Friday I attended the RDA Update, organized as the “Briefings From RDA Test Participants.” The room was full (overfull, actually), and I ended up sitting in the back on a chair pulled from the main seating area towards the back wall. Beacher Wiggins provided the background and updated the group on the plan and timetable. He suggested that there were three scenarios possible for the decision: one was that the group would agree to adopt RDA, another was that they would decide not to (either for now, or presumably ever), and a third was that they would decide to implement if and when the JSC made some specified changes in the rules. I was a bit taken aback by this last option, since it seemed very heavy handed and somewhat threatening. Of course, there will be options available for any implementing library or group of libraries (national or otherwise), but it seems a bit much to believe that among those options there might not be ways for LC/NLM/NAL to meet their specific or collective needs without holding the US RDA implementation hostage to their desires. If I were representing a non-US constituency (which in a small way I am, as the DCMI liaison to CC:DA) I would certainly take this possibility seriously, if nothing else as a gesture of US-centrism that should be repudiated by the rest of the US and international cataloging and metadata community. By all means, LC/NLM/NAL triumvirate, do what you think best, but don’t throw your considerable weight and credibility around in aid of getting what you think you want, or, just to prove you can. We look bad enough to the international community as it is, please don’t make that worse!

The presentations started out well, with Chris Cronin (U. Chicago) giving a useful summary of his group’s experience. He was followed by Penny Baker (Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute) who had a very flashy set of slides that did not work well in a room with too much light, and too many people. While various people played with the lights, she tried to get through her slides, but was having trouble seeing the laptop when the lights were down (and her slides were visible), and lost her place a few times. Her main point (as far as I could tell)—that her group was able to show that the RDA relationships worked well in providing ways to link together the very interesting materials they chose to catalog—got lost in the shuffle. Towards the end, someone figured out how to dim the lights sufficient to see the slides without plunging the room into darkness, and the room burst into cheers. The speaker, misinterpreting the audience response, thought she was being cued to finish up, and did so, apologizing as she left, by saying: “Sorry it took so long and was so messy.” The group in the back with me agreed that this was basically the story of RDA, though we should probably not expect a similar apology from JSC.

The remainder of the speakers plodded on with little to say that interested me: they did their testing work, gave their feedback, and determined internally whether they would continue doing ‘RDA Cataloging’ until the big decision comes down from the LC/NLM/NAL triumvirate, presumably on stone tablets for which some poor schlumpf will have to create a preservation strategy.

I have been dubious since the beginning about the usefulness of this testing regime, lately going so far as to compare it with the ‘Security Theater’ we are subjected to at airports these days (I have metal knees, so am always treated to a full, and now even more intrusive ‘pat down’, something that makes me long for a naked scanner at my local airport). The analogy here is that ‘Security Theater’ is to real security as ‘RDA Testing Theater’ is to real testing, one that includes the FRBR part of RDA and not just a smattering of rules changes and some token relationships. I still think that it’s hard to justify the time and expense of the testing that has just concluded, which tests RDA only as used in a MARC environment, not RDA itself. The result of this from the point of the community has been useful insofar as it has provided an avenue for some initial training and participation, but not so useful from the point of view of really providing any understanding of RDA implementation. Far too many catalogers think (hope?) that RDA can be implemented without much change in what they do, which qualifies in my opinion as a very poor result indeed.

By Diane Hillmann, January 9, 2011, 9:33 am (UTC-5)

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Currently 8 comments

  1. Comment by Diane Hillmann


    As a sometime teacher I think you’re absolutely right about the opportunity the testing represented for students. I just worry that it’s a far more mixed bag for working librarians … too many of whom are reading tea leaves and hoping that they can avoid some of the potential upheaval ahead. I’m hoping we can engage them better in learning the skills to help them move forward enthusiastically in the challenging environment ahead.


  2. Comment by Shawne Miksa

    As one of the “plodders” I will say that my students very much liked the opportunity to test RDA and provided some great feedback. I am happy we did some kind of testing and consider it successful for the students’ learning experience.


  3. Comment by Diane Hillmann

    You’re absolutely right that the value of RDA (in particular the vocabularies, of course) cannot be realized in MARC, and the testing regime just doesn’t make that clear. I’m not so sure that public libraries would be happy on the trailing edge for long though, and I hope we can avoid that result. It seems to me that one real value for them in RDA implementation might be that a more open, web-based world might enable them to move more easily into the a user-contribution environment. There’s certainly sufficient creativity happening in public libraries these days, so let’s see if we can give them some better tools! —

  4. Comment by arkham

    As usual, I tend to agree with your post.

    The current state of the ILS does not really facilitate any real change that RDA might make possible, and the changes RDA requires for those of us stuck still working in MARC (most of us, I’m sure) are small. Most of those small changes will simply increase the workload, or change the workflow, for reasons that often aren’t clear, and not provide any real change to what we do, or improvement in discovery for the patrons.

    The entire approach with RDA seems wrong. It barely begins to address the problems that need to be solved, and results in a lot of lengthy text to dig through to try to interpret what turn out to be minuscule changes.

    None of this is helped by the number of librarians, including most in my consortium, who simply don’t want things to change.

  5. Comment by Galen Charlton

    At the level at which it has been tested so far, “RDA support” in traditional ILSs looks like it can be achieved with minor tweaks to tag tables and display templates — vive le AACR2.1? Surely the broader cataloging community can expect more of a new metadata standard, particularly one that has had so much time invested in it? One of my particular concerns is that RDA qua a small set of new MARC21 tags and data entry rule changes will not demonstrate enough added value over AACR2 for a critical mass of libraries to engage in the standard intentionally and thoughtfully. One scenario that I can see happening is academic and national libraries adopting RDA/MARC while the vast majority of public libraries slouch towards adopting it purely on the basis of having to accept whatever cataloging copy they can get. This would deepen the already large divide between public library and academic library catalogers while not furthering any true innovation in library metadata creation and management.

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