RE: Abbreviations in RDA

Posting to RDA-L

Hal Cain wrote:

The dictum that context imparts meaning is, I think, relevant here. In the context of an ISBD bibliographic record, printed or in a screen display, standard abbreviations have a context; nowadays, even so, possibly not all who see them in that context will understand them.

In contemporary bibliographic displays, the context is often fractured. Therefore the meaning may be obscured. When we prepare to dismantle bibliographic data and mash elements into hitherto unseen combinations, we can assume no particular context,

Therefore it seems to me that abbreviations no longer have a place in our workflows.

This is a very important point, but I have a different take on it. In the future, I think it is safe to assume that the catalog records we make will be mashed up with other “things” out there to create entirely new resources. (At least, I hope they will be because otherwise, our records will be ignored and not used at all) At this point in time, it is practically impossible to predict how our records will be used and changed, but one thing that I think we can assume: the traditional context will be lost, as Hal mentioned. This means that a bibliographic record will be seen *outside* the catalog, in isolation from the rest of the records it relates to, by way of headings and descriptive treatments. It will be just like looking at a few catalog cards taken out of a catalog. There are so many relationships that the headings and descriptions make little or no sense outside of the catalog. (To explain this, someone can ask of a single record: “Why did you use the form “International Business Machines Corporation and not IBM, which is the way everybody thinks of it?” “Because the other records in the catalog use that same form.” etc.)

In the future, a record will also be seen from within different cultural/linguistic contexts. So, when a patron sees a record imported into a future mashup, it may be coming from–who knows where, e.g. (I hope these links work) from the Deutsche National Bibliothek (click on “Finden”), where the abbreviation for pages is S. or from the Russian State Library, where the abbreviation is c. (click on the record number) but there are all kinds of other abbreviations, too in all of these records. So, while the Russian abbreviations may be incomprehensible to English speakers, the reverse is true as well.

This is what our patrons will see and will be experiencing in the near future–I am sure that many are experiencing this right now–and we must respond. All of these library/catalog records will–sooner or later–be mashed up. Of that I have no doubt because people want it so desperately. [Concerning this, I suggest the recent report from CIBER “Social Media and Research Workflow.”, p. 29 where it is clear that above all, *everybody* wants from libraries a single search for all electronically licensed resources. I think we need to do more than that and include non-licensed resources, and that is what I have attempted to do with my Extend Search in my catalog at AUR]

For our patrons, the universe of information has gone *far outside* the boundaries of our catalogs, and we must continually look at the information universe through the eyes *of our patrons*, and focus less on the information universe *of library catalogs*, which sadly, is having less and less meaning and importance to the world. This involves a total change in the intellectual orientation of catalogers, it’s true, but it is vital that we do it. It has been compared by others to the intellectual changes people went through when the Earth “ceased” to be the center of the universe, and the Sun “became” the center of one small solar system inside an average galaxy within an immense, almost unlimited universe.

How do/will our records fit in to such a universe? Does typing out abbreviations even play a role in it? How can we “fix” the situation for our patrons when they can see so many types of records created under so many rules and many times–if not most of the time, no rules at all?

These are some of the genuine, and serious, issues that our patrons are facing, and by extension, we should face as well.