Relator Terms

What are “relator terms” and how are they used with personal names to enhance searching?

A relator term clarifies the relationship between a name and the work with which it is associated. These terms are more often used with non-print materials, such as music or film, than for book cataloging.


  • 700 1_ Mozart Wolfgang Amadeus, $d 1756-1791, $e composer.
  • 700 1_ Van Peebles, Melvin, $d 1932-, $e director.
  • 700 1_ Hecht, Ben, $d 1893-1964, $e writing, $e direction, $e production.

Some institutions or catalogers of rare collections also user relator terms in book cataloging.


  • 700 1_ Cary, Henry, Francis, $d 1772-1884, $e translator.
  • 700 1_ Smith, Zadie, $e editor.

Subfield $e relator terms are sometimes abbreviated (e.g., tr. for translator or ed. for editor). This is done at the discretion of the cataloger.
There is also a MARC21 list of relator codes, which serve the same function as relator terms. These codes are three-character lowercase alphabetic strings. In most cases they consist of the first letter of the first word of the relator term followed by two additional letters derived from the word(s) making up the relator term. They appear in a subfield $4.


  • 100 1_ Columbus, Christopher. $4 aut
  • 100 1_ Cox, Ida, $d 1889-1967. $4 ive
  • 700 1_ Galway, James. $4 prf $4 cnd

A sampling of MARC21 relator codes follows:

  • cmp Composer
  • cnd Conductor
  • ctg Cartographer
  • drt Director
  • ill Illustrator
  • mus Musician
  • nrt Narrator
  • prf Performer
  • pro Producer
  • scl Sculptor
  • trl Translator

The full list can be found in the MARC Code List for Relators, Sources, Description Conventions.
Codes are employed in cataloging more frequently than relator terms. This is because the codes provide a standardized format that can be ready by computer software and used across languages, thus allowing for an international exchange of information. The relator terms that appear in subfield $e are not standardized but are still useful in that they can be easily interpreted by the user.

Use of Relator Terms in Searching

If a cataloging record contains relator terms and the OPAC can search and/or sort by these terms, a patron can perform a refined search using the terms. For example, a search for Clint Eastwood as a director will pull up a list of the movies that he directed by not those in which he performed as an actor only. Likewise, one can search for a person’s name in his or her role as an editor, a Festschrift honoree, etc. (Note that not all OPACs are capable of searching or sorting by the relator subfields $e and $4.
Relator terms and relator codes should become more importance once Resource Description and Access (RDA), the new cataloging rules, take effect. These rules put much more emphasis on the relationships between persons/corporate bodies and the work in hand.

For more information, consult the MARC21 Format for Bibliographic Data, the MARC Code List for Relators, Sources, Description Conventions, the RDA Web site and Relator Terms for Use in Rare Book and Special Collections Cataloging from the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of ACRL.

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