Saturday, December 4, 2010

RE: Protesting RDA

I am sending this to both Autocat and RDA-L

Deborah Tomaras wrote, through J. McRee Elrod
<snip>
I believe that time is running out for any organized opposition to RDA, from those who either want it altered or abolished; certainly, by April of next year, if not earlier, it will be a fait accompli. So I am now proposing that the opposition organize, and influence RDA while we possibly still can. Here are some things that I believe we might need:
</snip>
also, in another message on Autocat, Ms Tomaras wrote:
<snip>
If, in the course of the many years developing RDA, any studies were conducted showing that this change were truly better for users, and desired by them, I might be more convinced. If cost mockups had been done, and discussion made about how to help smaller or cash-strapped organizations switch, I might be more convinced.
</snip>
While it probably comes as no surprise that I fully support these efforts, at the same time I realize that whenever major changes are proposed, it means that major disruptions will be inevitable. Therefore, disruptions in and of themselves are not necessarily bad during moments of change. The question is and will be: are these disruptions manageable, and are they worth the cost, as she pointed out in her message?

I want to repeat: I have nothing but deep respect for everyone working so diligently on RDA, and I mean it sincerely. I respect their abilities and knowledge and I realize that theirs is a thankless task in many ways. Nevertheless, when a person truly believes the field is endangered, they are ethically compelled to speak out. This is how I felt when retraining costs became a practical impossibility for my institution in the current environment, and as I slowly realized and accepted how little FRBR/RDA really change anything. (I have tried to demonstrate this in my series of podcasts)

In my opinion, one of the major problems I see with RDA is that it doesn't go far enough. As an example, we should not pretend to ourselves that changing Elvis Presley's or Richard Wagner's authorized form, in other words, changing one *textual string* into any other *textual string*, is any kind of a change at all. This is the sort of "change" that allows others to make fun of us and that gives cataloging and catalogers a bad name. We must face facts: can anyone maintain with a straight face that the form "Presley, Elvis (Elvis Aron), 1935-1977" instead of "Presley, Elvis, 1935-1977" will make any kind of substantial and meaningful difference for our patrons, instead of...

If we are really aiming to change matters, we should replace the textual string with a URI and then lots of people will gain multiple options that we can only imagine at this point. So, if the textual string for Elvis actually changed to http://dbpedia.org/page/Category:Elvis_Presley or http://viaf.org/viaf/23404836/#Presley,_Elvis,_1935-1977 or something in this vein, it would be a genuine gain for our patrons that *every single person* could point to--from searchers to catalogers to budget administrators. I have no doubt that this would change libraries and catalogers far more than the elementary addition of a $q. Switching over to URLs would signal that the traditional library cataloging community were ready for genuine cooperation with other communities, and it would mean taking advantage of the power that modern technology gives us. To me, the RDA changes to Elvis' and Richard Wagner's headings are just more convincing evidence that the problems facing cataloging are absolutely not related to cataloging rules, but to all kinds of other areas. Additionally, if the URIs were implemented correctly, such a major change could be done more or less automatically by computer technicians instead of every single cataloger changing everything they do.

So, which would involve greater changes and possibly, greater disruptions, along with promises of greater possibilities: changing the text of Elvis' heading or embracing the power of the web?

If these were some of the directions the changes were going, I would be all for them.

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