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RDA thoughts

[updated 2017.11.9]RDAlogo_rgb

I’ve been listening to webinars on RDA (Resource Description and Access) and related developments in cataloging.  Most recently, the Amigos webinar “Is RDA on Your RaDAr?”, which has been interesting.  Thank you, Amigos team.

It’s my responsibility, after all, as the Technical Services Librarian.  I do all the cataloging.  I have one person to follow up after all that (a much more time-consuming job, and I’m pathetically glad I have her) with the barcodes, physical processing, etc., much of it by using the tools I worked out for that (and happily delegated). Then we have a student worker to cover/place labels/pockets/etc.

I’ve been doing this long enough to have gone through some changes in AACR to AACR2, MARC formats, etc.  That includes the first records for things that exist online, even.  So I’m no stranger to changes.

However, that tends to make me a little slow to jump onto new things just because they are supposed to be improvements, at least while still in beta stages.  RDA has been out a while, but it was being tweaked for some time.

I don’t want to sound negative about evaluating newer ideas such as RDA, but I’m a big advocate of cost-effectiveness.  This is sometimes considered inconsistent with the obsessive-compulsive, sometimes perfectionist, nature of catalogers (being personally somewhat guilty as charged). When there’s nobody else to take up the slack in the workload, however, one tends to boil down to what’s really going to get used.  The perfect should not be the enemy of the “good enough for actual use by our end users.”  So, that’s how I tend to look at something like this.

I specifically asked a presenter what advantages RDA offers that, say, a Discovery service doesn’t as far as searching and limiting and other patron-relevant functions.  I did not get one specific improvement, just some talk about how it supposedly was going to be better, and Discovery services are using it or compensating for the lack of RDA, or whatever.  

We have a Discovery service now on top of the catalog, so will RDA improve on that?  What can I use to justify the work and expense of converting our existing catalog records?  That’s the sort of question I have to ask.

I’m seeing my own catalog, which would need revisions to essentially every single record to become RDA, at some cost (going through a vendor to reprocess the records, as others have done, I hear).

I have some idea of what RDA advocates are trying to improve.  MARC, admittedly, is rigid, because the standardization of MARC allows computers to search and display the data consistently.  There are coding conventions (including AACR2) that still contain holdovers from the limited amount of data which could be crammed onto paper catalog cards, such as abbreviations which could be upgraded to make records clearer to end users.  That’s a pro, in favor of RDA procedures.

And yet I saw a commenter in a webinar session saying reactions from users about the missing GMD (General Material Designation) in the 245 field (the h subfield with things such as [sound recording] to describe the material RIGHT THERE) which patrons are complaining are missing in RDA records.  Patrons now say they have to open the entire record to see what the item actually is (since apparently they are not using the icons representing format supposedly being displayed using these fields).  Our catalog and Discovery service both offer visual icons as well as GMDs, since some people will look one place and not the other.

Other librarians say the end users haven’t seemed to notice (so why are we doing this RDA stuff, again?).

The reality, I fear, is that the vast majority of patrons/end users may not use — or even care about — the features that RDA and related standards are trying to provide.  I need those supposed enhancements to be able to justify spending the money and time to non-library as well as library administration, during a time of increasingly limited funding, or we’re not getting approved for this.

So, I’m trying to line up the factors that I (not necessarily anyone else) am thinking about at this time, which may change as we progress, and consider what — if any — reason(s) might be valid for putting effort into converting to RDA.

*** There are certainly pros to RDA, such as getting away from the abbreviations used since the days of typing catalog cards, and allowing more flexibility in tracings and description.  However, I’m not seeing why elements such as those cannot be added to our existing records (other than consistency), whether or not RDA is implemented otherwise.  We are definitely overdue for some of these changes.  I could do a lot of that with just the Global Update function in III’s Millennium, however, if it seems useful enough. [No Reason]

*** Don’t we love the 007 and 008 fields?  I wonder how many lone professional-cataloger libraries were involved in creating RDA and/or implementing it…  Of course, that’s not a pro or con; a lot of stuff gets created by the members of larger staffs which benefit — or at least affect — the rest of us.  I certainly didn’t have time to sit down and write AACR2 anyplace I’ve worked.  Several presenters (in this webinar and others) talk about the meetings in committees and elsewhere, over details such as how many tracings to do, while us solo types hold such meetings in our heads.  Meanwhile, I admit I pretty much never bother with 007/008 fields on the rare occasions when I do original cataloging — anyone else who wants them is welcome to add to my record. [Reason Only Useful to Catalogers = Con]

*** I hate implementing anything until it’s completed, so I haven’t rushed to do RDA up to this point (2009 to 2014). I think it’s pretty much out there by now, with some tweaks in process.  So it’s only now that I feel I can seriously look at it, and at how it’s working for places that are using it. [Reason to Consider]

*** BIBFRAME is proposed to replace MARC coding, to allow more links and versatility in handling them.  Someday.  For open source software, perhaps.  It looks promising, but it’s not something I can use at this time. [Reason to Wait]

We have been discussing changing our ILS at some time in the future, and if we decide to do that, we may just have much of this handled automatically by using enhanced records.  [Reason to Wait]

I’ve set our catalog  so it accepts and displays RDA records.  We can use the incoming records downloaded from OCLC.  I keep the RDA fields in records since they don’t display or provide any relevance in the online catalog which users see.  [No Reason]

All in all, I cannot see that RDA helps us, or that not having it hurts us.  At least at this time.  Maybe later.  Wait and see.

Update 2017.11.8

We have allowed the webpub.def in our Sierra OPAC (online public access catalog) to show RDA fields such as 264, since RDA-compatible records show that field instead of 260 for a while now.

I’m seeing another Amigos presentation on RDA and such. With all due respect, I’m not seeing anything that will make a bit of difference to patrons trying to use the OPAC. Still a lot of stuff being developed. Still — quite honestly — arcane.

ARCANE: As in, “known or knowable to only a few people”, as in “mysterious, obscure”. But hey, the idea is still to keep understanding to catalogers, and that function is working quite well. Top marks.

Extra credit for terms such as “the four-fold path” (didn’t Dr. Strange come up with that one?) complete with a graphic and a need for a new ‘toolkit’ to figure out how to apply it. They are now restructuring RDA and the toolkit. Paint your wand a different color, Mr. Potter.  [Everyone following the cultural references okay?]

This is looking more and more like change for the sake of appearing to ‘update’ procedures, which quickly becomes a new way to complicate whatever you’re doing. I don’t doubt the dedication of the people working on this, but any presentation that has to quote the Hitchhiker’s Guide and say “Don’t Panic” at the end, does not fill me with confidence. No panic here – just minimal compliance to remain functional, until they finish digging all the way through the planet and come out the other side.  (“The elves are working hard” as they said.)

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