RDA and transforming to a new bibliographic framework

I haven’t had the opportunity to work much with RDA records yet, however I’ve been following some e-mail lists, blogs, and other commentaries where people have been discussing there experiences with it. The Library of Congress , the National Library of Medicine (NLM), and the National Agricultural Library (NAL) organized testing to evaluate whether or not they will implement RDA.

Out of this testing experience (which is still being analyzed), the Library of Congress issued “Transforming our Bibliographic Framework: A Statement from the Library of Congress” on May 13. According to the statement, “Spontaneous comments from participants in the US RDA Test show that a broad cross-section of the community feels budgetary pressures but nevertheless considers it necessary to replace MARC 21 in order to reap the full benefit of new and emerging content standards.” Therefore, Library of Congress is going to investigate, among other things, replacing MARC 21.

From what I have heard of the RDA testing, I think this makes sense. The general feel I get is that RDA by its self is not enough of a change to make libraries expend the resources necessary to implement it. Sure there are some improvements over AACR2, but there are also many things I read that are not improvements. This is especially true if you agree with the Taiga Forum 6’s 2011 Provocative Statement #2 that libraries will need to participate in radical cooperation. RDA offers a bit too much flexibility to insure that bibliographic records created by one library will fit well for other libraries. For example, the Rule of 3 is gone which on the cover is an improvement since it allows for more then 3 authors to be included as main or added entry. However, as discussions on the RDA-L list, it requires only the first author and illustrators of children’s books as author main or added entry. Local choices are great if you are only working for the local and not “radically cooperating.”

I won’t go through the list of complaints (and, to be fair, some complements) of RDA I’ve seen, as you can find them yourselves. I think my takeaway though is RDA on top of our existing bibliographic infrastructure is probably not going to make a monumental improvement for our patrons while at the same time it will be costly to implement (especially retroactively). RDA might be better than AACR2, but is it better enough that migrating to it is worth the time and costs? I am not so sure. Maybe simple changes to AACR2 would be just as good and more practical?

Some people I talk to think moving to RDA is a necessary first step that will make more significant or radical changes easier in the future. I, however, have a underlying fear that if libraries implement RDA in the current environment they will be stuck with it for a long time and it will actually make it harder to implement something different in the future. I hope the others are right and I am wrong since I believe in the short to medium term, RDA will be implemented on top of our existing bibliographic infrastructure – for better or worse.

If we replace our underlying bibliographic infrastructure with something else and change to RDA, say maybe something based on RDF or some other standard model for data interchange, we might actually get a significant change that will help expose our bibliographic data to the greater world of linked data while at the same time making it easier for libraries to take advantage of linked data.

One thing that the Library of Congress needs to take account in this process is the economic realities of implementing something new. I don’t see this specifically mentioned in the issues they plan on addressing. I assume that it will be part of the underlying discussions, but I would like to see it more prominently mentioned. Part of this is also involving vendors as well as open source developers of systems such as Evergreen and Koha. If LoC makes a change, it will effect libraries throughout the US (and probably the world). If the systems libraries use can’t function withing this new bibliographic framework, it will be a difficult and extremely expensive transition.

I think this is something librarians, especially those in systems and cataloging, should follow closely. I know I will be doing so.

1 Comment

  1. Karen Coyle said,

    June 5, 2011 at 21:06:14

    Ed, are you aware that RDA data elements and vocabularies have been defined in RDF — more particularly, OWL and SKOS? Go to:


    This has been done in collaboration with the JSC (the creators/owners of RDA).