Author Archive

Responses to “On the Record” – Bringing Awareness

April 30, 2010

On the Record (OTR) provided an examination of library services today and a vision for the future, with a focus on the Library of Congress (LC), but with implications for all libraries, nationwide.  The Working Group investigated the current bibliographic control practices and formulated several goals and steps that should be taken to make libraries relevant for the 21st Century.  I want to share my thoughts on one result of this report – that of awareness of the implications of remaining with the current standards and technology and a push to move forward (with a sprinkling in of action, too).


On the Record elicited numerous in-depth responses, crafted to address recommendations in the document.  The report addressed the areas of

  1. Bibliographic production and maintenance
  2. Rare, unique, and other special materials
  3. Positioning technology for the future
  4. Positioning the library and information community for the future, and
  5. Strengthening the Library and Information Science profession.

These five areas were evaluated, consequences of maintaining the status quo explained, and recommendations issued.  The Working Group (WG), made up of individuals from a variety of library and information science arenas, defined three broad principles that were to frame the report: bibliographic control, the bibliographic universe, and the role of the Library of Congress.  The ultimate vision outlined by the WG was that of, “bibliographic control that will be collaborative, decentralized, international in scope, and Web-based.”  As a result of this broad investigation, any public or academic library that looked to the Library of Congress for leadership either 1) became aware of some of the challenges facing librarianship today, or 2) received acknowledgement of the challenges they had already recognized in their own experience.  Generalized action steps were enumerated, but the document did not provide significant direction in regards to practical implementation.

Waking the Sleeping Giant?

It is almost a recognized fact (I say almost…) that AACR2 and MARC cannot fulfill the needs of libraries in the 21st Century.  This is with the assumption that one of the major needs of the library is to be of useful, timely, and relevant service to the user.  The web environment, the proliferation of search engines like Google, and the private enterprises such as Amazon are the first stop for most of the connected world to find their information.  Evaluative rankings, reviews, book cover pictures, and sample chapters are providing the reader’s advisory service from the comfort of the living room easy chair.  However, the WG’s recommendation to halt the work on RDA threatened to make libraries even less connected and relevant to the public than they are now.  Certainly people can look up the catalog online and even access WorldCat, but the entry points are limited and evaluative information non-existent.  The LCWG section on RDA stated: JSC: Suspend further new work on RDA until:

  1. more, large-scale testing of FRBR has been carried out against real cataloging data, and the results of those tests have been analyzed (see 4.2.1 below);
  2. the use and business cases for moving to RDA have been satisfactorily articulated; and
  3. the presumed benefits of RDA have been convincingly demonstrated.

This recommendation was one addressed in almost every response to the document I read even if they did not feel it their response was directly called for.  Seemingly, the section on canceling RDA development may have been designed to push the Library of Congress into reevaluating their timeline and strategy regarding its testing and implementation.

The Library of Congress, as the national leader (although it is not an official national library) is in the position to inform and propel RDA’s development and testing.  And as a result, the report excited a very prompt response from the Library of Congress which outlined four processes that would take place to evaluate RDA.  It also brought together the LC with the National Agricultural Library (NAL) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM) for the purpose of executing these processes.  Together they were to:

  1. Jointly develop milestones for evaluating how we will implement RDA
  2. Conduct tests of RDA that determine if each milestone has been reached; paying particular attention to the benefits and costs of implementation
  3. Widely distribute analyses of benefits and costs for review by the U.S. library community
  4. Consult with the vendor and bibliographic utility communities to address their concerns about RDA.

The final statements addressed the implementation timeline and the commitment to continue the work along side their international colleagues.

As I see it, a significant result of OTR was the push the Library of Congress to commit to testing RDA and put their support behind the idea of testing RDA.  There is nothing like the threat to suspend work that has had much investment to re-energize an organization and propel them to more defined and decisive action.

Other organizations get their say

Along with the Library of Congress, other organizations also had formal responses to On the Record ranging from, “yes, suspend it please,” to “no, this just maintains the status quo.”  These responses were, in my mind, an extremely significant outcome of the report because they brought together individual stances into a cohesive organizational statement with direction, action steps, and criticism.  It gave a voice to segments of the library profession in a formalized manner than the members provide input and help shape their organization’s policy concerning RDA.  Even more so, the Joint Steering Committee (JSC) and the LC would have succinct, collective reports to influence their decision-making.

The Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) Task Group formulated at 16-page Recommendation for Action response which addressed all five sections of the report.  Amazingly, section three, which dealt with technology and RDA was the longest response.  Their stance was the RDA should not be suspended and the LCWG recommendation would, “maintain the status quo.”  Although not explicitly in favor of RDA, they asked for the benefits of maintaining this status quo versus going forward with RDA.  They also questioned the idea of an alternative strategy; who would provide the leadership, and where the collaboration would come from?  Beyond these concerns, the ALCTS Education Committee voiced interest in collaborating on assessing usability and training needs for the purpose of creating RDA training materials, as referred to in the footnote to  Moreover the ALCTS Board said that they could be in a place to provide evaluative assistance for determining what a “business case” for RDA might look like, as well as address the question of trust in the Library of Congress as a whole.  The LCTCS report is a prime example of a collective response meant to 1) address the original report and 2) motivate the association’s membership.

