Saturday, October 31, 2009

New Post in NGC4LIB

I discussed some the Cooperative Cataloging Rules Wiki in the NGC4LIB email list. You can read it at;Ml0AuQ;20091030150755%2B0100, and the copy on my own blog at

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


You may be interested to see the wide-ranging discussion on Cooperative Cataloging Rules, and related topics going on at NGC4LIB. Take a look at the topics: Cooperative Cataloging Rules Announcement, User tasks--outdated? Why?, and Tim Berners-Lee on the Semantic Web.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Re: [NGC4LIB] Cooperative Cataloging Rules Announcement

On Mon, 19 Oct 2009 09:53:04 -0400, .. wrote:

>I have a question and a comment.
>You suggest that FRBR is obsolete, but that AACR2 is revisable. So, my
>question is: Why do you think a 31-year old standard, AACR2 (1978) can
>be updated, but not an 11-year old standard, FRBR (1998)?

Thanks for some good questions. I'll try to answer them:

FRBR is a theoretical framework, not a standard. It purports to define what
makes a bibliographic record functional, or not. FRBR states that for a
record to function, it must allow people to "find, identify, select, and
obtain" "works, expressions, manifestations and items." It was never tested
among the non-library community (that I know of) and what it says is
certainly highly dubious in today's world, which has new tools that were
completely unknown in the 1990s, e.g. pre-Google, pre-Web2.0. In my own
opinion, what FRBR actually does is to describe the library-centric view of
the information universe as it stood in the 1990s. (But I reiterate that I
am not finding fault with anyone. Nobody could have predicted the explosion
that has occurred) Also, and this is very important: the public likes the
new tools and prefers them to ours in many, many ways. Ever newer tools
appear every day and we are living through a time of tremendous creativity,
innovation and ferment in the information world. With the Google Books
project and the popularity of open access plus new projects, we undoubtedly
are in for even more change, e.g. see the latest in
We may be looking at a time, perhaps very soon, a time period measured in
months instead of decades, when someone can get a bachelor's degree without
ever setting foot into a library. How much longer will it be before they can
get a master's, or PhD? I don't think too many people will maintain that it
can never happen and perhaps it will come much sooner than we can imagine
right now.

AACR2 is a well-established standard that has been continually updated both
with published revisions and the LCRIs, so it does not really date from
1978. Actually, it's FRBR that has not been updated. Although there is a
theoretical framework operating in the background, AACR2 itself is not
theoretical but a highly practical document, and does not talk about record
structure or anything like that; it tells you what information is important
and how to input it.

>Back in May, Tom Delsey, the editor of RDA, gave a presentation on
>AACR2/RDA at a CLA pre-conference. He stated that a lot of the content
>(of AACR2) hasn't changed. Rather the main change of RDA was structural
>(based on FRBR). Maybe retraining will be less cumbersome than we think
>if we emphasize the continuity of the two codes.

This is my understanding as well. Therefore, if things are changing so
little, and retraining will be minimal (essentially learning how to navigate
the reorganized rules and learning new rule numbers, which means that all
local documentation will have to change as well), it is natural to ask: why
do it at all? While our day-to-day work will definitely be disrupted and
made more expensive with online subscriptions, what difference will it make
to our users? Exactly what will someone be able to do with a record created
in RDA that they cannot do today? Will RDA make it easier to get
bibliographic records from other entities? Does RDA create anything that
people want and is worth the cost?

Library catalogs (and consequently, I submit, libraries themselves) are
facing very, very hard times indeed. Especially when there are free
alternatives out there that people like and prefer at the same time as we
are facing e ver-dwindling resources.

My library, and many others out there, simply cannot pay for retraining and
the subscriptions to the online RDA. It's that simple. Therefore, there is
no choice for these libraries: they absolutely cannot implement RDA. In
I personally have very strong theoretical objections as to its
ultimate value to our library users or to librarians in general. That's why
I looked around for a genuine choice and found the Cooperative Cataloging
Rules, which provides the choice for libraries who cannot, or prefer not to
implement RDA.

