RDA for Public Services

OLA 2012 – Session 1101 – Visualizing RDA for Public Services
Speakers: Tim Knight, Head of Technical Services, Osgoode Hall Law School Library York University; Trina Grover, Head of Cataloguing, Ryerson University

This RDA thing is just for cataloguers, right? Actually, public services staff need information about changes in the new cataloguing code because bibliographic records will look different and contain new content. Come and learn about changes from AACR2 to RDA and how they will affect you and your users! Learn how you can contribute to changes in cataloguing policies. Learn about the potential RDA holds for improving discovery and access.

The change in the cataloguing rules, from AACR2 to RDA (Resource Description and Access), is a challenge for cataloguers and will require conceptual rewiring in understanding cataloguing data. There are benefits for the public, and there is a challenge in explaining those benefits without resorting to the jargon of cataloguers. My first session on Friday at OLA 2012 was an excellent primer for public services staff and library administrators on the benefits of RDA for the public.

Tim Knight of Osgoode Hall Law School Library at York University began his presentation with an animation of the trend over the last century of the growing diversity of materials in libraries. What began with books grew to encompass microform, sound and audio recordings, and more recently computer files and online resources.

The current set of cataloguing rules, AACR2, has separate chapters for classes of material, but the nature of resources today is that they overlap in characteristics (such as a cartographic resource that is digital and issued serially– several different chapters in AACR2 would have to be consulted). RDA does away with separate chapters for different materials and instead separates out all instructions for carrier from instructions for elements related only to content. A single section in RDA is dedicated to recording attributes of the physical carrier. The attributes listed there can be applied where applicable, and new attributes can be added, but it is no longer the case that whole new chapters have to be devised for new classes of materials.

The separation of content from carrier in RDA follows the direction set out in FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records), unveiled in Toronto in 1997 at a conference dedicated to the future of AACR2. Separating content from carrier is a central idea in FRBR, as is recasting all existing catalogue data in an entity-relationship model suitable for modern databases and system designs. The challenge for cataloguers will be in switching from the card catalogue mentality to a more basic understanding of how catalogue data can be aligned in a relational model.

In describing the change from AACR2 to RDA a lot of jargon is unavoidable. But there are examples that illustrate how RDA and its FRBR origins can benefit end-users. Many ILS vendors talk about FRBR features for their cataloguers and basically this means that identical content can be linked regardless of the format—be it book, audiobook, or electronic text. At another session I attended, a spokesperson for Boston Public Library mentioned that his library’s catalogue, Bibliocommons, will embark on a “FRBRization” project in the near future. Current catalogues splinter and separate displays of related content, and make it difficult for end-users to see related resources. In a FRBRized catalogue, a review or rating or tag for a work supplied by a user applies across the board, regardless of the different physical formats in which that work can be manifested.

The focus on the user is a new thing in RDA. In AACR2, the focus was on “the construction of catalogues and other lists” (AACR2 0.1). RDA reorients the perspective by providing “a set of guidelines and instructions on formulating data to support resource discovery.”

In RDA, data elements have to be rationalized by how they serve user tasks. In this new perspective, cataloguers look at how data can help users “find” resources, “identify” them (in the sense of confirming search criteria or disambiguating similar resources or entities), “select” them (in the sense of being presented with distinctive characteristics about content and carrier, such as intended audience and digital file format details), and “obtain” them (which covers attributes such as accessibility, acquisitions information, and restrictions on use). In addition to these original FRBR user tasks, there are others referring to elements that assist users in understanding the relationships between entities.



Of particular note is that RDA is compliant with the new Statement of International Cataloguing Principles: http://www.ifla.org/files/cataloguing/icp/icp_2009-en.pdf, where the “convenience of the user” is considered the highest principle.

IFLA – International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions

RDA catalogue records will also display a range of immediately visible changes that will improve the user experience. Cryptic abbreviations and Latin phrases will be replaced by plain English terms. Some choices for data elements will reflect popular understanding. For example, the fictitious character “Richard Castle” can be displayed as an author in RDA, whereas in AACR2 such flexibility was not permitted because the focus was on catalogue construction, not user convenience.

Where RDA will take libraries in the future was the subject of much discussion after the presentation ended. The library community, led by the Library of Congress, is embarking on the “Bibliographic Framework Transition Initiative”  (http://www.loc.gov/marc/transition/). This is the beginning of a transition from the MARC format for library data. The MARC format has had a long history of being intertwined with AACR2, but the broad view is that the neither MARC nor AACR2 will be sufficient for the types of applications and uses of catalogue data that are now possible in an age of networked access and new tools for creating and managing large amounts of interconnected data.

The scope of the initiative is wide, but many of the issues are those that need to be dealt with in some fashion to keep library catalogue data as relevant and useable as possible in a more complex world of multiple metadata standards and new tools for sharing information.

From http://www.loc.gov/marc/transition/news/minutes-alamw-2012.html:

The plan envisions a new framework that features:

  • Broad accommodation of content rules and data models–The new framework must be agnostic to cataloging rules, because in addition to RDA, it must accommodate descriptions in Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS), Cataloging Cultural Objects (CCO), and specialized rule sets such as those used in the sciences;
  • Provision for types of data that logically accompany or support bibliographic description;
  • Accommodation of textual data, linked data with URIs instead of text, and both—a requirement since libraries are not all alike now, and never will be all alike;
  • Consideration of the relationships between and recommendations for communications format tagging, record input conventions, and system storage/manipulation—cataloging interfaces have been very MARC-like, but end-user interfaces have become much more varied, and McCallum predicted that there would be increasingly diverse interfaces for both;
  • Consideration of the needs of all sizes and types of libraries, from small public to large research;
  • Continuation of maintenance of MARC until no longer necessary;
  • Compatibility with MARC-based records;
  • Provision of transformation from MARC21 to a new bibliographic environment;
  • The plan commits the Library to maintaining MARC for as long as necessary and to providing automated tools for transforming data from MARC to the new framework.
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