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Tuesday, November 23, 2010


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Good to see someone not just bashing RDA.
RDA isn't perfect. Not by a long shot. It doesn't do everything we need it to do. It's got some real issues with application.
However, I think it's moving in the right direction. We just need to find ways to keep pushing us further in the right direction.

Shawne Miksa

Yeah! Welcome, glad to have you here. I agree that the practice of cataloging (or whatever we call it) will have changed greatly in the years to come. I'm still working on my RDA textbook but I'm hoping that it will effectively address this new direction.


Nicely said, Christine! My only real disagreement is with: "traditional library cataloging--the fine art of crafting an individual record ..."

I think this is the view (and practice) that got us into assorted forms of trouble, and that one that rhetorically inhibits us the most as it is used against us today.

Traditional cataloging--at least in theory--was about crafting a catalog. A coherent and workable catalog is about records that hang well together and not at all about the individual records, except in how they cohere to make a functional catalog.


My job has changed dramatically in the past 5 years and I can't even imagine where it's going anymore. Frankly, I find that exciting and challenging and it's why I became a librarian and a cataloger in the first place.

My focus now is making stuff as findable as possible and as quickly as possible and not focusing on the details. Not to say that details don't have their place (hello rare book and manuscript cataloging and archives too), but that's not my job. I'm working with material is frequently transient. It pops up online in multiple variations/manifestations/iterations and could disappear next week or never. I have to get access to users quickly. And I have to be prepared to revisit that data and edit/augment/change it as the access and the resource itself changes. Very little in my job is about concrete unchanging resources/materials.

So it's not about perfect anymore. It's about what data I can get from other sources that's usable and then manipulating or augmenting that data using mainly batch processes into records that work with our archaic integrated library systems and existing data. All of this happens so, as Mark indicated, our catalog is functional and works as an integrated whole.

As I often quip, my job is to make sh*t findable and make it happen in a timely manner.

So much has to change and RDA is just ONE step. ONE piece in the larger puzzle. So I guess I too am a cheerleader for RDA and FRBR and the digital future of libraries.

Christine Schwartz

@arkham, @Shawne @Mark @Shana, Thanks for these thoughtful comments. I am grateful for the additional ideas (there's definitely a lot to be said on this pressing topic). Unfortunately, due to the holiday, I can't really weigh in right now.

James Weinheimer

I agree with almost all of this post, especially the statement: "My hunch is that within 10 years you won't even recognize library cataloging it will have changed so much". This, I think, is absolutely true.

Where I disagree is that that RDA represents a step forward, or in some way is something fundamentally different from what we are doing now: there is still the same access as what we have today.

I still cannot imagine how our users will notice any difference in our catalogs from what they experience today--at least in a positive way. There has also still not been a serious business case made for it either.

People should remember that there *is* a choice!

Christine Schwartz

Thanks, James. I'm going to undergo a serious study of RDA over the Christmas break. I mainly want to see how much of RDA can be applied to my current metadata work. I will think about your suggestion that RDA is not a positive step forward.

Paul Burley

Christine, I liked this posting tremendously. The cataloging apocalypse camp announces year after year that "things" will be so tremendously different in the "future," it's as if the earth will tilt on its axis. Rapid, constant change has been the rhythm of my academic and working career, as it probably has been of yours. My cataloging (and now, metadata) work is substantially different than it was ten years ago, so it'll be substantially different ten years from now.

The concrete examples of change you're offering up here—workflows, scale, technology—I'm nodding my head in agreement with your outline more than I have with other writers. (I don't see much forward-thinking vision in RDA itself, but hey, I'm suddenly giving a presentation on it in January). To your list I'd emphasize that we wouldn't recognize the _resources_ that we'll be working with ten years from now. But that's nothing new, either, and isn't that what makes this all fun and interesting?


Very nice post. I too appreciate your comments about workflows and advances via digital repositories.

James Weinheimer above said, "There has also still not been a serious business case made for it either."

Isn't the entire current state of affairs itself the business case for the need for RDA (or something like it)?

The current process is overly complex, restrictive, and full of quaint, now pointless esotericisms, while the results generated are under-usable in multiple systems and environments both inside and outside the library world, full of often arcane abbreviations and inexplicable omissions that users are unable to understand or decipher (how many non-cataloging librarians even know what “s.l.” means?), all of which is adherent to a standard that is unable to represent and describe works that were barely in the realm of possibility, let alone existence, when AACR2 was rolled out, yet today are such a base standard as to simply be mundane.

I personally would love to see Christine's "leaner, meaner, simpler cataloging code for one"; but in the meantime, I'm relieved to at least get to move on to a slightly-less-bloated-if-too-ingrained-in-AACR2 system that can distinguish between a work, an expression, and a manifestation and can represent a Web page without gymnastics and gravity boots.

David Coate

This post, and the comments which follow, raise many issues. First, RDA seems to me to hardly be 'slightly-less-bloated-if-too-ingrained-in-AACR2 system,' since it takes an existing body of complexity and adds several more layers of complexity. The thought that in 10 years we will not recognize current cataloging (or RDA) is somewhat disappointing, since it seems like it has taken 10 years to get to this point. My personal opinion is that an opportunity to redefine and simplify cataloging/metadata practice has been lost. If the future is algorithms that autofill records, or human non-catalogers that self-submit items to repositories, why are we even bothering with this entire structure? I think there are more problems with the ILS than with the cataloging standards; maybe we should have spent all this time focusing on _that_.


Maybe I'm dense, but I still don't understand how RDA is better than AACR2. From my standpoint, all it's going to do is make things take a lot longer, while I figure out the new lingo, the drastically different structure (vs. AACR2), and the areas where RDA differs from AACR2 (likely the easiest of the 3 tasks, since others have already written up cheatsheets). RDA's not going to change how my library's ILS works (or doesn't work). RDA won't change the fact that more information is crammed into some MARC subfields than computers can easily understand. After trying to wade through the text of RDA, I really don't see why anyone outside the library world would ever want to use it if they weren't required to.

"The unhappiness with RDA is bringing to light just the type of dysfunction found in traditional cataloging that we need to get away from: it's rigid, inflexible, and overly complex. To move metadata to the web we need the opposite: agility, flexibility, and, where possible, simplification."

This is a hard one for me. Yes, certain things are a pain to catalog using AACR2 (and RDA isn't exactly clear and simple, so how is it a step in the right direction?). But I'm also concerned about what "agility" and "flexibility" would actually mean and look like. Part of the reason I can do global editing and cleanup of our library catalog is because I know what the data should look like, for the most part. Flexibility and agility that destroys my ability to know what information can be found where and how it has been formatted is not necessarily helpful. I don't trust our ILS vendor to create something that could deal very well with increased messiness (which is what I think of when I hear "flexibility" and "agility").


I find myself constantly disappointed when thinking about RDA (and endlessly frustrated when I see the actual records). I think my biggest problem with RDA is that it is far too similar to AACR2, while making things more complicated. I just don't think it's *enough* of a move towards flexibility and agility. It uses a rigid (and often outdated--"two dimensional moving image"? Really?) language while maintaining a "publication" model that looks less and less like the way information and media are produced. I think that we, as a community, missed an opportunity to really innovate.

And I think that we've spent too long hammering out these already dated rules instead of looking at new technologies and partnerships that could make cataloging more effective at making sh*t findable, as Shana put it.

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