Let’s be brave!


From what I’ve read and heard in the course so far, I’m finding many reasons to think RDA is not the new standard we need. I don’t think it’s enough of the change we need. Karen Coyle and Diane Hillmann’s 2007 paper makes a complete and concise argument against RDA for a number of reasons. [1]

Trying to fit RDA to MARC feels like we’re holding ourselves back. Don’t get me wrong; MARC served a purpose in moving records from the card catalog to being machine-readable. I’m sure that was heady stuff in its day. But technology has developed so much since then – if we’re building new systems, why not use new models and new tools? I thought libraries were supposed to be on the cutting edge of technology, incorporating it into our collections and introducing it to our patrons. Some of the resistance to a new standard – one that’s not so closely tied to the current way of doing things – feels like fear of the unknown. Let’s be brave!

Count me among those who wish to see libraries enter the digital age like we mean it. As Coyle and Hillmann point out, a library’s signature service is the catalog. [1] If libraries are to compete with services like Google and Amazon, our catalogs must offer the same ease of use and ability to connect users with the materials they seek. Ultimately the patron just wants to find what he or she is looking for. I’m all for the value-added services a librarian can provide in helping a patron locate materials, but we also need a cataloging standard that will support the functions of identifying and finding materials without an expert guide. And, from the cataloger’s perspective, we need a standard that is efficient and easy to use. Thanks to keyword searching, we’re no longer limited in our choice of access points. At PLA last month, I heard the same thing over and over in the sessions I attended: meet your patrons where they are. New cataloging standards should reflect the way users search for data.

Patron search behavior isn’t the only thing that has changed with the digital era, of course; today libraries regularly collect more than print materials (true, many special libraries always collected more than print, such as art and music, but here I refer to other types of library as well). DVDs, CDs, electronic periodicals, websites, and web-based databases have joined the books and print journals. The current standards are no longer adequate for non-book materials, especially those without title pages or colophons, and resources published in several formats. [1] Schneider, as cited by Coyle and Hillmann, touched on this as well: “The ‘multiple versions problem,’ [is] one of the more glaring ways that current cataloging rules no longer serve the library’s users, and even hinder the ability of systems designers to provide an efficient service for library catalog users.” [2]

Trying to fit RDA (or any new standard) into the old infrastructure seems like a waste of time, money, and brainpower in the long run because MARC will limit what we can do. A markup language like XML, on the other hand, is more flexible and customizable. It can be adapted by other industries or entities outside library land, in keeping with the JSC’s goals: “The new standard is being developed for use primarily in libraries, but consultations are being undertaken with other communities (archives, museums, publishers, etc.) in an effort to attain an effective level of alignment between RDA and the metadata standards used in those communities.” [3] I agree with Coyle and Hillmann’s assertion that it is “[f]ar better not to ‘stay the course’ on RDA, but to set a new goal to achieve consensus on the top layer: model, basic principles and general rules, and leave the details to the specialized communities.” [1]

With the amount of resources invested in the development of new standards, why aren’t we aiming higher? I’m not a cataloger; I don’t have years of experience to inform my opinion. But I think we’re setting ourselves up for a system that will need another revision sooner than later.

1. Coyle, Karen and Diane Hillmann. Resource Description and Access (RDA): Cataloging rules for the 20th century. D-Lib Magazine, Jan./Feb. 2007, v. 13, no. 1/2. Available at: http://www.dlib.org/dlib/january07/coyle/01coyle.html

2. Schneider, Karen. How OPACS Suck. ALA Techsource, 2006. Available at: http://www.techsource.ala.org/blog/2006/03/how-opacs-suck-part-1-relevance-rank-or-the-lack-of-it.html (Part 1); http://www.techsource.ala.org/blog/2006/04/how-opacs-suck-part-2-the-checklist-of-shame.html (Part 2); http://www.techsource.ala.org/blog/2006/05/how-opacs-suck-part-3-the-big-picture.html (Part 3)

3. Joint Steering Committee for the Revision of Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules. RDA: Resource Description and Access: Prospectus. Available at: http://www.collectionscanada.ca/jsc/rdaprospectus.html.


5 Responses to “Let’s be brave!”

  1. dianehillmann Says:

    Malia–it would be good to look at the date when Karen’s and my article was published. January 2007 was before the London meeting between JSC and DCMI, when the agreement to build the Vocabularies was hatched. It’s not that I think that RDA is an unalloyed perfect thing, but with the Vocabularies it just might work as a first step. A lot depends on the implementation, and how quickly good tools can be built to take advantage of this different approach to data.

    I do appreciate your close attention to the article though–I still feel we did a good job with it!

    I found it interesting to note your emphasis on XML, which is really not markup but rather a generalized container for data defined elsewhere. It’s useful for some purposes (MARC has an XML expression already, for instance), but the requirement for a common schema for data sharing can be a problem. Many of the data providers outside of libraries are focusing on RDF, the Resource Description Framework, as they look towards the Semantic Web. (I’ll post some links for learning more about RDF for those who are interested.)

    I find it interesting that, in Michael Gorman’s comments at the ALISE session that I pointed to last week, we see him agreeing with the notion that more emphasis on general principles and less “case-law” would be a better basis to build solutions for all. He advocated that in the 1970s, when AACR2 was being developed and no one listened then–I sure wish someone had been effective in pushing that viewpoint for RDA.

  2. RDA’s ‘Legacy’ Approach « Learning About RDA Says:

    […] raises a number of important points. However, unlike at least one classmate, I disagree with their conclusion that a fundamental restructuring is necessary. By using […]

  3. hollyharper Says:

    Have there been any significant pronouncements on the efficacy of the RDA vocabularies? They seem to be the solution to many of the earlier complaints about RDA, yet no one is including them in the discussion…

    • dianehillmann Says:

      Holly, there are two possible answers. From the class point of view, we’re getting there. From the when-will-people-notice-us point of view, well, progress is slow. There are a few people out there who understand the potential, but not everyone recognizes that yet. I suspect some of that is because we have few tools yet to build data and show how it will work. When that changes, it will start to get very interesting!

  4. The future of bibliographic control: Data infrastructure « Learning About RDA Says:

    […] don’t think I did a satisfactory job of explaining my position in an earlier post; my criticism of RDA is not based on the vocabularies or the not-yet-released text but on the […]

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