ALA and DNB Responses to the Full Draft of RDA


I took a closer look at the formal responses and recommendations given to the November 2008 full draft of RDA. In particular I was interested in the responses from the ALA and the German National Library (DNB). The responses leave the impression that real interest in seeing the stated goals of RDA come to reality is endangered by intense frustration with the failure of the draft RDA to move toward its own goals. The tone of the responses differs (the ALA overtly critical of the quality of the draft and problems with the draft review process, the DNB diplomatic in its substantive, but politely phrased, comments), but the responses are notable for their apparent agreement on key aspects of what is valuable in RDA. In particular there is clear support for collaboration involving Dublin Core and ONIX and the steps needed to take advantage of the RDA element set and vocabularies.

The DNB response states:

“We welcome the close cooperation of the JSC with the main metadata standard communities like MARC 21, Dublin Core, and ONIX groups. We also welcome the activities regarding a registry for the RDA vocabulary.” (p.3)

ALA argues somewhat more directly that:

Finally, the collaborations with the ONIX and DCMI communities have already yielded what may turn out to be some of the most significant products of the RDA project.”(p.2)

The indication is that these are not just the salvageable remnants of an otherwise lost cause, but that the elements and vocabularies are the core around which the rest of RDA needs to revolve. It seems that while the text of RDA remains in flux, the registration of elements and vocabularies (opening them up to practical use) is an area where real progress has been made.

Both ALA and DNB push in their responses for RDA to move more dramatically in the direction of the semantic web, though the DNB seems more emphatic in their concern for this issue, making the case that:

“At the conceptual level, RDA is a step in the right direction but without a connection to the Semantic Web it will be irrelevant outside the library world.”(p.2)

As one of the expectations of RDA is that it will make library data relevant to other data communities, this is one of the central areas where both ALA and RDA indicate that the draft did not live up to expectations.

Making the code amenable to use internationally by non-English communities, and consistent application of concepts and terms from FRBR and FRAD, are two of the other central areas where both responses clearly think that the draft did not live up to its own aspirations. While it remains to be seen how well these concerns have been taken into account in subsequent revisions of RDA, they are two of the points that seem likely to require ongoing movement and pressure well into the future.

It may well be that the only way to make sure that RDA comes to something is for a few visionaries to strike out and build working examples for the rest of the library world to look at. I am particularly interested in the effort of the DNB to go the extra mile to make a contribution to RDA, pushing for it to really be meaningful in the long-term and in a global context. It is hard to tell if their efforts will result in major textual changes, but their willingness to take the initiative in running with the most useful parts of RDA appears to be exactly what we need. Just today there was an announcement on NGC4LIB listserv about the opening of a DNB linked data prototype making use of RDA. This is the type of project that will tease out the practical possibilities of RDA, and hopefully put pressure on US institutions to take their own courageous steps out into the void.


ALA/CC:DA. (2009, February 9). RDA: Resource Description and Access – Constituency Review of Full Draft. Available at:

Office for Library Standards, German National Library. (2009, February 2). Comments on “RDA – Resource Description and Access” – Constituency Review of November 2008 Full Draft. Available at:


4 Responses to “ALA and DNB Responses to the Full Draft of RDA”

  1. hollyharper Says:

    “At the conceptual level, RDA is a step in the right direction but without a connection to the Semantic Web it will be irrelevant outside the library world”
    I did not understand this when I read it in the article– if RDA is following the rules of OWL and RDFS (isn’t it?), how can it not connect to the semantic web? I thought those two were the keys to semantic web entry? I am behind the curve on this, so if someone can explain, I would really appreciate it!

    • dianehillmann Says:

      Holly, the key to this is to recall that in 98% of the time, when somebody says “RDA,” they mean the textual rules, not the vocabularies. The RDA Vocabularies are definitely built with the Semantic Web in mind–Karen’s Feb. 2010 contribution to Library Technology Reports–“RDA Vocabularies for a Twenty-First-Century Data Environment” makes the whole business crystal clear. It’s been a real frustration for those of us building the vocabularies that most of the “sponsored” discussions of RDA, no matter who the organizing body, focus entirely on the textual guidance, with barely a mention of the vocabularies. A few of the folks you’ve encountered on your tours of the blog actually ‘get it’ but although understanding is growing, it’s by no means growing fast enough. I find myself in the position of a broken record …

  2. maggiedull Says:


    Thanks for taking a deeper look at the ALA review and for comparing that to the DNB — which has an interest particularly in what you’ve identified as RDA’s failure to be more than Anglo-American. In thinking back to our discussions on AACR3 versus RDA, I think this name change, this dropping of the AA bit, speaks to the desire of the JSC and other constituents in developing a code that is more hospitable to other languages and bibliographic communities. However, as you’ve ably demonstrated, it’s fallen a bit short on realizing that dream. I find this a bit sad considering that such true internationalization, combined with a carrier method that could bring this data truly into the semantic web and the coherency provided by the RDA vocabularies, could produce such powerful descriptions/records that could be shared throughout the world. This is a very big dream and will take a lot of work and expertise, but I’m growing more convinced that perhaps this is where we need to go.

    You’re final recommendation, that we need a few visionaries to go out there to prove the efficacy of RDA but actually doing something, really has me thinking. I keep wondering about this break between the data/records/description that are being built and then the rule set that’s being constructed. My knowledge of how one goes about building a cataloging code isn’t vast so I apologize for any daftness, but I’m wondering why we started creating rules without a clear sense of the end product. I understand that the principles and objectives inherent in the rules are supposed to guide application into whatever form we wish (why AACRR2 doesn’t have to be in MARC, that it’s supposed to be free for any application/carrier). But I’m wondering if the complexity of these ideas are so great that grounding them into something, the examples you call for, might help those who are on the fence about this standard (or perhaps standing several feet from the fence).

    • wendyovall Says:

      Maggie and Daryl,

      When reading that we need a few visionaries to get RDA moving (Diane, is this you?), it made me think that this is so difficult to do in this day in age. Everyone has the opportunity (and right?) to have their say through blogs, listservs, etc., and resigning the final decisions to a few such as those in the JSC may be very hard to do. I think of it kind of like democracy – good in theory, but increasingly difficult the larger the number of interested parties. Is there the possibility of finding an RDA rock star (or even several people) who will make a concerted effort to implement this so that everyone could see how it could work, others would jump on board. That would be great.

      I love that the DNB has really involved themselves in the discussions surrounding RDA. Some non-English speaking nation *should* be involved, and the Germans, with their exact language rules and discerning eye in the midst of volumes of detail, I think, are a great match for this project.

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