Wednesday, February 24, 2010

RDA, AACR2 and a simple, commonsense implementation plan

I sent this posting to Autocat, in response to Alan Danskin, Chair, Joint Steering Committee for Development of RDA
Dear Alan,

Thank you so much for your answers, but the main question still has not been addressed:

You state: "In developing RDA JSC established guiding objectives and principles, including the objective of consistency, which we defined as follows, "The data should be amenable to integration into existing databases (particularly those developed using AACR and related standards)." This consistency helps to control the burden of training and will reduce the impact of implementation on productivity. Future changes are planned to bring RDA closer into alignment with international principles and standards, but it was agreed with constituencies to take a gradual approach rather than making all of the changes at once."

While I understand and sympathize with this sentiment, I still do not see how the adoption of any RDA rule, or collection of rules, that I have seen will change the situation in a more forward looking way. Which rules will do this? Elimination of the rule of three? Changes in the abbreviations? Using "place of publication not identified"? Changing from "Selections" to "Works. Selections."? These look to me like mere changes in procedures that are neither positive nor negative. In fact, in general I do not understand how changing any cataloging rule, i.e. a guideline on input for describing and/or arranging resources for later retrieval, could have that much of an impact on our user communities. Getting rid of the rule of three will most probably have an impact on cataloging productivity, but I doubt if any patrons will even notice it because they don't understand the rule of three in the first place. Certainly they will not notice any other of the current changes, except for the administrators of our budgets who will notice when they decide whether or not to pay to retrain catalogers and rewrite the current local cataloging documentation to refer to the new rules. Plus, the administrators will have to decide whether or not to pay for online subscriptions to RDA *on an ongoing basis*.

On the other hand, sharing our data in accessible formats (i.e. non-MARC) and enabling URI linking to authority records could make a huge difference to our user community. Look what happened already with the CERN library that simply let their catalog records out and within just a couple of days, people were using them in innovative ways. Just think what people could do with our stuff! There are many things that the cataloging community could do right now that would make a difference to our patrons.

"AD: While we all look forward to the day when funding is not under threat, experience suggests it would be a mistake to sit on our hands until it arrives. The underlying business model for resource description is changing and RDA is part of the adjustment libraries are making in response to that change."

This is difficult to answer. If there simply is not enough money, there will be no choice for many libraries. They simply *cannot* adopt RDA even if they want to because the funding does not and will not exist. I personally do not see any advantage in RDA over AACR2 aside from ethereal statements such as: "JSC would contend that this is the most exciting aspect of RDA development. RDA is based on the FRBR and FRAD models with a focus towards the semantic web and its use of linked data. Aligning RDA with these models positions us to benefit from future convergence of the conceptual models for the different sectors within the domain of resource description," which, while I am sure you and the JSC are sincere, such a statement is exceedingly vague and unsatisfying.

I would like to close this by once again emphasizing that I have the greatest respect and appreciation for all the work everyone has done on RDA. I understand it has been a massive undertaking by some of the best minds in cataloging in the world. But at some point, if a person honestly thinks something is seriously wrong, that person has to stand up and say that we are going down the wrong road and therefore we must find another path.

Libraries need a real choice and that is the reason why some concerned librarians have put forward the Cooperative Cataloging Rules to provide an alternative that would promote consistency with current practice as well as providing a forum for continued development. For more information on the initiative, see:

James Weinheimer


  1. I'm just catching up on RDA developments and on this blog, so I probably shouldn't comment until I read through things more thoroughly ;-) but here goes ... I agree with your overall points here, but I have a quibble with this statement: "Getting rid of the rule of three will most probably have an impact on cataloging productivity, but I doubt if any patrons will even notice it because they don't understand the rule of three in the first place."

    I agree that patrons, and most non-cataloguing librarians, don't understand (or know about) the rule of 3. I don't think that means the rule, or its demise, has no effect on them--the rule of 3 limits access, quite simply, and that access will be limited whether patrons understand the rule or not. Similarly, even if they don't know that RDA brought about the demise of the rule, they would have better access-by-author to works that include entries for--or at least transcription of--the names of all creators.

    The dropping of the rule of 3 is about the only thing I've seen in RDA so far that makes sense and is a significant improvement, in my opinion. And it's so simple that it should be quite easy for AACR2 amendments to say "rule of 3: it's optional now!" without all the RDA folderol.

    You are absolutely right that what we need from RDA--or from *something*--is not fiddling about with simple changes like this but, as you say, "sharing our data in accessible formats (i.e. non-MARC) and enabling URI linking to authority records." Something really significant and useful.

  2. Thanks for your comment. You make a good point about added access, but my point was that people won't even notice the difference. I honestly do not think that they will think "I am getting more access today than I did before." They may find it more useful or they may not.

    I have addressed your point in another post on alcts-eforum and I posted a copy on my own blog at