Report on presentation on RDA by Laura May (Library & Archives Canada)

Guest blogger: Brenda Roberts, Ottawa Public Library / Collection Development Services.

First, start with the LAC primer on RDA . The most important thing to know is that RDA (Resource Description & Access) replaces the AACR2. This is a good thing because, as I learned from Laura’s talk, the cataloguing rules in AACR2 were driven by the physical size of the catalogue card. Talk about the tail wagging the dog!

Those days are over – or will be – once the RDA is refined and then implemented in 2011. One can only wonder what took the cataloguing gods so long, until, of course, one remembers just how much time any two cataloguers can invest in a debate over the most arcane aspects of subject headings.

But I digress. Primary among the many much-needed improvements engendered by the use of RDA will be the improved accessibility to information and knowledge by the end-user. The example used by Laura to convey this was a book of poetry called Cinquefoil: new work from five Ottawa poets. The book is written by Mark Frutkin and four other poets named, collectively: et al. Do poets get so much attention and renown they can afford to just let this effective oversight go by? They’ll have to until RDA. Once RDA is the norm, however, access to all authors’ works in any format will be transparent.

I could fill this short entry with all the stuff I learned but questions are always more fun, I think. So here are a few:

  • Will RDA allow us to jettison the monograph/ serial distinction for books such as travel guides? The tail wags the dog here again because as serials, new editions of travel guides don’t include individual ISBN’s.  So they can’t be added to the catalogue at the selection point. This creates overlaps between patron requests and titles that are actually on order but are not visible on the catalogue.
  • At my library, we are moving to Symphony. Will RDA work with that?
  • Why is the distinction between Old Testament and New Testament in subject headings seen an example of “Anglo-American bias”? I’m Emersonian enough to understand the virtue of simplicity but the stated justification by “bias” strikes me as both superfluous and silly.
  • Will RDA allow us to (finally) do away with “cookery” as a subject heading?
  • How will RDA work with next-gen catalogues in which users generate subject tags?
  • Some public libraries are dispensing with Dewey numbers entirely. How will that approach impact RDA or is it relevant at all?
  • Will there come a time when emergent models of knowledge define the shape of the catalogue, effectively wiki-fying how knowledge is structured for storage and retrieval? In that case, will RDA simply become editing template software?

My thanks to LANCR for providing this opportunity. It was a stimulating talk and opened the door to questions that are still be being discussed where I work. An informative evening and classily presented, too.

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