Resource Description and Access — cause for concern?

Resource Description and Access (RDA) was developed to be the successor of the Anglo American Cataloguing Rules version 2 (AACR2), using a rigorous set of principles that would produce bibliographic and other forms of record suitable for describing electronic resources as well as print-on-paper and audio-visual  documents.  It represents a fundamental departure from the structure of AACR2, employing a new standard, the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR). The principles underlying this recognise that entries in a library catalogue have to satisfy the requirement of user searching but, at the same time, have also to represent a hierarchy of relationships implicit in bibliographic data. It was also agreed that use of the new standard should produce descriptions produced that are compatible with the large number of existing records created under the rules of AACR2.

Almost as soon as the RDA was released for comment, concern was expressed about the apparent complexity of RDA and the practicality of the new approach.  Michael Gorman, one of the main contributors to the development of AACR2, expressed strong criticism of the approach in a 2007 paper, “RDA: the coming cataloging debacle” and highlighted the tensions in the cataloguing community: “Articles stating that RDA will be dead on arrival have already appeared, not because it is a mess and a giant leap backwards for cataloguing but because the neophiliacs think it is not a radical enough break with the past “.

Faced with this, and the continued concern of many involved with developing bibliographic and other forms of metadata, the Library of Congress, the US National Agricultural Library and the US National Library of Medicine agreed to run a trial of RDA.  The results were released on 13 June 2011, and revealed the conclusion that the business case for wholesale adoption of RDA was weak.  In a temporising move, the three libraries agreed to adopt RDA, subject to some modifications but delayed implementation until January 2013, at the earliest.

Similar concerns have been expressed in the United Kingdom, though at a recent meeting of the Catalogue and Index Group of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, growing enthusiasm was apparent.  Céline Carty and Helen Williams commented that, “In general, there was a great deal of enthusiasm for the possible development of linked data and the semantic web, which seem quite a long way in the future” (Catalogue and index, June 2011, Issue 163).

The view in South Africa appears to be “wait and see” — wholesale adoption will mean considerable costs in training but to ignore RDA would be to deny the benefits that may arise.

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