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 They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date.
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 arrival." 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 __________________________________________________________________ LINK LIST Joint Steering Committee (JSC) www.collectionscanada.ca/jsc/rda.html RDA Scope & Structure www.collectionscanada.ca/jsc/docs/5rda-scope.pdf "Resource Description and Access (RDA): Cataloging Rules for the 20th Century" dlib.org/dlib/january07/coyle/01coyle.html