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why RDA

Melissa over at Melissa in Stephensville has a grand new post, “You say you want a revolution“, regarding the current RDA rants and rages on the list servs. And I don’t just like it because of the Beatles reference … but that always helps!

I have been feeling quite dumb of late, not understanding the why of RDA.  It took me a while to understand why we needed to change MARC21 (see previous posts) so perhaps the fault is mine. I am not seeing the big picture but I have been trying. I understand FRBR (or so I think I do) and the new vocabulary. I understand linking. But I don’t understand why RDA is needed. I can see a need for a replacement to MARC21. I can see a need for ILS vendors and Systems people to work with catalogers to understand the vast extent of metadata available for exploitation.  Heck, I can see a need to expand AACR2.  I do not, however, see the why for RDA.

For me, knowing the bigger picture, understanding the why of something, is fairly essential. If I can fit the idea into my existing schema of knowledge, I can link the new information to other information and am able to do my best by it.  For example, knowing that most ILS look  to the fixed fields for dates when limiting a search by year (even though those very same dates are in the variable fields), helps me understand the importance of filling in that information correctly – it also helps me trouble shoot later.  Knowing  that most any liquid can be substituted for milk when making a basic bread helped tremendously when I discovered I was lactose intolerant.  If you tell me the new dress you got has a peter pan collar just like the red shirt you wore on Tuesday, I know exactly what it will look like even though I’d never heard of a “peter pan collar” before.  I guess this is why FRBR made so much sense to me – in my mind I automatically link things and always have.

I’ve attended classes, watched Webcasts, read blogs & list servs (like AutoCat, RDA, NGC4Lib, etc.). I’ve even gone in on the “open access” to examine it. I’ve tried, oh how I’ve tried!  Here are the changes I see with RDA:

  1. No more abbrev. (I had to), that is, unless it is on the item and it is in a transcribed field
  2. No more 245 $h (GMD), instead use the 336, 337, and 338 (Content, Carrier, and Media)
  3. No more ‘rule of three’

uhm…what else?

I’ve heard it said that RDA is a building block, the first essential step.  Why is that? What is the next step? What is the final goal? How will RDA get us a solid base? What are the contingencies? What else is involved?  I am very happy to work on it  but I need to understand why.

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  1. December 8, 2010 at 8:35 am

    Well, my fundamental question for RDA is : How does it benefit the catalog user more than AACR2? If there’s no answer for this, why are we doing all this hubbub?

    I guess it marginally improves access to electronic items, but folks can still discover these objects in the catalog now…

    • December 8, 2010 at 11:54 am

      Exactly Jason. Exactly.

  2. December 8, 2010 at 9:24 am

    “Grand new post.” Ha, thank you. 🙂

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one who can’t figure out what’s supposed to be so great about RDA. I recently put together an email for my library director and several of our librarians that had screenshots of RDA records from the Library of Congress’s catalog. I noted the most prominent changes…and it was all pretty much aesthetics. And yet these changes are supposed to justify the amount of time it will take to learn the completely different organization of RDA (vs. AACR2).

    It’s frustrating to have all this library world focus on RDA and then have a reference librarian come visit me, asking if there is a way to just find all our French fiction, rather than books about French fiction, and have to point her to WorldCat because our own catalog can’t do the kind of search she’s asking for. That particular problem has since been taken care of, imperfectly, but it still boggles my mind that our ILS vendor gives us only two choices for the settings for our language limiter: using all language information in 041 and 008 as if it meant the same thing (our original setting – which meant books that we owned in English but that were translations of French works were retrieved when a catalog search was limited to “French”) and using only the information in the 008 (bilingual books, DVDs in one language but subtitled in other languages, etc. – all kinds of lovely stuff that can’t be properly handled by just one language code).

    THAT is not a problem that RDA could solve. And every ILS has its…quirks. If MARC 21 makes something impossible or outrageously difficult for a programmer to make use of, then MARC 21 should be fixed. Then ILS vendors should provide systems that are at least capable of using the data we catalogers create. After we have ruled MARC 21 and ILSs out as the root cause of a particular problem, then we can see about changing cataloging rules.

    • December 8, 2010 at 12:00 pm

      Tis a grand post (so I had Irish cream in the coffee today, so what?)! Thankfully more and more seem to be speaking out about RDA, there are names on list servs that I have never seen (there is a core group that often posts but lately posts are coming from outside that group).

      I agree, the ILS needs to be fixed. We desperately need systems that actually use the data we so painstakingly input. I have ranted about that and would happily work on such an ILS as a consultant – showing and explaining to the programmers where things and what is available. Happily. Ecstatically. I’d be pleased to work on core standards for ILS…I’d even volunteer my own time!

      The problems I hear on the lists have to do with MARC and not AACR2, even responses I see on the lists asking “what does RDA do for us” are showing MARC examples of repairs and not AACR2.


  3. December 8, 2010 at 10:53 am

    I completely agree with this, and I have still not found any adequate replies either. Naturally, the practice of cataloging and the catalogs themselves must change, but not in the sense of changing the cataloging rules. Does anybody out there *really believe* that it will make one iota of difference to any of our patrons if we use 336,7,8 fields instead of 245$h, or spell out abbreviations (!?), or change the rule of 3? In this last case, people may notice that the number of new records is going down because of the additional authority work catalogers will have to make.

