Author Archive

ALA and DNB Responses to the Full Draft of RDA

April 17, 2010

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: