarification seems necessary, include a word to indicate which dimension is given
  • include the dimensions of a container if applicable
; 20 cm. long

; 18 cm. in diam.

; 26 x 30 x 6 cm.

; 16 x 32 x 3 cm., in case 17 x 34 x 6 cm.


1 magnifying glass : gold, glass, and mother-of-pearl ; 6 x 11 cm.

1 plate : blue and white ; 25 cm.

1 figurine : wood

1 pair glasses : glass and metal ; 12 x 3 cm.

2 candlesticks : brass

1 set of blocks ; in case (3 x 15 x 28 cm.)

1 petticoat : silk

ca. 64 marbles : ceramic

Also see Other Examples.

Accompanying material

  • Accompanying material only refers to multiple pieces included within the same digital object
  • Any time that an item has an additional piece (a book with an audio CD, a score with separate parts, a globe with a teacher’s guide, etc.) the information for the supplementary item can be included at the end of the description for the main item
  • Format the description for the supplement according to the rules for the type of item that it is
  • Separate the description of the main item and each supplementary item with a ‘+’ and use parentheses for additional information:

1 score (35 p.) ; 33 cm. + 4 parts (12 p. ; 30 cm.)

1 globe : col., wood, on metal stand ; 37 cm. in diam. + 1 teacher’s guide (14 p. : ill. ; 20 cm.)

1 score (47 p.) : ill. ; 32 cm. + 2 parts (30 p. each ; 32 cm.)

Other Physical Description Examples

Directory of the City of Fort Worth 1905-06.
Physical Description: 550, vi, 5-38 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
The Texas Spring Palace
Physical Description: [128] p. : ill. ; 23 cm.
Digital photograph: [Bull Riding at Cowtown Coliseum]
Physical Description: 1 photograph : digital, col. ; 1648 x 2464 px.
Quilt pieces
Physical Description: 1 quilt block : cotton ; 21 x 23 cm.
The Bronco, Yearbook of Hardin-Simmons University, 2007
Physical Description: 160 p. : ill. ; 29 cm.
Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 1, Number 1, Spring, 1989
Physical Description: 40 p. ; 26 cm.
Photograph: Cattle
Physical Description: 1 photograph : b&w ; 11 x 7 in.
[Map showing the geographical location of Fort Worth, Tex. and Rail Roads]
Physical Description: 1 map : col. ; 26 x 36 cm.
Recueil d’opera
Physical Description: 1 ms. vocal score ([318] p.) : ill. ; 38 cm.
Forget Not These Children
Physical Description: 1 film (18 min.) : col. ; 16 mm.
World War II poster: making America strong: competitive companies co-operate to produce important instruments for military aircraft.
Physical Description: 1 poster : b&w ; 28 x 36 cm.
Color slide: [Sydney Harbour and Opera House]
Physical Description: 1 photograph : positive, col. ; 35 mm.
Scrapbook pages (depending on content)
Physical Description: 1 scrapbook page ; 33 x 26 cm.
Physical Description: 4 photographs : b&w ; 14 x 8 cm., or smaller, on page 35 x 24 cm.
Physical Description: 1 clipping : ill. ; 19 x 10 cm., on sheet 28 x 22 cm.
Newsletter with continuous pagination
Physical Description: 137-181, iii p. ; 28 cm.
[Funeral Program for Wilbert Charles Sheffield, February 11, 2014]
Physical Description: 1 pamphlet (12 p.) : col. ill. ; 28 cm. + 1 card (col. ill. ; 22 x 14 cm.)
Digital video
Physical Description: 1 recording (4 min., 16 sec.) : sd., col. ; digital (Apple iPhone 6 Plus)
Brochure: Coleto Creek Park and Reservoir
Physical Description: 1 pamphlet : col. ill. ; 23 x 41 cm., folded to 23 x 10 cm.


  • For format (text, image, etc.), use the Format element.
  • Since the physical description element corresponds to the [300] field in the MARC records used by many library catalogs, it is recommended to follow AACR2 rules, when possible/applicable.
  • For our purposes, standard photograph sizes refer to the following:
Prints Negatives
4 x 6 in. 35 mm.
5 x 7 in. 1.375 x 1.625 in. (also known as "sixteenth plate")
8 x 10 in. 6 x 4.5 cm.
11 x 14 in. 2 x 2.5 in. (also known as "ninth plate")
16 x 20 in. 6 x 6 cm.
20 x 24 in. 6 x 7 cm.
24 x 36 in. 2.75 x 3.25 in. (also known as "sixth plate")
  6 x 9 cm.
  3.25 x 4.25 in. (also known as "quarter plate")
  4 x 5 in.
  4.25 x 6.5 in. (also known as "half plate")
  5 x 7 in.
  6.5 x 8.5 in. (also known as "whole plate" or "full plate")
  8 x 10 in.

(Back to photograph physical description rules.)


More Guidelines: