Monday, December 6, 2010

"You say you want a revolution"

This is a bit of a rambling post, but the general topic is RDA. That seems to be all anyone ever talks about in the cataloging world anymore. Not surprising, really.

There are a lot of complaints about RDA being voiced on the OCLC-CAT listserv, of all places. Why OCLC-CAT? I'm pretty sure it started because of the way OCLC has been allowing RDA data (authority and bibliographic) to be added to the WorldCat database.

When I originally heard that RDA would be tested before the Library of Congress made any decisions about it, I assumed that that test would take place outside of the live cataloging environment. This has not been the case. The word "test" in OCLC Land sounds an awful lot like "the rules have officially changed, deal with it." OCLC has instructed catalogers to treat RDA bibliographic records vs. AACR2 bibliographic records the same as they treat AACR2 vs. AACR bibliographic records: if an RDA record already exists, an AACR2 record would be considered a duplicate and is therefore not supposed to be entered. Catalogers not using RDA may edit the record back to AACR2 locally.

How exactly does this make sense? I would understand if RDA were the official new rules, but they're not, at least not in the U.S. I know that there are countries that have decided to implement RDA already, and WorldCat is an international database. However, couldn't OCLC just instruct catalogers to treat RDA vs. AACR2 records as parallel records? For instance, if an RDA record already exists, catalogers still using AACR2 (which is most of the U.S.) could enter an AACR2 record, thereby giving other AACR2 users the ability to share the work rather than having every AACR2 user edit the RDA record locally. When/If RDA is implemented by the Library of Congress, OCLC could set their deduplication software to consider RDA and AACR2 records for the same title as duplicates, but it makes no sense to do so before the end of the supposed test.

The bigger uproar on OCLC-CAT right now seems to be focused on authority records. I will admit to not understanding everything everyone is saying - the complaints seem mainly focused on the way RDA information is being added to authority records (RDA name headings live in 700 fields right now, with the AACR2 name headings still in 100 fields - no information has been given on what will be done to these records if RDA is implemented). Having RDA name headings in 700 fields doesn't hurt DSL, but, from what I've heard, there are libraries whose authority control systems choke on this. What does worry me about all of this is that, like the bibliographic records, these changes are all happening to live records: this is not a separate authority file just for the use of those testing RDA, but rather the authority file used by everyone, regardless of whether or not they are test libraries. In effect, non-test libraries are being forced to take part in the test. How can this still be considered a test if everything is happening in a live environment?

The uproar about the way OCLC has been handling the RDA test resulted in Memorandum Against RDA Test, a petition that has so far been signed by 312 people. Although I agree with the petition, I don't always agree with the strong wording that Wojciech Siemaszkiewicz, the person who I believe started the petition, has been using on the OCLC-CAT listserv when talking about RDA. Siemaszkiewicz has an unfortunate tendency (unfortunate because it immediately gets RDA supporters backs up and occasionally even alienates those who oppose RDA) to phrase complaints about RDA in ways that bring war protests and the rhetoric of revolution to mind.

Siemaszkiewicz isn't the only one stirring things up - Deborah Tomaras, on the OCLC-CAT listserv and others, has encouraged those who are against RDA to send their concerns to the personal emails of the members of the RDA Coordinating Committee. She even provided all the email addresses in case the website with those email addresses is taken down. While I can understand the frustration that resulted in this particular call to action, since it feels as though complaints and concerns about RDA and the RDA test have fallen on deaf ears, I'm also not comfortable with what Tomaras is asking catalogers to do. I don't really know what catalogers who are against RDA should be doing, since going through the proper channels has so far seemed ineffective, but spamming/harassing the individuals on the RDA Coordinating Committee isn't, to my mind, the way to go. Can we all just please remember that we're supposed to be professionals?

I may not be sure how I should be communicating my concerns about RDA, but I do have concerns, and one of them is whether or not a drastic reorganization of cataloging rules is even necessary. I recognize that there are problems with AACR2 - I rarely catalog any of the formats (such as databases and websites) that are difficult to catalog with AACR2, but, when I do, it's painfully clear that something needs to be done. At least, something needs to be done to the rules for electronic resources and other things with similar cataloging problems. As far as I'm concerned, the cataloging rules are fine for most physical materials.

Let's be clear about this: the cataloging rules are different from the encoding standards, which are different from ILSs. One of the things that consistently frustrates me about the RDA arguments is that there seems to be an assumption on the part of those who are most in favor of RDA that most of our cataloging problems reside in our cataloging rules. I would argue that this is not the case.

Maybe I need to keep a list of every catalog wish list item I am asked to implement that I can't, in addition to the reason why I can't. I'm pretty sure that, most of the time, when I can't implement something it's because of the way MARC is set up or the way our ILS works, not because of AACR2. If AACR2 is the reason why something can't be done with MARC or something in our ILS is not doing what our users (whether they're students, faculty, or librarians) want, and if that were plainly stated to the cataloging community, I would happily accept a change to the rules. However, I don't agree with change for change's sake, and that's what RDA feels like. On the one hand, RDA is supposed to make everything better. On the other hand, it's supposed to not change things so much that AACR2 records can't live side by side with RDA records. I don't see how both of those statements can be true.

So, that's it from me for now. I don't know if those who are most against RDA will ever be able to reconcile with those who are most for it - neither side really seems to understand the other, or maybe they're just not willing to listen to each other. Or even talk to each other (it seems like pro-RDA talk may be happening on Twitter a lot - I wouldn't know, since I don't use Twitter, but I may have to start just to see what's going on - while anti-RDA talk is concentrated on listservs). Another problem seems to be that not all ILSs are created equal and that not everyone understands this. But then, I may just think that because I'm in the camp that believes our largest problems lie in our ILSs and MARC 21.


  1. what is wrong with our ILS. Start a list and lets fix it.

  2. Actually, the stuff I was thinking of when I wrote the post isn't stuff we can fix. We can't fix that it reads all subfield t's and r's in an enhanced 505 as one giant subfield t and one giant subfield r. We can't fix that it takes information from the linking fields in our serials records and does title searches, rather than searching by the OCLC numbers Janie had so carefully made sure were there.

    Those are things I know for sure aren't fixable, because they've been confirmed by other Symphony users (and sometimes also Client Care). There are some things I'm not sure whether they are fixable or not, like Validation Wizard apparently seeing 655s as being 650s and treated all 6XX fields the same regardless of the second indicator code. I'll have to look into those things some more sometime.

    Actually, as far as I know, we're pretty much set on changes right now. Has Client Care gotten back to you on adding 655 to our subject keyword index? I can't wait to try it out when it's working again.

  3. Excellent post Melissa - thanks!

  4. Well said.
    I tend to separate this topic into three main ones (trying to wrap my mind around it)
    Since the RDA 'test' is underway, these records should be identified differently than master records cataloged according to current standards (not proposed ones)
    The test results/comments should be considered and not brushed-off as it feels the 'pro-RDA' folks are doing;
    We should set our sights on actually making use of the MARC and ILS we have, making any changes necessary there. If any wholesale 'worldview' changes are made, they should be more toward how to get the machines to work more efficiently to pull what is there, not limit records to 'floor' levels or obsess about whether to spell out abbreviations or not;
    OK, one more 'division'--in general, the library profession should really try to get a handle on what users want, including the more thoughtful ones, and not just jump on the tech bandwagon because we're afraid libraries will disappear if they all don't look and act like Google.

  5. Melissa—for your consideration. Much of the criticism of RDA comes from fear of change and some of it from just different opinions. An examination of the history of AACR2 shows the same kind of controversy-- same kinds of arguments for and against. Even AACR created a stir when it came about. Changes in practice always generates this kind of behavior, especially in LIS. (Many librarians resisted library automation in the 1960s/70s. They said it wasn’t needed).

    Your assessment of people incorrectly assuming that cataloging problems reside in our cataloging rules is fair and I think accurate. But, at the same time we have to recognize that AACR2 was created during a time of mainly manual card catalog systems. We aren’t in that kind of information environment anymore. RDA is based (in part) on FRBR (and FRAD, FRSAD most likely soon) which in turn is a modification of the entity relationship (E-R) database model. (All databases start with a conceptual model!)
    We need this new model if we want to evolve our information systems—and they must. It isn’t logical to expect an electronic information system to function based on a non-database model. Nor is it logical to use an input rule set that is card-based or, even more importantly, format-based. Of course, we’ve never really educated catalogers to think of the catalog as a database and this is major disadvantage.

    I have listened to and have read much of the criticism of RDA over the last few years. Lately though it just keeps repeating and repeating like a broken record and I’ve chosen to unsubscribe from many of the cataloging listservs for that reason. In my view, the JSC has always been open about the process and has given the cataloging community ample opportunity to provide input. Those who have wanted to contribute and have a voice have been active in workshops, pre-conferences, presentations/webinars, publications, etc. Then there are those who are content to sit on the sidelines and complain. Loud desperation sometimes breeds extreme fear. It hasn’t fallen on deaf ears—that is a false assumption—but just because we can instantaneously transmit our opinions on the Web via email or blogs does not mean they will be instantaneously acknowledged or acted upon.

    My cataloging students and I have used RDA and many of them have found it not as difficult as they first feared. I think much of this has to do with a different generation with different perceptions of information, information systems, and information seeking skills. But it does take a big shift in how we think about information resources, the relationships between them and how we create and support representations of that dynamic in our catalog systems. I have struggled to change my ingrained cataloging habits but I happily report that it is coming together in bits and pieces.

    I do hope you keep a list of catalog wish list items and the reasons they can or cannot be granted. It would be great to look at that over time.


  6. I agree that much of RDA is change for change's sake (most of what newly minted librarians do these days is change for change's sake). However, there are a few changes being made in RDA that I think are fantastic:
    1) The use of the full form of words as found on the item instead of abbreviations
    2) The de-Christocentrification of the books of the bible
    3) The separation of content, media, and carrier (though this still needs a bit of tweaking)
    4) The inclusion of more biographical information in personal name authority records

    Aside from these few things, I think that most of RDA is change for change's sake and--rather than being a decade in the making and costing the library world millions of dollars--we should have been happy with AACR2 2010 Rev.

