Thursday, March 12, 2009

RDA - Dead or Alive?

Resource Description and Access - RDA has been in development since 2004 with the intent to replace AACRII as the new cornerstone of cataloguing practice.

This undertaking has been met with a great deal of caution from practicing librarians and technicians. Despite the Joint Steering Committee for RDA claims that RDA builds on AACR to better incorporate all forms of content and media, it has evolved into a very large and, arguably, unwieldy resource. It has yet to be trialed and many cataloguers have left initial training sessions, shaking their heads in confusion. Considering that RDA is meant to be more inclusive, enabling other fields to use it as a means of organizing data, it is profoundly disappointing that it is shaping into a tool few understand and even fewer want to adopt.

There was no intention to create a printed version of RDA, even though sections of it can, in theory, be printed. Used primarily as an electronic resource, it is very difficult to understand how it can be used in the classroom to teach new cataloguers.

Although information on RDA has been trickling out for over 5 years, it is difficult to formulate a true sense of how this new tool is going to be incorporated into practice. Thus, I shall go out on a limb and state my reservations without seeing the "whole" package. It seems that its greatest liability is in trying to be a standard that extends beyond traditional "libary" work. Unfortunately, by trying to become more inclusive, the rules become more flexible. Yet, the purpose of defining rules is to provide structure, convention and uniformity. In its attempt at inclusiveness, RDA runs the risk of becoming unmanagable as cataloguers struggle to identify elements to be used in description. If the process of cataloguing is too complex, no one will want to use it!

Having used AACR extensively over my years as a teacher, I would like to have seen time and money invested in expanding AACR guidelines for non-print media. In addition, an overhaul of its examples would be warmly welcomed. Instead, we see a monumental effort made to craft a new tool (based, presumabley, on the prinicples of AACR). I could be mistaken but, from my armchair observations, RDA has morphed into an entity that does not serve the needs of cataloguers and their clientele. It has taken a very cerebral turn that has left many cataloguers baffled and concerned. Does it have real-life application and value? Perhaps the answer resides in trial testing that is supposed to be taking place in 2009.

At IFLA, even the Library of Congress expressed its dissatisfaction and concern over RDA. So WHO is it going to serve? WHO is going to teach us how to use it? And, finally, HOW are we actually going to apply it?

It truly amazes me to read through discussion blogs that centre around cataloguing and RDA and see the extreme intellectualization of the process. Granted, there SHOULD be core principles associated with organizing ideas and information but these must be principles that can easily be transferred to practice. AACR has done this. Will RDA enhance what we already have? The jury is out.