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Open discussion of RDA, RDA Toolkit, and related topics
  • 1.  Terminology: "element supertype / subtype"

    Posted Jul 14, 2021 10:27 AM
    I know what "super-elements" and "sub-elements" are. But can somebody please explain what "element supertype" and "element subtype" mean, or rather, where the difference is to an ordinary case of broader and narrower element?

    For example,  "creator person of work" has various narrower elements (e.g. , "author person" or "artist person"), but is not called an element supertype. On the other hand, the element "sound characteristic" has various narrower elements (e.g., "playing speed") and is explicitly called an "element supertype".

    The glossary isn't helpful here. It explains that "element supertype" is "a broader category of an element". But I would have said that this is also true for "creator person of work" vs. "author person". Also, the glossary adds "Use for: broader element", which implies that both have the same meaning. So, if they are the same, why have two different terms?

    Also, because of the "use for", I would expect only the term "element supertype" to be used in the Toolkit. But this is obviously not the case, as under related elements, it always says "For broader elements, see ..." (regardless of whether the broader element is called an element supertype or not).

    Probably I just cannot see the forest for the trees. But the only thing I've come up with so far is the idea that perhaps in practice you should rather use the subtypes instead of the supertype. However, I can easily imagine situations where one gets metadata from a non-library agency which may not be as granular as the subtypes are. Also, there are various options for recording sound characteristics in the Toolkit, so it doesn't seem to be forbidden to record information on the level of this element.


    Heidrun Wiesenmüller
    Stuttgart Media University

  • 2.  RE: Terminology: "element supertype / subtype"

    Posted Jul 15, 2021 09:39 AM
    Since the RDA glossary includes both "broader element, see element supertype" and "narrower element, see element subtype", I'd guess that the continued presence of "broader element" and "narrower element" in RDA is an oversight. They should be replaced by "element supertype" and "element subtype." I doubt there's a distinction intended between "broader element" and an "element supertype."

    Heidrun also mentions "super-element" and "sub-element," which are making a different distinction. The super-element aggregates sub-elements, e.g., the Manifestation super-element "publication statement" aggregates the Manifestation sub-elements "place of publication," "name of publisher," and "date of publication." An aggregating super-element is not the same as a broader element supertype. My guess is that the three more specific Manifestation elements would only be referred to as "sub-elements" when they are aggregated by the super-element Manifestation: publication statement.


    Stephen Hearn, Metadata Strategist
    Data Management & Access, University Libraries
    University of Minnesota
    170A Wilson Library (office)
    160 Wilson Library (mail)
    309 19th Avenue South
    Minneapolis, MN 55455
    Ph: 612-625-2328
    Fx: 612-625-3428
    ORCID:  0000-0002-3590-1242

  • 3.  RE: Terminology: "element supertype / subtype"

    Posted Jul 15, 2021 09:59 AM
    Thanks,  Stephen!

    I must say I'm not yet convinced that it is a mere oversight. Because up to now, whenever I thought "This must surely be a mistake in the new Toolkit!" it was later explained to me that I was wrong and things were indeed intended exactly that way ;-)

    Also, what bothers me is that there is an explicit information "This element is an element supertype." on certain element pages, but not on others which also have narrower elements.

    Yes, "super-element" and "sub-element" are something quite different: My interpretation is that here we have a whole-part relationship, i.e. the sub-elements together make up the super-element. But it is certainly a little confusing to have two very similar looking terminology pairs (or rather, three pairs, as there is also "entity supertype" vs. "entity subtype"). I also wonder why one pair is spelled with hyphens and the others aren't, but of course I'm not a native speaker.


    Heidrun Wiesenmüller
    Stuttgart Media University

  • 4.  RE: Terminology: "element supertype / subtype"

    Posted Jul 20, 2021 10:18 AM
    Hello again,

    Maybe I'm just unlucky and everybody who could explain the terms "element supertype / subtype" and how these differ from "broader / narrower element" is on holiday at present. But when after five days there was only one response to my question (thanks again, Stephen!), speculating that it might just be an oversight, it seems to me that a clarification might be in order.

    So may I, very respectfully, suggest that the RSC review this terminology and verify that it is really necessary?

    If it isn't, it could simply be dropped. But if it is, then it would be good to make the meaning of these terms clearer (either in the glossary or at some other suitable place in the official Toolkit). 

    Many thanks in advance.


    Prof. Heidrun Wiesenmueller M.A.
    Stuttgart Media University
    Nobelstrasse 10, 70569 Stuttgart, Germany

    Heidrun Wiesenmüller
    Stuttgart Media University

  • 5.  RE: Terminology: "element supertype / subtype"

    Posted Jul 20, 2021 02:24 PM
    Heidrun and all,

    "Narrower element" is a cross reference to the preferred term "element subtype," and "narrower entity" is a cross reference to "entity subtype" in the RDA Glossary. Similarly, "broader element" is a cross reference to "element supertype" and "broader entity" is a cross reference to "entity supertype."

    These cross references were added around a year ago following an RSC discussion of exactly this issue. At the time, the group decided that RDA should retain these "two names for the same thing" as a transitional device--but the group also felt that narrower and broader should be phased out later in favor of consistent (and preferred) terminology. Maybe that time is now??  Best -- Linda

    Linda Barnhart
    Secretary, RDA Steering Committee

  • 6.  RE: Terminology: "element supertype / subtype"

    Posted Jul 21, 2021 01:52 PM


    Many thanks for shedding light on this issue. So now we know for sure that there is no distinction intended between „broader element / narrower element" and „element supertype / element subtype". This is very helpful. 

    Experts in the German-speaking community came across this question while working on our future cataloging handbook. What made it even more confusing to us was the fact that the subtypes are listed as an option under prerecording (e.g., for Manifestation: sound characteristic) . This makes these elements stand out much more prominently than if they are just given as narrower elements at the bottom of the page. Also, isn't the information presented redundantly in these cases?

    Let me also thank you for sharing the discussion within the RSC. Personally, I think that terms should be used consistently in a cataloging standard--the same thing should always be called by the same name. However, I would much prefer to keep „broader element / narrower element". Not only is this easier to understand, but there is also a risk that „element supertype / element subtype" would often be confused with „superelement / subelement".

    I wonder what exactly was the argument against „broader / narrower element"? To me, this is perfectly acceptable terminology and not in any way dated. We're all familiar with broader and  narrower terms from the thesaurus, and I believe this terminology is even based on an ISO norm. And while it's true that „sub-type" appears in the LRM a couple of times (both as a noun and as a verb), „super-type" doesn't. So I don't think it's absolutely necessary to use this wording for RDA.

    Well, I'll certainly be on the lookout for changes in this area.


    Heidrun Wiesenmüller
    Stuttgart Media University

  • 7.  RE: Terminology: "element supertype / subtype"

    Posted Jul 21, 2021 02:13 PM

    I agree with Heidrun. There's no reason to replace a well-known and understood term with a new one that needs explanation and discussion to be understood.




    Robert L. Maxwell
    Ancient Languages and Special Collections Librarian
    6728 Harold B. Lee Library
    Brigham Young University
    Provo, UT 84602