While we must change, it must be in new directions that promise cooperation
and high-standards, and we make must be relevant to our patrons. I think
there are many things we can do in this new world, and most ways are very
inexpensive, but major decisions have to be made, e.g. do I put my data on
the web for free in useful formats for free download and further use by the
world? I confess that I find this potentially disturbing, as Tim Berners-Lee
describes his view of things, where people will take your data and rework it
in all kinds of ways they like. Still, while I may find it disturbing, that
is just the price of admission to the world-of-information-as-it-is-becoming
(apologies to Kant!).

Does this answer your questions?

Jim Weinheimer

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Official Announcement

Well, I've announced it. Here it is:

Everyone knows the information world has been changing in response to the revolution in information technology and it is changing at an ever increasing pace. Many of our patrons have discovered they prefer to use non-library tools to find, access, and use information in ways that could not have been imagined only 15 years ago. It seems natural to ask: What can be the role of library catalogs, and even of librarians themselves, in a future that is so difficult to predict and that threatens to leave them behind? Today it is amazing how quickly, easily, and inexpensively computers can generate cataloging information (or metadata); new, advanced algorithms attached to full-text searching have proven very popular with the general populace. While the power of these tools is undeniable, information experts can see quite clearly how these same tools can quietly hide information as well, but such arguments can be extremely subtle.

In the field of metadata creation, it would be futile to compete only in the areas of speed and quantity. Our advantages lie in the high quality and the standards of the metadata we create, but since our patrons are finding other tools highly useful and in many cases, prefer them to our own, we must reconsider very precisely what the terms "quality" and "standards" mean in today's environment; an environment that is truly shared and where our patrons can easily access materials that are completely outside a library's control. While we can agree that productivity must increase--and increase a lot--how can we ensure that quality and standards do not suffer? How can we take advantage of some of that metadata that is generated automatically, or the metadata created by other bibliographic communities, so that we can improve the final products of all of our work and give our patrons tools they really want and need?

Our new website attempts to find answers to some of these questions. The "Cooperative Cataloging Rules" is now available at We want to announce its existence and to put out a general request for professional metadata creators to participate. The site has two primary purposes: 1) to offer a serious alternative to RDA and 2) to offer a place for sharing bibliographic concepts within the general metadata community.

1) Alternative to RDA

Many in the library cataloging community have expressed serious reservations about the wisdom of implementing RDA. They feel that while it will cause upheavals in the day to day work of catalogers, RDA will not solve the truly serious problems facing the cataloging community. These issues have been discussed in many places, including the published literature and many library email lists. We will not attempt to summarize the arguments here, but will merely state that the adoption of RDA is highly controversial.

Add to this the serious budgetary problems almost all libraries are now facing, and it turns out the costs of retooling, retraining, rewriting local documentation, plus online subscriptions, make implementation of RDA beyond the abilities of many libraries, especially for an untested product.

Still, libraries have legitimate concerns. They fear the old rules will no longer be maintained and updated, therefore, they in essence have no choice except to adopt RDA because if they don't, they will remain forever stuck in the year 2009 (or 2010 or so, whenever RDA comes out).

This is where the "Cooperative Cataloging Rules" step in. It will build on the richness of the Library of Congress Rule Interpretations, which have been placed into a wiki for searching and further development. There are links into each rule of the International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD). We also have an international group of cataloging experts willing to become involved in this effort. It still needs the participation of many more cataloging experts.

Speaking for myself, I embark upon this course with great hesitation since I have tremendous respect and appreciation for my colleagues who have labored so diligently over the creation of RDA. Nevertheless, having said this I must also take a stand and say that my library is not in a position to implement RDA, and I know there are many other libraries out there in the same predicament. We cannot afford the costs of retraining, retooling, online subscriptions and other unforeseen costs that inevitably arise in a huge project such as this. While I believe that it is vitally important that traditional library cataloging adapt in answer to the changes in society and knowledge exchange, I have grave doubts whether RDA actually achieves this: does RDA provide either to libraries or to library patrons what they want and need? I think not, and many others share that opinion.

