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Please continue to answer the poll question in my last post. I will leave it open until this Thursday. In the meantime…

As a cataloger, I have to be thinking seriously about RDA even though I’d rather do anything but. For those of you who are fortunate enough to be in the dark about RDA, it is the set of “new” cataloging rules set to formally replace AACR2 on March 31, 2013. RDA has been tested and is currently being used by some libraries. I have been downloading more and more RDA records from OCLC lately. They are easy to spot for several reasons, mostly because of the inclusion of three new fields (336, 337, and 338 ) and because RDA records do not include the GMD in the 245 (title) field (the GMD is the bracketed information behind the title that indicates large print, sound recording, video recording, etc.). These records are also easy to spot because they require the spelling of words such as page, volume, and illustration instead of the AACR2 abbreviations, p. v., and ill. Yawn. There are other differences, too, and right now there are AACR2, RDA, and hybrid records in OCLC. Sigh.

As a cataloger who doesn’t care much to begin with about abbreviations or whether the ending punctuation in any given MARC field is a period, quotation mark, or bracket, I find it very hard to care about the underwhelming differences offered by RDA, and the reason I don’t care is because I have yet to see how RDA will make one hooty hoot of a difference to end users or enhance their interface with the OPAC. I just don’t see it. Show me something that will give users a new, forward-thinking searching experience and I’m all for it. As far as I can see, RDA is designed for catalogers and many of them aren’t even fans. Simply subscribe to AutoCat and follow it for a day or two and you will see what I mean. Just today I subscribed to RDA-L, and I’m late coming to this particular table. But since the dinner bell is set to ring soon, I figured I’d better pull up a chair.

It’s also not about the fear or loathing of change. I love change when change makes sense. I embrace change. Give me something new to learn that will advance the cause of moving libraries forward and I’ll learn the crap out of it. But please don’t give me change that doesn’t make a real difference. Not tedious minutia that nobody is going to notice except for the glaring omissions like removing the GMD from the 245 (title) field, which our users will notice, particularly when it comes to large print books.

While I don’t care, I have to care because the catalogers at LSLC strive for excellence as does the entire CAS (Cataloging and Acquisitions Services) team. And if the new standard of cataloging excellence is going to be RDA, well, then that’s what we have to learn and figure out how and where to incorporate it into our daily work. We have to decide if we’re going to buy the Toolkit. We have to decide if we’re going to break with RDA standards and continue to add the GMD to the 245 when it is missing. We have to decide what fields we’re going to display and which ones we’re not and why. We have to decide what training we need and what changes we must make to our documentation. We have to decide what changes need to be made to our ILS. We have to figure out how any changes we make will impact our customers–the member libraries–and their patrons. We have to figure out what changes are important to note and make known to our customers and what changes will not affect them. We take our charge seriously and strive to serve the member libraries and their users to the very best of our abilities.

That is why we are in the process of gathering information from all the right places in order to make informed decisions. We’ve attended webinars and conference sessions and followed discussions on various listservs. That takes time and effort. I hope the time and effort are worth it. I have seen discussion to the effect that RDA is the first step toward making MARC records more compatible with the rest of the Web, which relates to linked data and all that stuff that makes my head spin when I try to achieve a greater understanding. So, if that’s the case–if this is a first step toward making the catalog less library-ish and more user-friendly, then that’s great. But since the Library of Congress is in the process of developing a framework to replace MARC, then I have questions about where RDA fits into this picture. Have we put the cart before the horse? I have not yet read the full report issued by the working group, which is a draft, high-level view of the proposed new model–BIBFRAME. Perhaps something in that report will answer my question.

One helpful cataloger–J. McRee “Mac” Elrod–has prepared cheat sheets (each word is a separate link–there are two cheat sheets) and shared them with the rest of the cataloging world, as well as MRIs (you have to create a free account to access this information), which “permit the continuing use of AACR2 while providing bibliographic records with descriptions and access points that are compatible with those produced by the use of Resource Description and Access (RDA).”  He has also created a document entitled Practical Measures to Cope with RDA Records. None of these aids have been officially adopted by the powers that be. But they are extremely helpful in sorting out what’s what–they make good, common sense. I’m all about common sense. There are far more scholarly and detailed reviews and explorations of RDA out there. Mine is not a scholarly or detailed approach. I try to look at as much information as I can and then make sense of it from as broad a perspective as possible.

I’m not sure how other catalogers feel about RDA, although from my observations at conferences and from listservs I suspect most feel ambivalent, unsure, and a bit skeptical. I’m not at all sure how I feel about it because I don’t believe I fully understand the benefits or if there are any benefits at all. Maybe it’s just the reluctant cataloger in me that is resistant to spending time understanding that part of my job which I most resist–the weeds. While they say that the devil is in the details, for me, the details are the devil. Perhaps if I focus instead on the big picture of RDA and find a reason to celebrate this change instead of rant about it, then the details will take care of themselves in a sensible way over time.

In honor of rants, here is one of the greatest rants of all time. And that’s how I feel about RDA–show me the money. Show me the value.