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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

RDA to Replace Outdated Cataloging Methods

Written by Kristen Zenz

Over the past two centuries, library cataloging has moved from book to card to Online Public Access Catalogs. Now, as we start a new year, cataloging standards might see a change once again. Say hello to Resource Description and Access (RDA). Created by the Joint Steering Committee (JSC), RDA intends to make library collections more logically organized and easier to scour. However, as the new cataloging method goes through testing, mixed reviews are starting to form.

What is RDA?
The JSC created RDA from a combination of cataloging methods, like Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) and Functional Requirements for Authority Data (FRAD). Integrated with FRAD and FRBR, this new standard will support the clustering of bibliographic records to show relationships between different works.1

Created to replace the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, 2nd Edition (AACR2), RDA goes beyond previous standards, providing a new guideline for cataloging digital resources. It also places a stronger emphasis on helping users find, identify, select, and obtain information they want with an interface that resembles modern-day search engines.1

Developed in 1978, AACR2 was created for an environment dominated by the card catalog. Because of this, it is not as capable of handling metadata from an influx of digital resources or linking metadata from multiple formats like hardcover and print books and abridged and unabridged audiobooks. In order to resolve this problem, the JSC has coded RDA to gather information in a significantly different manner.

According to AACR2 rules, cataloging occurs from physical items. RDA, on the other hand, is capable of gathering and inferring information from a plethora of digital and external resources. This new method hopes to improve the workflow and performance of catalogers, as metadata can be gathered from a wider set of sources. Despite the differing information-gathering processes, there is little variation when comparing MARC records created by the two cataloging methods. For example, here is how a MARC record will look using RDA compared to AACR2:

As you can see, some specific punctuation marks are transcribed to RDA just as they appear on the source. Click here for more comparisons of MARC records created by AACR2 and RDA.

Usability and Functionality
Catalogers in libraries and other communities can use RDA. This creates a solid alignment between RDA and the metadata used by archives, museums, publishers, educators, book dealers, and ILS vendors, and supports data sharing across metadata communities.1 As a result, catalogers can cluster bibliographic records to express different formats, abridgments, translations, and editions. The more communities share, the easier it is to search and find.

Additionally, there is no communication standard associated with RDA. Users will be able to use RDA content with a slew of encoding schemas, like MARC21, MODS, and Dublin Core. And there will be no need to re-catalog older records.2 Descriptions produced using RDA instructions are intended to be compatible with the large number of already existing AACR2 records.3

But with little change, catalogers are arguing that there is no point in replacing the standard. On the blog Cataloging Futures, Christine Schwartz expresses concern that “the new headings being used to test bibliographic records (when there is already an established AACR2 form) will cause a lot of conflict and, if RDA is implemented, a lot of authority changes will need to happen in local systems.”4

What does this mean for libraries?
Currently, select libraries and organizations, along with the Library of Congress, National Library of Medicine, and the National Agricultural Library, are testing RDA to make sure the new method will cohesively blend with prior records. If all goes well, the JSC expects an official release date in April of 2011.5 Libraries will have a choice in whether they adopt the new method into their workflows, but if your library obtains bibliographic records from an entity that accepts RDA, you will have to choose between switching to RDA to get your records, converting RDA back to AACR2, or having a mixed catalog.

However, as Galen Charlton commented on the Metadata Matters blog post “Irresistible Apology of the Day,” there could be trouble if some literary institutions do not adopt RDA. The library software programmer noted that the “large divide between academic, national, and public libraries could easily grow and stifle any true innovation in library metadata and management.”6

As systems change, workflows will need to be updated. The new process is principle-based rather than case-based, so users will not need to learn specific rules. Instead, they will have to apply judgments based on a set of new standards. In preparation for the switch, the Library of Congress has made training materials available via their website.

If your library is planning to make the switch to RDA, start looking at your budget. Initially, the RDA toolkit will cost $325 annually for the first user with more fees for additional users. Unlike AACR2, this is a continuing cost based on access. Click here for more pricing information.7

Is your library participating in RDA testing? How do you feel about the new cataloging method? Do you think it will be as effective if only a number of libraries adopt the format? Share your thoughts and opinions here as comments.

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