For these reasons, alternatives must be found and with the Cooperative Cataloging Rules, there is one. All that librarians need do is retain their current copies of AACR2, supplemented by the LCRIs, but now these excellent, tried-and-true rules can continue to develop in a genuinely cooperative, global manner.

In short, we are interested in giving libraries a real choice, plus we want to give concerned catalogers a voice in the future of our profession.

Since nothing like this has ever been attempted before, it is difficult to predict how it will develop. That it can work, I personally have no doubt, since we have examples of several successful open source projects before us. At this point, I foresee something similar to the development of the Linux operating system applied to library standards.

Whether it will work is another matter entirely but we can try our best.

In this part of the project, emphasis should be placed on practical matters. We should not get bogged down by major theoretical debates.

There is another place for that.

2) The Conceptual Outline

The second purpose of the The Cooperative Cataloging Rules is to try to establish a common conceptual ground with other metadata communities so that we can begin to understand one another. This is in anticipation of the time when different communities will genuinely share their metadata in a coherent fashion and perhaps in ways that we cannot imagine at this point in time. If we are serious about wanting to share information and cooperate, it cannot be a one-way street. While others need to understand libraries and library needs, we need to understand other communities and their needs. To take only one example, while superficially the same, the edition information in an ONIX record and edition information in a record following AACR2 can be quite different conceptually, leading to great confusion among all concerned. Add to this all of the newly appearing varieties of digital resources that are updated continually, with shared annotations, and the very idea of an edition becomes hard to pin down. If we wish to cooperate, it is vitally important that people try to understand one another. In the Cooperative Cataloging Rules, there is a place for such a discussion.

Before everyone can begin to work together, there needs to be an understanding of what others are doing, and this is especially important for those working at the practical, everyday level, not only for those at the top. This section of the Cooperative Cataloging Rules attempts to provide an area for the sharing and exchange of bibliographic concepts, with the emphasis on "cooperative." Currently, I have used the ISBD areas as the foundation for this conceptual framework, but this will probably change quickly.

Just as in the other section, it is impossible at this point in time to know how it will develop, or even if there will be any interest at all, although I suspect there will be. Yet, if the effort is never made, we will also never know if it could succeed. Although we want everyone to be able to see the site and link to it freely, at least at this point we want only professional catalogers and metadata creators to make changes to the pages, although we think anyone should be able to make comments.

This can also be a place to share other useful information. At the moment, I confess these are primarily links into my own creations. For example, I added a link to a page I made that I find indispensable, called “Latest Library News” which keeps me up to date on library concerns, and others may find it useful as well. There are links to specific cataloging guides. For example, I included the “Slavic Cataloging Manual,” that I created originally, gave to ACRL, and is now maintained at Indiana University. I have also made links to other manuals that I worked on at Princeton University, but I have added additional pages that have been useful to me, from the University of Buffalo on DVDs and Streaming Video. There is a link to J. McRee Elrod’s excellent Cataloguing Cheat Sheets, but of course there are many, many other wonderful guides as well and I hope that this site may even be an incentive to create new and innovative cataloging guides for sharing.

Since metadata has become such an important concern, a project of metadata standards being developed in an open manner seems inevitable sooner or later, and we feel it is important for librarians and catalogers to be involved as deeply as possible. Otherwise, all of these important developments will take place without us.

This project can only work with your help. Remember, this is not my project--I am only playing the role of initiator. Please consider participating! Go to, click on "Join and Get Involved!" and follow the instructions.

And please be patient, especially at first, since this is a new initiative and bugs will have to be worked out.

James Weinheimer
Director of Library and Information Services
The American University of Rome
Rome, Italy