It's the final day of the RDA Toolkit free trial (I will not call it the "open access period," as this implies things that aren't true), so I decided to write a post about it.
When I originally began hearing about the RDA Toolkit, there were some things about it that I thought sounded kind of exciting. I liked the idea of being able to keyword search RDA. I liked the idea of a mapping between AACR2 and RDA and between MARC and RDA. I also thought the workflows feature sounded like it would be really useful.
Then I got to experience the reality of the RDA Toolkit, and not just what all the webinars had been telling me. My original plan was to try to catalog a few things using the Toolkit, to get a feel for what it would be like to actually use it. I also planned to try out any available Library of Congress RDA Toolkit workflows. It turns out my original plan was a bit ambitious.
I haven't been able to catalog a single thing with the RDA Toolkit. Granted, I haven't been able to use it as much as I would have liked, but the bigger problem is that it is so hard to figure out where to begin. If I take a look at the RDA table of contents, do I see something that helps me easily navigate cataloging a book, versus a DVD, versus a website? No. I see "Recording Attributes of..." (there is no way to get the full chapter title to show, not even by expanding the pane, so it's not until you click into a section of the chapter that you can guess it's actually "Recording Attributes of Manifestations and Items"), "Recording Primary Relationships..." (same problem as the previous chapter), "Recording Relationships to..." (again, same problem), and "Recording Relationships between..." (and again, same problem). Where am I supposed to begin? Even when I can find a logical starting place, if I don't consult other chapters, I won't be able to completely catalog the item.
"But wait!" you with knowledge of cataloging with AACR2 say. "Isn't it the same with AACR2?" Well, in some ways, yes. Chapter 1 is the primary chapter one works with, but that information needs to be combined with other appropriate chapters, as well as chapters for choosing and building access points. However, with my nice print copy of AACR2, it's fairly easy to see the overall structure and pick out the chapters I need to use. I read many of these chapters from beginning to end when I was first learning to catalog, and now I rarely have to consult any of it. However, when I do need to consult it, it's fairly easy for me to figure out where to go. Each bibliographic description chapter has the same overall structure. There's even an index, for easier access when I can't remember exactly which chapter I need to consult to, say, deal with honorifics.
The RDA Toolkit is supposed to be the best way to use RDA: "...most users agree the preferred way to interact with RDA is online via the RDA..." (Troy Linker, AUTOCAT listserv post, "RDA Toolkit Solo-User Pricing, Double-User Offer, and RDA Print," 4/28/10). I'm not sure I agree with this, and I wonder if those users that supposedly said this qualified their statements with "but even the Toolkit is hard to use." At least with AACR2, navigating the multiple chapters needed to catalog something is made easier with an index and an overall organization that accepts the physical reality of the items being cataloged (which, yes, has drawbacks when you're dealing with items that are electronic, rather than physical, but wouldn't it have been easier to just overhaul the e-resources portions of AACR2?). With the Toolkit, there is no index. When I asked whether there would be an index for RDA, I believe the answer was something along the lines of "probably not" or maybe "we'll consider it." While I love the idea of being able to keyword search my cataloging rules, that's only a good option once I know those rules. I could probably do successful keyword searches in AACR2. Unfortunately, one of the big things about RDA is that it overhauls cataloging vocabulary with FRBR terminology. An index with decent cross references could help clear things up, but, instead, I'm left with keyword searching. I know there are those who figure out which AACR2 rule corresponds to which RDA rule (connections which, as far as I can tell, have not yet been implemented as easy-to-use links in the Toolkit), but isn't RDA supposed to replace AACR2? It's not a good replacement if you find yourself having to consult the "replaced" rules just to use the new ones.
So, part of me wonders if it wouldn't be easier to use a print version of RDA, which would also have the advantage of not requiring a yearly subscription fee. I'd save myself a bit of eyestrain by not having to read through it on a screen (yes, you can print RDA from the RDA Toolkit, but then why not buy it in print in the first place?). However, then I remember the monstrous bulk of the RDA draft. Without an index, I'm not sure even a print version of RDA would be easier to use.
When I was first learning to use AACR2, I wrote in it, and I marked pages with post-it notes. In the RDA Toolkit, you can create bookmarks, which is nice, but wouldn't it be even better if it were easier to add bookmarked information into a workflow? Maybe I've missed something, but the Workflows portion of the Toolkit, the part that I was most excited about, seems awfully clunky. The Workflows editor has many of the features of something like MS Word, and, as far as I can tell, no features that integrate it really well with RDA. When I bookmark parts of RDA, where is the feature in the RDA workflow creator that allows me to easily add bookmarked information to a workflow? Yes, I can copy and paste, but I can do that in MS Word. There should be more benefits to using the Workflow creator/editor than just the ability to easily share workflows with others.
"The RDA Toolkit is designed to reach several audiences. The largest audience is of course catalogers, but some of the functions while marginally useful for catalogers were designed with educators, system developers, researchers, and the wider metadata community in mind." -- Troy Linker again, RDA Listserv, "Re: [RDA-L] RDA Toolkit - Schemas," 8/26/10
This is a point that has been made several times, that RDA and the RDA Toolkit are intended to be used by a wider audience than just catalogers. I'm wondering, does ALA Publishing really expect RDA to be adopted outside the library community? If even we have difficulty understanding it and how to apply it, I seriously doubt other communities would want to make the effort to wade through it. By trying to be all things to everyone, RDA has, in my opinion, managed to not really serve anyone. If anyone does use it (which library catalogers may have to, if the Library of Congress adopts it), they will probably not be using the RDA Toolkit. Instead, I imagine most people would rely heavily on a "Concise RDA" of some sort, or RDA cheatsheets. Another possibility is that those who do use the Toolkit will rely primarily on borrowed workflows, either used as is or with local edits. The Library of Congress' RDA workflows, while still a bit daunting, are much easier to use for the actual act of cataloging than the full RDA.
Last I heard, our library will not be subscribing to the RDA Toolkit yet. There's really no point. It's too cumbersome for me to begin using right now, and, anyway, there's not point in using it if it hasn't been officially adopted by the Library of Congress yet. Plus, if I were to switch to using it, I would first need to spend a few hours with Tracy, changing our ILS display settings and adding new MARC fields. For now, I guess I'll wait and see. It's just too bad that ALA Publishing set up such a limited trial period - why not extend the trial until the Library of Congress has actually made its decision? I doubt ours is the only library that will not be subscribing because it's not yet clear whether it would be a waste of money.