:: Digital Libraries Columns


Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant

Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date. :: Digital Libraries Columns

Will RDA Be DOA?


   The rules and guidelines that have guided catalogers for decades are
   undergoing revision. It's taken for granted that the Anglo-American
   Cataloging Rules, Second Edition (AACR2), are past due for an update in
   this Internet age. The revision effort began in 1997, but to signal a
   dramatic departure from AACR2, it was dubbed Resource Description and
   Access (RDA) in 2005.

   The process is being managed by a joint steering committee appointed by
   six major constituent organizations (including the American Library
   Association). The steering committee is attempting to craft "guidelines
   and instructions that would cover description and access for all
   digital and analog resources, resulting in records that could be used
   in a variety of digital environments (the Internet, web OPACs, etc.)."

   These guidelines are not supposed to be specific to MARC but should be
   able to be used with any number of markup standards, including MODS,
   Dublin Core, and others. Potentially, they would break dramatically
   from what has come before and create and promulgate principles and
   guidelines useful in many different contexts both within and outside
   the profession. The reality appears to be turning out to be something
   quite different and in the most extreme case could render RDA "dead on

   Wake-up call

   Until recently, the unease of many watching or participating in the
   effort has been sequestered largely within the cataloging community.
   That has changed, especially with the publication of an article in
   D-Lib Magazine in January that is sharply critical of the direction
   the steering committee is taking. Authored by Karen Coyle and Diane
   Hillmann, both knowledgeable and respected in cataloging circles, the
   criticism should not be taken lightly.

   One of their objections is that the RDA effort is still too mired in
   the past. "Examples of legacy approaches abound in RDA," they assert.
   They also question the apparent complexity of the draft rules. They
   state that the existing complexity of library cataloging practices has
   prevented use of them outside of the profession, and RDA appears likely
   to perpetuate that fact. Even within the profession, some are
   questioning the need for the level of intricacy of our current rules
   and the resulting costs incurred.

   Culture clash

   As Coyle and Hillmann charge, despite efforts to reach out to other
   communities interested in bibliographic description such as the IEEE
   Learning Technology Standards Community, the steering committee
   continues to seek the bulk of its reviewers from the traditional
   library cataloging world. Many individuals in this realm are heavily
   invested in traditional ways of doing things and may not fully
   appreciate the opportunities offered by modern computer systems. They
   may also wish to prevent the need for substantial and potentially
   expensive changes to the existing record base.

   Meanwhile, those familiar with computer capabilities are puzzled by
   conventions still rooted in the depiction of bibliographic information
   on a paper catalog card. The steering committee is caught in the middle
   and to a large degree has charted an evolutionary course destined to
   please neither the traditionalists nor the revolutionaries.

   New bibliographic description?

   So what do those of us who seek a different future do? It is unlikely
   that the steering committee process, which is already well underway and
   on a tight schedule, can be dramatically altered. Should those
   organizations and individuals who do not believe the present process
   will serve the vital needs we perceive begin a fresh development plan?
   Without widespread organizational support, such a strategy may prove
   problematic and unsustainable. But there may also be no other choice if
   the current process does not produce what we so badly need--a
   bibliographic description foundation that can bring us, albeit
   disheveled and overdue, into the Internet age.

   For more on the wired library, see the netConnect supplement mailed
   with the January, April 15, July, and October 15 issues of LJ

   Joint Steering Committee (JSC)
   [147] RDA Scope & Structure
   "Resource Description and Access (RDA): Cataloging Rules for the 20th