Are you curious about RDA in school libraries?

The story of knowledge is a story of history, and one that directly relates to the way we have wanted to infl uence and educate the young members of our society. Recorded information, and the documents or carriers which carry information forward, has come a long way since the emergence of oral traditions and records on clay tablets and the like. The Library of Alexandria was in many ways the fi rst grand repository of information, organised and made accessible as an offi cial repository for scholars.

For hundreds of years libraries consisted mostly of printed books and journals, and so these were mostly what library catalogues described. As information technology developed, new kinds of information resources were produced, which information agencies such as libraries also started to collect, such as photographs, sound recordings (phonograph records, tapes, CDs), films and videos. School library collections were almost entirely books up until the 1970s when audiovisual resources along with the proliferation of educational print resources such as charts and ‘big books’ brought a wave of change. At about this time librarians started to talk about ”materials’ or ‘resources’ as the generic name (rather than ‘books’ or ‘volumes’) for what they dealt with in their collections, and started to describe a much larger range of materials in their catalogues.

So from a school library point of view, library catalogues have been an important example of an information organization and access tool, since a catalogue is essentially a database with a complex range of access points (metadata) to information resources using data elements in the record, such as author or title. Until recently this structured and consistent approach to cataloguing in our school libraries was built on the Anglo-American cataloguing rules  (AACR2) ensuring uniform accessibility to information in whatever format was wanted, because of the resource description detail that is embedded in such a catalogue record. However, these catalogues were stand-alone end points to what was in a particular collection, and typically had to even be used within the walls of the library.

Fast-forward to the digital era, and the rapidly changing information environment that is has brought. We see that we have reached a period of time where information has never been more abundant and accessible, and conversely the need for efficient management of that information more critical than ever in the history of human information and knowledge endeavours. We now have the technology to provide global connection anywhere on computers – that also includes the digital capabilities of mobile and tablet devices.

This change in the information environment has generated a significant shift in our understanding of shared information resource description and access across connected systems, organisations, and in web environments outside of the catalogue.

So what IS RDA?

Librarians and other information professionals were among the first to realise the importance of the Internet in the provision of information services, and it is also they who have understood the impact of digital environments on the production, distribution, storage and consumption of information.   Information agencies have worked hard to provide the cataloguing details required to ensure that information can be retrieved, and it is because of this that the Resource Description and Access  (RDA) and it’s specific ‘vocabularies’ were developed and implemented around the world.

In fact, it was June 2010 that AACR2, the cataloguing standard in use for the last thirty years, was challenged with something new – the publication of RDA as a replacement cataloguing standard.  As the biggest change in bibliographic standards since the adoption of MARC21 ten years ago (coming from USMARC), the new rules have inspired much discussion in the cataloguing community and beyond. RDA is a new standard for metadata description of resources held in the collections of libraries, archives, museums, and other information management organizations. Building on AACR2 it aims to provide a comprehensive set of textual guidelines and instructions for creating metadata covering all types of resource content and media. RDA focuses on the data elements needed to meet the user tasks specified in the FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records) and FRAD (Functional Requirements for Authority Records) conceptual models. The use of FRBR concepts allows the relationships between multiple versions of a resource to be presented to users in a meaningful way including being displayed in a simpler, clustered format making it easier for the user to locate the item required.

RDA essentially standardizes how metadata content is identified, transcribed and generally structured, although it is independent of any specific metadata encoding. RDA also identifies a general set of metadata elements, and can provide a controlled vocabulary for use as the content of an element. Although RDA is being developed primarily for use with resources curated in a library environment, consultations have been undertaken with other information management communities, including publishers and those operating in the digital world, to try to ensure effective alignment with the metadata standards used in those communities.

RDA is proving to be an important building block in the creation of better catalogues and resource discovery systems. It provides for the creation of metadata, which meets users’ needs for data content and also facilitates machine manipulation of that data for searching and display.

RDA in Australia

Metadata standards relating to elements, format and transmission used for descriptive cataloguing in RDA have gradually been adopted around the world, including Australia and New Zealand during 2013. So once the National Library of Australia announced that it would implement RDA in early 2013 it became important for all people working in the library and information industry to have some understanding of the purpose of RDA and its implications for the library catalogue.

Resource Description and Access, is designed to help us transition to the technological capabilities of the Internet, today and into the future by having us identify the entities and relationships at the element level that machines can use better than they have been able to in the past in our MARC records.  RDA will also work when we package the elements in MARC records as we will have to do for some transitional period. RDA is not an encoding system or a presentation standard for displays, but instead specifies how to describe the things in our bibliographic universe – resources, persons, corporate bodies, etc., and the relationships among those things.

The RDA Toolkit provides instructions necessary for implementing RDA in libraries. Although the preferred way to access RDA is online via the RDA Toolkit, print copies of the RDA instructions are also available for purchase. http://www.rdatoolkit.org/

RDA is not completely different from AACR2, but it is more than just a new edition. Some of the most notable differences include:-

  • Fewer abbreviations
  • Allowance for local cataloguing standards to meet the needs of the community
  • Specific format descriptors for non-book and electronic resources
  • Record information as it is presented on the item
  • Explicit identification of each possible element for inclusion
  • Record all authors and contributors
  • Dropping of the rules to do with the (ISBD) arrangement of elements, making the new code ‘format neutral’
  • Elements covering both the attributes of the library resource and the attributes of the people and organisations associated with the resource (so that it covers the creation of authority as well as bibliographic records)
  • These elements are based on the FRBR user tasks (finding, identifying, selecting and obtaining), and, in the case of the attributes of people and organisations, the FRAD user tasks
  • Covers the construction of records for abstract ‘works’ that an item might be a manifestation of, as well as for the manifestation itself
  • More international in outlook (e.g. doesn’t prefer English names)

Whether RDA will give rise to a ‘cataloguing revolution’ is as yet unclear, as it will be possible to continue producing records using it that look remarkably similar to those based on AACR2. The question is whether libraries will implement it more fully, and use it as an opportunity to integrate their cataloguing data with other metadata elsewhere across the web!

The real power of RDA is derived from the implementation of the new conceptual models for catalogues:

  • Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records focuses on what the user needs to find, identify, select and obtain.
  • Functional Requirements for Authority Data focuses on what the user needs to find, identify, contextualise and justify.

A library management system that embeds RDA, along with FRBR and FRAD, can provide a very rewarding search experience for the user. Once library management systems embrace these concepts and fully implement RDA, catalogues will truly be there for the convenience of the user! We will have complementary ways of organizing things to open up more pathways for users to find what we have in our library collections and related resources beyond our libraries.

Access the National Library of Australia information about RDA at http://www.nla.gov.au/acoc/resource-description-and-access-rda-in-australia

Extract from:  O’Connell, J. (2013). RDA for school libraries: The next generation in cataloguing. ACCESS. 27(3), Vol. 27. September, 4-6.

Image: cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Vicki & Chuck Rogers

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