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Common usage as warrant in bibliographic description

Brian Dobreski (School of Information Sciences, University of Tennessee Knoxville, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 9 October 2019

Issue publication date: 7 January 2020




Within standards for bibliographic description, common usage has served as a prominent design principle, guiding the choice and form of certain names and titles. In practice, however, the determination of common usage is difficult and lends itself to varying interpretations. The purpose of this paper is to explore the presence and role of common usage in bibliographic description through an examination of previously unexplored connections between common usage and the concept of warrant.


A brief historical review of the concept of common usage was conducted, followed by a case study of the current bibliographic standard Resource Description and Access (RDA) employing qualitative content analysis to examine the appearances, delineations and functions of common usage. Findings were then compared to the existing literature on warrant in knowledge organization.


Multiple interpretations of common usage coexist within RDA and its predecessors, and the current prioritization of these interpretations tends to render user perspectives secondary to those of creators, scholars and publishers. These varying common usages and their overall reliance on concrete sources of evidence reveal a mixture of underlying warrants, with literary warrant playing a more prominent role in comparison to the also present scientific/philosophical, use and autonomous warrants.


This paper offers new understanding of the concept of common usage, and adds to the body of work examining warrant in knowledge organization practices beyond classification. It sheds light on the design of the influential standard RDA while revealing the implications of naming and labeling in widely shared bibliographic data.



Dobreski, B. (2020), "Common usage as warrant in bibliographic description", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 76 No. 1, pp. 49-66.



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