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 http://sites.google.com/site/opencatalogingrules/. 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 http://sites.google.com/site/opencatalogingrules/, 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