RDA and You

So The Library of Congress, the National Agricultural Library, and the National Library of Medicine have issued a statement from the Executives of those three libraries regarding the Report and Recommendations of the U.S. RDA Test Coordinating Committee on the implementation of RDA—Resource Description & Access. The report is long, 192 PDF pages, but there is an executive summary for those librarians (like myself) who know they should know something about RDA.

The Coordingating Committee of the three libraries evaluated RDA to see whether it met certain goals.

Goals it met or partially met:

  • Provide a consistent, flexible and extensible framework for all types of resources and all types of content.
  • (Partially) Be compatible with itnernationally established principles and standards.
  • (Partially) Enable users to find, identify, select, and obtain resources appropriate to their information needs.
  • (Partially) Be compatible with descriptions and access points in existing catalogs and databases.
  • Be independent of the format, medium, or system used to store or communicate the data.

Goals it did not meet:

  • Be optimized for use as an online tool
  • Be written in plain English, and able to be used in other language communities
  • Be easy and efficient to use, both as a working tool and for training purposes.

Wow. Um the goals it didn’t meet are pretty important.  Personally I think the partially met goal of enbling users to find, identify, select and obtain resources should have been classified as a failed to meet goal.  Librarians are more tolerant of library things. Users are not.  If it only partially meets this goal then it failed it.  The Coordinating Committee says “User comments on RDA records indicate mixed reviews on how well new elements met user needs.  The test did not fully verify all the user tasks above.”  This tells me two things. 

  1. Mixed reviews equals a fail
  2. They had a poor test(s) and didn’t test it appropriately. 

First you need to come up with appropriate tests to verify ALL tasks and second you can’t have mixed user reviews.  If it is mixed you have accomplished nothing, and users will find other ways to find their information.  They don’t care that RDA is supposed to better than MARC AACR2 (sorry mistype that commenter caught).

The Coordinating Committee came up with many recommendations and timeframes to improve RDA so that it meets its goals. When they make the improvements I hope it does significantly better on its test, because the Committee’s Business case report said,

 “The test revealed that  there is little discernable immediate benefit in implementing RDA alone.  The adoption of RDA will not result in significant cost savings in metadata creation.  There will be inevitable and significant costs in training.  Immediate economic benefit, however, cannot be the sole determining factor in the RDA buisness case.  It must be determined if there are significant future enhancements to the metadata environment made possible by RDA and if those benefits, long term, outweigh implementation costs.”

Ok, that doesn’t sound good for RDA, right?  Oh no, “it is, nevertheless, the decision of the Coordinating Committee to recommend implementing RDA.”  Huh?!  I know MARC is not working but is RDA the answer for MARC?  Yet according to the Coordinating Committee, despite costs, no short term benefits, and yet to be determined long term benefits, RDA is the way the catalog is going.  (No sooner than January 2013).

It is nice that these major libraries tested RDA, but these major libraries have lots more cataloging staff than the average library and certainly a lot more than the average solo librarian library.  One of the major barriers to implementing RDA is not only training and easy to read English (or other language) documentation, but it is staffing.  In this day and age where libraries are barely able to keep the number of FTEs they have, they don’t have catalogers are already swamped, what happens when they move to RDA?  Budgets are shrinking so the cost of training may be prohibitive.  So are you just going to sit them down with the Tool Kit and the hopefully improved easy language documenation?  Small libraries are are going struggle, but think of solo librarian libraries. They are your cataloging department, reference department, circulation department, education department, and outreach all wrapped up in one person.  I don’t see the transition going well for the solo librarian who must be a jack of all trades. Will it lead to more outsourcing of cataloging (at a price of course)?  O r will there be some enterprising librarians who will “catalog” their collection their own way just so it is even accesible.  Will librarians use something like LibraryThing for organizations to display their small non-circulating or lightly circulating collection to patrons

When faced with shrinking staff, libraries closing, and other cutbacks, is RDA what our organization should be focusing on?  Think of our sales pitch to our funding organizations when there are no short term benefits and the long term ones have yet to be determined.  I would think it would be more beneficial for us to focus more on high touch personalized services rather than a cataloging standard that failed some major goals. 

Now I am not a cataloger, nor do I play one on TV, so perhaps I am totally missing something.  If I am please comment and help me out because I would really like to learn.  But I just don’t see how regular librarians in regular or small libraries are going to be able to deal with RDA at all and how RDA will help us in the long run.  Are we just too hung up on MARC format and whatever we use AACR2 or RDA is just dealing with an antiquated format?

3 thoughts on “RDA and You”

  1. I attended a session on RDA at SLA2011 last week. RDA is intended to replace only AACR. New MARC fields will be required to accommodate the new data elements and to eliminate redundancies by creating data that can be linked to from authority files instead of filled in manually. It sounds to me like because AACR2 and MARC are so entrenched in library culture, baby steps have to be taken to move from a system that does not play well with other data systems to one that does. I think it’ll take awhile before the millions of records already cataloged can be brought up to code, at which point maybe we can take another baby step that doesn’t rely so heavily on MARC. Just my opinion.

  2. I know there have been extensive conversations from catalogers about this. I watched a webinar about it more than a year ago, and at that time, I was really excited. But the webinar made it seem like this was all about web optimization with easy linking through what looked something like authority files (to me, the person that took only one class on cataloging back in 2004).

    Oh, and thanks for writing up a summary! Now, I need to go back and read the executive summary and maybe try to skim the rest of it.

  3. FYI – RDA isn’t intended to replace MARC, it would be more fair to say that it’s to replace AACR2 (the 2nd edition of the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules).

    Replacing MARC is a related goal of many tech services and cataloging folk, but it’s not directly part of the above-mentioned RDA process.

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