Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A little cataloging digression

I've thought about starting a whole new blog just for posts about cataloging, but I don't think I'll ever end up writing enough to justify its existence. However, I'm a cataloger and love what I do, so cataloging is a large part of what I think about, and there are occasionally things that are nice to get off my chest. For the moment, I'll publish those occasional posts here, and label them all "cataloging" or something like that - if my cataloging posts ever start to get out of hand, I can see about starting a separate blog. That makes two labels, "cataloging" and "blog updates," the only two labels I use in this blog that have nothing to do with movies/books/etc. I'm writing about.

If you're not particularly interested in cataloging, you might want to skip this post and others like it. Well, you've been warned, so now on to the topic that inspired me to create a new post label: RDA (Resource Description and Access).

The review draft was made available for downloading in PDF format early last week, not long before I left for the conference. RDA is enormous, and I've been busy compiling my qualifications for being the cataloger at my library (the form is long and feels like an invasive job application), so I haven't been able to read through as much of it as I would like - at this point, I've read Chapter 0, Chapter 1, and portions of Chapter 2, the appendices, and the glossary. AUTOCAT, the RDA Discussion List, and more have been buzzing with opinions about RDA, which I've been trying to keep track of.

So far, those who think RDA is a monumental mess seem to be the most vocal of the lot. I think the strongest support I've heard for RDA lately has been that it's a "step in the right direction."

My own opinion of RDA? Well, I'm more on the "monumental mess" side of things. The little I've been able to get through of RDA so far has worried me. I can't skillfully dissect RDA's problems the way some AUTOCATers have - I recognize the problems when these people point them out, but I haven't necessarily noticed these problems when I've read through these sections on my own. I know I'd recognize potential problem areas in RDA a lot easier while actually using RDA to catalog something - and therein lies my problem with RDA. How is one supposed to actually use RDA to catalog something? RDA's structure doesn't really seem to have been created with practicing catalogers in mind...

As the primary cataloger at my library, I worry about what's going to happen when/if RDA gets implemented. If RDA is widely implemented, my library will definitely be implementing it as well - there's no way around that, because there would simply be no time to take every RDA record and edit it according to AACR2.

Will my library be able to afford RDA? The only reason we have a completely up-to-date copy of AACR2 is because I brought my personal copy to work with me - otherwise I'd be using a copy of AACR2 missing, at the very least, the most recent update. I'm not sure how affordable RDA is going to turn out to be, and, if it's more expensive than AACR2 and its various updates, it may become a problem.

Will I be able to get any training in the use and application of RDA, or will I be forced to somehow teach myself how to use it? I really don't know. I guess it depends upon whether any training opportunities will be available in my state, and how close they'll end up being to my town.

I have lots of other worries about RDA, but it's late and I'm tired. This is supposed to be a fun blog about books, movies, and such, so I'll try to make this my one and only RDA post. It does feel nice to get a little of that off my chest, though - I haven't been brave enough to post to the listservs much, yet.


  1. Hee hee, I bet it feels nice to be able to write "I'm a cataloger"...hurray!

    I know almost nothing about RDA, but cataloger confusion aside, do you think it will (ultimately) make it easier for people to find books from library catalogs?

  2. Heh, of course it feels good to say I'm a cataloger - maybe I'll eventually be able to say it without feeling a little self-conscious about it.

    And as far as RDA goes, I don't think cataloger confusion can really be taken out of the equation when considering if it'll make books easier to find. If catalogers can't figure out how to properly use RDA, how are we going to manage to consistently describe the materials we're cataloging?

    Moving on, though - some of RDA's ideas are nice and grand (for example, being able to easily find all the versions of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, because of the whole work-expression-manifestation thing), but I'm not sure how it's going to work in practice. ::sigh:: I'm still figuring all that out, since I have trouble wrapping my brain around the idea of what an "expression" is, and since I don't think I've gotten to the parts of RDA that tell people how to handle all of that (what I've read so far has just been the idea, not the practice of it). It seems to me that a library's ILS would have to be able to handle these separate levels, and I'm not sure if there's anything out there yet that can do that. Not to mention that libraries would have to be able to upgrade to whatever version would be able to handle all that. My own library is about two versions (or whatever you call them) behind the newest version of our ILS.

    And also, I'd kind of like us to start outsourcing authority control before we go off into unknown territory with bibliographic description. I guarantee that our catalog would be a much more effective finding tool if our authority control weren't nearly non-existent. I do dinky authority work for every single item I catalog and load all authority records one at a time, manually, and I feel like I'm trying to tidy up a dust storm. That's a little off the whole RDA topic, I know, but I get a little frustrated thinking about all the new stuff that people come up with in a desperate attempt to make library finding tools easier to use and better-working, while I'm finding out that all the things librarians cite as being examples of what we can do that's better than keyword searches can't actually work properly.

  3. Yeah, I completely agree that catalogers have to know what they're doing for any of it to work. I can also understand the concern over current systems being able to handle new record formats. But on the other hand, I've heard it argued that AACR2/MARC standards really hold back the possibilities for new types of retrieval. Like with some of the newer OPACs that have faceted browsing features. The browsing doesn't work so well when the underlying data is LC subject headings (even if they have had proper authority control), just because of the structure of the terms.

    What I'm still wondering, too, is what will happen with the old records. Will both standards for description exist at the same time? How would that work? Or are people expecting to redo all of their existing records??

    It's all very interesting, but I'm glad I don't have to figure it out!

  4. Well, according to chapter 0, records developed using RDA will be able to work in systems designed to work with AACR2. I also recall reading somewhere in RDA that records created using RDA will be able to coexist with records created using AACR2 (but maybe I'm confusing that with the "can work in systems designed to work with AACR2" statement). Not sure if I believe it, yet....

    As far as the subject heading stuff goes, that portion of RDA has not yet been released for review (or maybe it hasn't even been written yet), so I'm not sure how that's going to work either.

    Right now, most of the criticisms I've read have focused on the really unclear/bad writing of RDA.

    Well, the form I'm working on is due tomorrow, so hopefully once that's finished I'll be able to force myself to focus on RDA some more. I can at least say that it makes for a good sleep aid.