  7. I tried to comment earlier, I'll try again.
    Good post, thanks.
    I think, since we're now in the midst of testing RDA, these WorldCat records should be identified as such--as test records and not added to the database as if they were created by existing (not proposed) standards.
    I don't see why we can't make better use of the MARC and AACR2 that we have instead of trying to address the issues by RDA.
    It seems to me that the library community is frightened they will be seen as not keeping up and all libraries will disappear if we all don't look the same online. A more considered approach, using the unique expertise of librarians, seems like it is being lost.

  8. Think about the bigger picture…we cannot base electronic catalogs on a card catalog model. We aren’t in that kind of information environment anymore. AACR2 has been great but you have to admit it is a set of input rules created for a manual card system. MARC was created to print catalog cards more efficiently. It was adapted for OPACs and still has a lot to offer but if we want to evolve our catalogs then we need to evolve how we describe and input data. An online information system/catalog is a database—please do not ignore this crucial fact. All databases start with a conceptual model. RDA is based (in part) on FRBR (and FRAD and probably soon FRSAD) which itself is a modification/adaptation of the entity-relationship (E-R) database model created by Peter Chen in 1976. We need this model, more than ever, because it will allow us to show the rich and complex relationships in a collection of information objects. In order to do this we have evolve how we represent the data in the catalog, how we craft it and what we want it to do. AACR2 has allowed us to do some aspects of this but it is too limited and too much based on book formats.

    We’ve never educated catalogers to think of the catalog as a database and this has been an increasingly serious impediment. Look beyond the cataloging process and see what is behind it.


  9. @Shawne - ::sigh:: This will be the second time I've trying to respond to your comment - Blogger choked on my first attempt that then wouldn't even allow me to go back to the comments I'd written up. Hopefully I've remembered most of what I tried to say the first time around.

    "An online information system/catalog is a database—please do not ignore this crucial fact."

    Yes, but I still don't understand how RDA is any better than AACR2 in this regard. What I have seen of RDA records looks almost the same as AACR2 - the main changes appear to be aesthetic in nature. I put together an email for several people at my library that detailed what some of the most noticeable changes would be for catalog users, and it was a little embarrassing how minor the changes were. It certainly wasn't clear what the justification was for the amount of time I'd have to spend relearning terminology, rule organization, which MARC field to use, doing system tweaks, etc.

    If we were really looking at the catalog as a database, wouldn't we be broadening our view to include more than just the bibliographic record? At a minimum, every system I've ever worked with (which, granted, hasn't been very many yet) makes use of information from bibliographic records, authority records AND item records in searches and displays, and yet it's rare to see any talk about anything except bibliographic and authority records. The cataloging world is focusing on what I consider to be the easiest thing to make changes to, the cataloging rules. Indeed, isn't the ease of changing things the reason why local cataloging practices are possible? An individual library can't necessarily change the way something in MARC or their ILS works, but it might still be possible to create a workaround why tweaking how the cataloging rules are interpreted locally. And so it's done.

    But the cataloging world as a whole should be doing more. We should be focusing on the things that are harder to change, the things that individual libraries can't do much about and that would make a greater difference to OPAC functionality. MARC (or whatever encoding standard might be better) could be the place to start, with changes to AACR2 made as necessary. Then we should require every ILS to have a certain level of functionality, even if not every library chooses to make use of that full functionality. At the moment, catalogers aren't even guaranteed that what the MARC standards say about a field or subfield is actually how an ILS treats that field or subfield.

    "AACR2 has allowed us to do some aspects of this but it is too limited and too much based on book formats."

    So this requires a complete reorganization of the rules, for everything? Why not leave alone the cataloging rules that do work fine and only completely rework the ones that need to be completely reworked? Also, I still don't see how RDA is any better than AACR2. change to something better is good, but I don't believe RDA is better, and certainly not so much better that it justifies the cost (both time and money) of switching to it.

    "We need this model, more than ever, because it will allow us to show the rich and complex relationships in a collection of information objects."

    We already do try to show relationships, using linking fields, subject headings, name headings etc. I agree that this could use some work, but, again, I don't think it's the cataloging rules that need the most work. And, again, I don't see how RDA is an improvement. No matter what the rules say, my ILS is still going to indicate relationships via keyword searches of various kinds.

  10. Ok, folks, I figured out one of the reasons why several people tried to comment and couldn't, or their comments disappeared. It turns out several comments went into Blogger's spam folder, which I usually forget to check. I'll be more diligent about checking it from now on. If you have a comment that disappears or doesn't get posted, it may not actually be a glitch.

  11. Eek, didn't realize my first post actually got through. I tried to recreate it in my second posting but could only remember a part of it. Sorry to sound repetitive. Will think about your further questions.


  12. Sorry about that! My fault for not checking the spam folder, although I'm not sure why Blogger considered so many comments to be spam.