From here to RDA

The Technical Services Interest Group of the Canadian Library Association sponsored a full-day pre-conference session, “From Rules to Entities: Cataloguing with RDA” on Friday May 29, 2009 at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. RDA stands for “Resource Description and Access”– the name of the updated library cataloguing rules. RDA is a major departure from the previous rules, AACR (Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules) in that RDA is based on a more robust model of bibliographic data called FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records).

Accompanying FRBR is FRAD (Functional Requirements for Authority Data) which models the data that goes into controlled headings for names of persons and corporate bodies, titles of works, and subjects. A question was raised as to why FRBR is about “bibliographic records” but FRAD is about “authority data.” RDA, although based on FRBR, is very explicit about being about “data” and not “records.” The original name “FRBR” had already been published in 1998 and so we are stuck with that mistaken focus on “records.” In the future the various FR’s (there is another “functional requirements” model being developed for subjects) will likely be consolidated into a single data model.

Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ).
The merger of the Quebec national archives and national library occurred in 2006. Mireille Huneault, Director of the Cataloguing Directorate for the Heritage Conservation Centre of BAnQ gave a hearty endorsement of RDA and the new vision of cataloguing it represents.

I have been following the development of FRBR ever since it was introduced at a 1997 conference in Toronto on the future of cataloguing and AACR. At the time I was conducting a massive cleanup of my library’s MARC map, and implementing a major upgrade of the MARC standard called format integration. I realized early on that FRBR was a powerful lens to use to look at the core of cataloguing and discern its weaknesses and areas which needed improvement.

The presentations by Gillian Cantello of Library and Archives Canada, Pat Riva of BAnQ, Tom Delsey, editor of RDA, Chris Oliver of McGill, Laura May and Marg Stewart of Library and Archives Canada, and Trina Grover of Ryerson, all gave the sense of an impending transition as RDA moves from its development phase to its implementation phase. Editorial control is switching to the British Library, and the American Library Association will soon be hosting the web site for the development of RDA currently at Library and Archives Canada.

The presentation materials are at:

Some particular insights I gleaned from the sessions:

When FRBR mentions “users” one has to think of three possible categories of users: end-users, information workers assisting users, and information workers maintaining databases.

The FRBR entity “item” refers to a specific copy of a book. For a serial, the “item” is the entire subscription to a journal, with each issue constituting a part of the item.

Events can be subjects (Group 3 FRBR entities), but they can also be corporate bodies (Group 2 FRBR entities). Likewise, a place can be a geographic place which is treated as a subject, but it can also be a corporate body (as in a municipal government).

The RDA online tool will be available soon at Chris Oliver gave a demonstration of its operation. The RDA online tool has the ability to store annotations, and they can be shared with other users. A number of libraries are looking at this tool to publish rule interpretations and internal policy decisions. Workflows can be created within libraries and shared amongst libraries.

There is a new logo for RDA:

Tom Delsey described the important changes in RDA from AACR2. The most major change is the foundation built on FRBR, where entities, attributes of entities, and relationships between entities replace the AACR foundations of the International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD) and the division of rules into classes of materials.

With RDA, we refer to “instructions” and not to “rules”.

In the past, notes in catalogue records were a dumping ground for miscellaneous bibliographic information. Because everything is defined in terms of elements in RDA, most notes are now categorized as elements. Some notes are annotations of elements. For example, the note “Title from cover” is an annotation of the title element.

Laura May discussed some of the changes to MARC that RDA will bring. She directed us to the Library and Archives Canada web page for frequently asked questions:

The next update to MARC21 (update no. 10) will contain the RDA changes. They will come into force 90 days after being posted on the Library of Congress web site, although there is a question as to how ready library systems will be.

Currently, RDA testing of up to nine months is being undertaken by libraries in the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia. All but the U.S. libraries have made a commitment to implementation after the testing.

The likely MARC tag indicating an RDA record will be 040 $e.

The new fields replacing the GMD (fields 336, 337, and 338) should be easy to implement. The values entered into these fields are not necessarily for display, and may be used to create unique content, media or carrier designators or perhaps icons for web-based catalogues.

The most significant retrospective cleanup will be for corporate name headings that expand the abbreviation Dept. to the full word Department. Also, headings for books in the Bible will drop the O.T. and N.T. designations.

Trina Grover of Ryerson is working on providing training opportunities for FRBR and RDA. The Technical Services Interest Group wiki at may be the clearinghouse for training initiatives to be launched across Canada. I was very honoured to be mentioned at the end of the session and praised for my efforts to educate others in the library field about the value of FRBR as a solid foundation for the future of library catalogues.

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