On the other side of the RDA issue was the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL).  The introduction to their response, however did articulate that they had some, “broad comments,” and “specific concerns regarding a number of the recommendations.”  Interestingly, this association wanted Web technology to work around MARC and fully supported the suspension of RDA.  However, what is important is that On the Record got groups of people talking and prompted some formal stances on the issues that were brought forth in the document.  In fact, the ALCTS called 2010 the Year of Cataloging Research as a response to sections of On the Record. (

Propelling Discussion towards the Web

The section that discussed RDA was titled, “Positioning our Technology for the Future,” and included comments on data carriers, the influence of the Web, and the use of standard identifiers.  I wanted to throw this in to evaluate the influence of On the Record on OCLC as well as the idea of the Semantic Web.  RDA is not just the proposed replacement for AACR2, but is supposed to help position the cataloging community to enter the online universe, potentially through the Semantic Web.  OCLC’s response to the report was both encouraging and a bit disheartening, indicating some areas mentioned in the report, such as Web access will not be significantly modified in their current plans.  Interestingly, in their response, the only section addressed point-by-point was that of Technology and RDA.  There were some blanket statements, but RDA was not mentioned once.  But it did provide evidence that they knew what was coming down the pipeline and that the LCWG was warning them to get ready for it.  For a comical but serious rebuttal to OCLC’s response, see Rob Styles’ post here.  As Styles’ puts it, “The working group’s draft presents the library world with a rallying point around which it can choose to really move forwards into the internet age…”  It made those who read the report understand that the Library of Congress really saw the Web and public access to information were the next steps in bibliographic control – something that could reach the masses who are connected to the internet.


On the Record provided a good foundation for moving forward with bibliographic control.  It not only assessed where we are now, but where we as Library and Information Professionals want to be in the future.  The Library of Congress is a leader in this nation when it comes to future directions and new initiatives.  This report highlighted the challenges and opportunities coming quickly to the library community.  Even though it was quite vague in its recommendations and provided no implementation steps, it helped to create awareness of the issues within the various library associations.  Even if these concerns had been raised before, it was a significant document which propelled thoughtful response from the community.


ALCTS Report

American Association of Law Libraries

ALCTS on behalf of the ALA

Diane Hillmann. Getting There

Diane Hillmann’s response

OCLC Response

Technical Services Special Interest Section

Thomas Mann for the Library of Congress Professional Guild.


FRBR and the History of Cataloging

April 17, 2010

William Denton’s, “FRBR and the History of Cataloging,” reviews the history of cataloging and how it influenced the development of FRBR, one conceptual model used for the development of RDA.  As a newbie to the world of cataloging, and certainly to the world of RDA, I found this historical review of cataloging extremely helpful to understanding where cataloging began, how it has progressed, and how it developed into FRBR in the 1990s.  Denton outlines four ideas which led up to the development of FRBR: “the use of axioms to explain the purpose of the catalog, the importance of user needs, the idea of the “work,” and standardization and internationalization.”  I will comment on two of these ideas as well as an overarching viewpoint that, I think, helps to provide long-term perspective in the development of RDA.

1. The reason for cataloging is to help users find what they need.

If the assertion that user needs are of primary importance to information professionals is true, then how we catalog should be focused on providing easy, thorough, and reliable access to information.  Cutter, in Rules for a Dictionary Catalog, provided a first set of axioms in cataloging: enable a person to find a book, show what a library has, and assist in the choice of a book (Denton, p. 41).  FRBR follows in his footsteps with its user tasks of, “find, identify, select, and obtain.” (Tillet, B., 2004).  However, Denton asserts that FRBR’s task list is broader and more inclusive than Cutter’s because it includes the broader elements included in Group 1, 2, or 3 entities.  I think this is an important point to make, and one that is helpful to realize when reflecting on RDA.  By correctly identifying the resources and developing a standard for implementation it will enable users to find what they need, not only the specific item they are searching for, but perhaps related items such as audio recordings, videos, or adaptations.  FRBR’s “user-centered” tasks are essential to our motivation for bettering cataloging standards, and should form the basis for further development of RDA. 

2. Are Standardization and internationalization realistic? 

Denton states that attention to standardization and internationalization in cataloging came about in the early 20th Century (p. 43).  In the past Panizzi, Cutter, Ranganathan, dealt primarily (if not solely) with physical artifacts and those held within the actual physical collection.  But with the development of the Paris Principles in 1961, cataloging reached out to an international audience and addressed the desire to share information across language and physical borders.  AACR2 for English-speakers was one attempt to bridge the geographical divide, although it still resulted in two editions, one for the British and one for the Americans (Denton, p. 49).  Since AACR2 did not succeed in developing one standard for English-speaking countries, I am wondering how RDA can function as a flexible structure, providing for local interpretation of the rules while still being compatible with other communities, including non-English-speaking for metadata sharing ( and the IFLA Paris Principles (  Or will it either 1) be too flexible as to be incompatible, or 2) so rigid that it will not address local needs. 

How works, expressions, manifestations, or items are cataloged brings significant challenge to the cataloging profession.  As Denton stated, “Today things are vastly more complicated [than the 1880s].” He then outlined the challenges he saw with cataloging electronic resources, multiple formats, sheer quantity of artifacts, and technology.  However, my eyes focused on his first point:

      “Cataloging costs money and takes time.  Sharing cataloging records will save both, if everyone can agree on how to catalog things the same way.” (this author’s emphasis, p. 50). 

Granted, I am not well versed in application profiles, but I am curious about how this will be implemented with RDA in an international environment where money is scarce and the task large. 

3.  FRBR is, “an end point, not the end point.” 

Cataloging has been metamorphosing over 175 years (couldn’t help the pun…) and it will continue to transform as technology and user needs develop.  This long-term perspective, provided by Denton in the first sentence, should be helpful to alleviate some of the stress related to RDA development and even FRBR itself.     While I think it is important to make RDA the best it can be, it cannot be everything to everyone and is an end point, not the end point in cataloging standards. 

Denton, William. “FRBR and the History of Cataloging.” In Understanding FRBR: What It Is and How It Will Affect Our Retrieval Tools, Arlene Taylor (ed.). Available at: