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why RDA, revisited

Shana (see comments on my why RDA post) wrote an erudite and thoughtful post on why we must move to RDA.  She said,

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

then went on to explain what she meant. Basically, the big switch for RDA is to reformulate or restructure the rules into a format-neutral structure.  That is, instead of referring to “chapter X of AACR2” when you are dealing with a book or sound recording, you would deal instead with the actual elements involved in the description. Whaaaatttt?   RDA is looking more at the individual things that build up the record, such as looking up the title element or the author (main/added entry) element or whatever rather than each chapter devoted to a format such as Monograph or Sound Recording.

Shana and I continued this conversation via email, if I get this wrong please blame me.  I asked if my interpretation above was a fair description. She said it was and we discussed the idea that RDA is the description of what you put in the “container” (such as MARC or Dublin Core, etc.). The idea, Shana explained, is to separate out the rules from the container. That would be like [my example], a stop sign is a stop sign regardless of if you are driving a car, a motorcycle or a bicycle. It still means STOP.

Going back to RDA, we have some relatively minor changes such as the rule of three, abbrev. and such.  The big switch is to change the format and the language of cataloging. J. McRee (Mac) Elrod has written a fantastic guide, Major RDA Changes From AACR2 By MARC Field, about the specific changes. 

I also read Jonathan Rochkind’s post RE: Straight Jacket? on the RDA-L list serv. This makes sense to me. Jonathan addresses the way “MARC serves as our ‘data vocabulary’ and even our rules for entry in many cases come either from MARC itself or are formulated in terms of marc fields“.  Exactly.  Jonathan points out that the switch to RDA is an attempt to separate out the data vocabulary and entry guidelines.  Basically, pulling the two apart so we can restructure.

And, I listened to the ALCTS session “FRBR as a Foundation for RDA” by Robert Maxwell.  I do understand FRBR (or so I think) and this was a jolly good reminder of the ideals of FRBR.

OK, so I see that RDA is a re-structuring of AACR2 to incorporate the terminology of FRBR. This I have understood.  I see there are very minor (to me anyway) changes to the actual rules of AACR2 within RDA. 

I can understand the need for the new vocabulary. I can see Systems and Programmers and Catalogers all need to speak the same lingo (and have ranted on this before).

So.  We are restructuring the language of our rules (from AACR2 to RDA), but we are not significantly changing the rules – or so it said. Is this a fair statement? The rules themselves are not leaping away from what we know today but the language we use to describe the rules has jumped? That is, we are perhaps switching from using Mandarin to Swahili?

Hmm. I guess I’m back to costs and access to the rule then.  If I agree (and I am still teetering on the fence folks) with the switch from AACR2 to RDA, I wonder about the costs involved.  I do not just mean the costs of the “toolkit”.  I do understand ALA’s need to recoup the costs of production and maintenance of this toolkit. I can’t imagine the gnashing of teeth that occurred to develop the pricing structure (whether  I agree with the final sum is moot, it is incredibly difficult to place a price on a brand new and controversial item). 

Costs include training and retraining. Conversion of old records. Conversion or change of ILS.  And more that I cannot fathom at the moment.

Conversion of old records? One of the things being stated is that AACR2 can co-exist with RDA.  That makes no sense to me. If they can co-exist and work fine, then why switch in the first place? Shouldn’t at least the major elements be converted to the new? How will the GMD ‘exist’ with the 336, 337, and 338? Wouldn’t the inconsistency drive the patron nuts – or just me? And wouldn’t the search results be greatly affected?

Conversion or change of ILS? Won’t there have to be changes made to the existing ILS to accommodate the needs of RDA? And will those be part of the current service plan or an update or cost the library $$$?

So – after all this, what do I think? I am now leaning on the RDA side a bit. I can see the need to change the vocabulary. The restructuring of the rules to take the format out of it makes good sense to me. Pain in the posterior to readjust how I look things up? Why yes!  I do still think that perhaps changing MARC first or in conjunction with the rules would have been more beneficial (and an even bigger pain in the posterior). I still worry about the costs involved. How can this be brought down to manageable for the majority, especially in the economy of today versus when AACR to AACR2 happened?

Oh – and what exactly are the ILS doing? I know VTLS has been on board since the beginning (and have very much enjoyed their presentations) but what of the others? And what about Systems people? Are they involved in the new vocabulary? Do they understand it better than the old? And how does this make the linking possible that is desired? Oh, that’s right, it’s the first step. What’s the second?

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Categories: aacr2, marc, RDA Tags: , ,
  1. January 10, 2011 at 8:09 am

    An excellent post! I agree with *almost* everything except, of course, I lean very decidedly against RDA because the problems it will create are very clear to everyone, while any advantages are still vague and theoretical. So far, the tangible changes we will see going from AACR2 to RDA, as shown clearly by Mac’s list, are definitely not worth the costs of retraining everybody.

    I still maintain that the RDA folks must demonstrate the business model that will show precisely how things will change for the better: what will libraries get from the changes? I haven’t seen anything at all convincing yet and after all, we’ll still be stuck in the “horse-and-buggy days” of transferring MARC records in ISO2709 format! Why not change that first?

    After they demonstrate the real advantages of RDA in concrete terms that all can understand, everybody could begin to discuss it, do some research and ask the various groups: reference librarians, selectors, and yes: even the users themselves. Then we may be able to figure out if it is worth the expense and disruption during one of the most difficult moments in the history of libraries–that I can remember, anyway.

    Expecting a decent business model only makes sense and should not be too much to ask.

  1. January 10, 2011 at 5:37 pm
  2. February 25, 2011 at 9:31 am

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