Wednesday, December 29, 2010

RE: Author added entries under RDA

Posting to Autocat

Arakawa, Steven wrote:
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In this case, I think you're allowed to criticize the cataloger; limiting access to one author is inhibiting discovery & is contrary to FRBR principles. RDA clearly emphasizes more personal responsibility in decision making, rather than mastery of increasingly complex rules & rule interpretations for choice of entry (that are probably ignored in a lot of day to day cataloging anyway). Whether you approve or not may depend on whether you believe most catalogers are capable of making these decisions and are dedicated enough to apply them. I think RDA represents a turn away from the increasing proliferation of rules for every contingency, which, from a practical standpoint, have become too complicated to apply consistently, have no significant benefit for discovery, and can slow down cataloging output to a crawl. I think there is also an assumption that cataloging today occurs in a collaborative environment, and that any given catalog record does not need to be restricted to the cataloging decisions of a single individual. More individual responsibility but more community responsibility as well, in other words, with an emphasis on ultimate benefit to the user rather than matching the contingency to the closest rule approximation.
</snip>
This would be nice if the world actually worked that way, but human nature--just as with the behavior of organizations--tends to do the least amount required. Some very few may do more, if amply rewarded; some very, very few may do more even without the rewards. This is a completely normal reaction and we see it in our lives all the time. After we accept this as a fact, we can understand the basic premises of standards: to define and mandate a minimum level below which anything is unacceptable. This is the only way to ensure reliability. Defining the minimum is absolutely critical, since this is what others can rely upon. A standard that states, "Do what you think is best" assumes far too much and cannot work for an entire variety of reasons: each person will have different workloads, different local mandates from supervisors, and of course, different motivations. In that case, everything is OK (since the rules state to do what I think is best) and as a result, you can only fault people for some kind of moral inadequacies ("Well, you were just being lazy ... again!") which is an abyss I don't think we want to get into.

Once this reality is accepted for what it is, we see that a rule such as:
"Only the first author is required to have an entry. Added entries are only required for translators and illustrators of children's books. All others are at the discretion of the cataloger."
is essentially a "voluntary standard" and will be taken very literally by many, many people (including me, by the way). In the example of tracing only the single author of an item with three authors, I cannot fault the cataloger because *the cataloger followed the rule*. That is why I fault the rule. According to normal standards that define minimums, the rule is: trace the first author, translators and illustrators of children's books. I personally find this rule rather senseless and maybe even silly. Why is a translator more important than author #2? Still, OK: it's the rule and that's it, period. If you don't do any more work, then *by definition*, it's OK. You are still doing your job competently and adequately since the record will follow RDA. So, the new rule is to trace the first author, translators and illustrators.

All we can conclude is that this is an incredibly huge *backward* change from what we do now. I don't know how many hundreds of years this goes back in cataloging practice, but I have seen added entries for multiple authors from 'way back. Others who do not want to take this huge step backward and want to maintain the three authors (which is completely reasonable as we have had this practice for a *long, long time*) will have to do lots of extra work. I don't know how long the rule of three will survive until it is de facto replaced by the RDA minimum, while we will see random records that will have the number of AEs in the stratosphere.

Why would a cataloger do more? For some kind of "professional" or "ethical" or "moral" reasons? This, while they watch the people around them being praised and getting raises because their statistics are higher, while the more "ethical" one is pushed to do more and more, especially with budget cuts and fewer staff to do even more work? This is an unsustainable scenario.

No amount of explanation can avoid these facts and if RDA is accepted and the public discovers how access is going down in one of the areas they need, while the reply is that "abbreviations are being spelled out, and just look at these new 336 to 338 fields!", they will only see it as one more bit of evidence why library cataloging does not provide what they need. Placing the responsibility onto the shoulders of individual catalogers by trying to shame them into doing *more* than what the standards mandate is completely unfair, in my opinion. Standards should be exactly what they say they are and should be clear.

Does this mean that our current (AACR2) standards should not change? Of course they should change; they have to. But they need to be reconsidered. I currently think that AACR2 in a way, is not really a standard, but almost a template that tells everyone to produce precisely the same item with *very few* options. This is not how other standards work. Many libraries and librarians cannot achieve this level; I think this is more than obvious. Change is necessary. If the RDA rule were written something like, "always trace at least the first three authors of a resource," such a rule is clear, defines a minimum, and still allows people and organizations to do more if they want. This is how food standards work, for example: defining a minimum level that everyone can rely upon and allows more for any organization that wants it.

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