    There are definite arguments to not gog with RDA however: splitting the library world and their records at a very inopportune moment; possibly squandering the remaining good-will of librarianship by promising “new and wonderful” possibilities that RDA will allow so that the upper echelons will pay for the retraining, etc. and then *nobody notices anything different at all*. These would be serious consequences.

    Much of this reminds me of times in my own life when I *really haven’t wanted* to begin some highly important task that I know will be stressful and difficult, and I find myself doing other things that I’ve been putting off for years, such as clearing out the closets, or cleaning behind book shelves or something. Suddenly, I think: “What am I doing? I’ve got to start in on this task!” By doing these other tasks, I have realized that I am just putting off the inevitable.

    I suspect what we are going through with RDA is similar: there are deep and massive changes catalogs and catalogers must undertake, and instead of starting in, they concern themselves with abbreviations and other trivial points of no real concern.

    • December 8, 2010 at 12:04 pm

      I have to wonder if perhaps this has gotten to the point of not wanting to turn back based on the amount of work so far – or just not seeing you CAN turn back. Sort of like when my niece told a lie to get out of doing something, even after pointing out there was no way an elephant could have messed up her room (she was 4), she stuck to it and worked her way to deeper and deeper trouble.
      I like your work James on the Cooperative Cataloging Rules. I think this is a good model that we should, as a group, look towards adopting. The world has been heading in the “cooperative” way for some time – Open Library, Wikipedia, even Library Thing!

  4. December 8, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Why RDA. Why is it an important first step. How is it different. These are all important questions, and I’ve been trying for some time to articulate my response to them.

    In a sentence: RDA is fundamentally different in it’s approach to describing materials/resources/things/[insert pithy term here].

    OK. Now to explain what that sentence actually means.

    AACR2 bases description on format. Each chapter is format based, with the idea that constructing a record for an item in that format is spelled out in that chapter. It’s based on physical (tangible) formats. This is great, except where this process/model breaks down when things don’t fit neatly into one chapter. This is how AACR2 fails me on a daily basis. This is why AACR2 does not work for me anymore. This is why AACR2 is not sustainable as we move forward.

    I largely work with web resources. So I have online books. Online videos. Online videos that are issued as serials. All of these things require me to review and cross reference and flip back and forth like an insane woman in AACR2 from chapter to chapter. The first and second examples both require using 2 chapters. The third example requires I use THREE distinct chapters in AACR2 to fully describe the thing I’m looking at since the format determines how the thing is described. This is not efficient.

    RDA, by contrast, doesn’t worry what format the thing is in. It takes that out and puts it in as part of the description (carrier), but it’s not the decision factor for *how* you describe the thing. There is no having to cross reference multiple chapters. It walks you through the key pieces you need to UNIQUELY IDENTIFY the thing/resource/whatever. There is a baseline consistency, visible even within AACR2, of the elements required to uniquely identify something. So by pulling that out and making that the focus rather than the format, RDA is a basic fundamental shift away from AACR2 in it’s approach.

    This is a different way of thinking about describing materials. But at the core, the GOAL of RDA is no different than that of AACR2. The core of both is to make things findable and identifiable for the user. Where they differ is in their APPROACH to doing that.

    Additionally, RDA begins to cultivate the relationships between things in a much more robust way than AACR2. And in the world of the web, relationships are key and integral to everything (think linked data/semantic web). I’m still exploring that so I can’t really say much more at this point about relationships. It’s all still a bit fuzzy to me.

    So, for me, that’s the “why” piece of RDA. RDA isn’t perfect or complete, but then that wasn’t the goal of the people developing it. They wanted it to be dynamic. So it’s not perfect, but in my opinion, it’s an important first step.

    • December 8, 2010 at 5:20 pm

      Thanks Shana – you’ve given me much to think about. I can see your point about the format structure of AACR2 – the chapters are based on format. So – why would we not just add chapters on new formats as developed? Or am I missing the larger picture still? Probably! Let me mull over this tonight.
      Thank you very much for the down-to-earth description and detail. You make lots of sense here, I just need to digest and see if I can fit it.

      • December 8, 2010 at 6:25 pm

        Send me an email if you need clarification or have questions about anything. 🙂 We’re all still figuring this out and it’s overwhelming, as James W. so eloquently put it in his comment. The only way we’re going to be able to move forward is if we ask questions and help each other learn.

      • December 9, 2010 at 8:20 am

        Thanks again Shana. I will be doing that and will likely post my thoughts again later after discussion. As you can see in my previous posts I do acknowledge changes of conviction and revise my own thinking based on new input or insights gained. Again, I really appreciate your thoughtful, concise and layman terminology in your post. I grow weary of the accusations and attacks that occur when these discussions erupt. Inevitabily a Pro-RDA will yell Pro-AACR2s fear change. Then the Pro-AACR2 will throw out that no one is listening anyway. I have read many of the articles written at the time of The Change from AACR to AACR2 and yes, I can see many of the same worries are being repeated. However, back when we moved from AACR to AACR2 libraries were enjoying a bounty of support and $$$ – they were also (many) moving from cards to electronic which made the transition much easier and more cost-effective. This is not so true today.

        Open communications and open minds (on both sides) are needed. Clearly.

  1. January 6, 2011 at 10:49 am
  2. February 25, 2011 at 9:30 am
  3. June 26, 2014 at 9:31 am

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