Friday, February 11, 2011

RE: [RDA-L] general interest in RDA

Posting to RDA-L

Kevin M. Randall wrote:
<snip>
Jim, it sounds from this comment that you really are not grasping what RDA is all about. If you look at it just in terms of the guidelines themselves, or the resulting MARC records currently being created, certainly it would seem that it's just a little tweaking here and there.

But the underlying philosophy and structure of RDA are nothing short of revolutionary when compared with AACR2. You are asking for change; and a huge change is what RDA is actually helping to bring about. AACR2 is based on the eight areas of ISBD, and guides the cataloger through the process of putting together a description for ISBD display. RDA is based on discrete bits of data (the RDA elements), each uniquely identified (that's a VERY important part), and guides the cataloger in supplying those bits of data, regardless of what kind of display is going to be used.
</snip>
ISBD/AACR2 guide the cataloger to put together a description for ISBD *display*?! I confess that this is a very strange idea to me. I personally don't think about display when I am cataloging anything. Very few online catalogs use an ISBD display for the unit record, so Worldcat, Voyager, Dynix, etc. each have all kinds of displays for their records. (OK, I confess I'm a throwback and I have used a modifed ISBD display in my catalog, but I don't have to).

ISBD mandates standards for the *creation* of the single record (or unit record) such that the description can be shared internationally. Currently, the ISBD standard separates the elements using punctuation, but it could just as easily (and should) be linked to UNIMARC, much as the LCRIs now show the MARC format; but UNIMARC is based much more closely on ISBD than is MARC21.

AACR2 continues ISBD (with a minimum of differences, we hope?) to stipulate how these separate records should link together, defining strings of text that imply some kind of physical arrangement (primarily alphabetical, or "dictionary"), and this method of alphabetical browsing is continued into subjects as well.

Now, if we are talking about the displays of *multiple records*, that is another matter, since FRBR discusses e.g. what a user *needs to be able to do* with a work or expression.

While the RDA elements are very important, and they are uniquely identified, and I don't want to be mistaken that they are not important because they are; nevertheless, this is not something all that new, since a coding such as 260$c and http://RDVocab.info/Elements/placeOfPublication are equivalent. So, we could just as easily have http://RDVocab.info/Elements/260c but we want things to work with *English* language terms, something that was not possible back in the 1960s when MARC and ISO2709 were created. With the rise of the FRBR framework, other possibilities became possible which, we must admit, were always there, but went beyond the purposes of the catalog (as it was at that time) e.g. the place where a work was created as opposed to the place where it was published, or you can have the extent not only of a manifestation, but of an expression. Again, I posit that this is not really new; a cataloger could always have done the extra work to find out where Stephen King wrote "The Shining", but it wasn't seen as worth the effort so there were no guidelines for establishing or encoding it. For some cases of manuscripts and early printed books, the extent of the actual expression inside the physical items was seen as absolutely important, and has been described in far more detail than regular, mass produced books. It remains to be seen if our predecessors were correct in considering that adding this information to be not worth the effort or perhaps some kind of crowdsourcing or interoperating with other databases will provide a "solution", if indeed, it is determined that there is a problem.

But ISBD is primarily a standard for *description* and not display, i.e. how to describe an item for maximum clarity and interoperability in the greater world. There are just a few pages of rules for punctuation, while the vast majority discuss how to determine which information to input and how to do it. The rules for description are incomparably more important than those for punctuation. Anyway, the display that ISBD mandates is followed by almost no one now and is pretty much ignored since other methods have overshadowed them. Whether this is wise or not is a matter of debate.

FRBR continues ISBD in a theoretical sense, and attempts to create a framework for how the aggregate of records are supposed to "function" with one another, but once again, I suggest that FRBR does nothing more than describe how our catalogs have always worked--and does not discuss whether these are the tasks that users themselves really want and need to do. For only one instance, the dictionary catalog is *dead*--dead and, it should be, buried.

These are a few of the challenges we face of *genuine change* and something that our predecessors could *never have imagined*. I do not see how RDA and FRBR address these issues. This is some of what I have tried to demonstrate in my last two podcasts.

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