Re: RDA as the collaboratively created way forward[?]; was Is RDA the Only Way? An Alternative Option Through International Cooperation

Posting to RDA-L

On 13/02/2012 22:36, Brenndorfer, Thomas wrote:


Also this statement seems to echo a mistake James Weinheimer made: “We have to help users find what they are looking for when they don’t already know an author or a title, and RDA doesn’t help with this.”

I can’t find where I stated this

Your comparable quote from : “The major point mentioned in favor of RDA is that it is a step forward toward FRBR, which will let people find, identify, select and obtain, works, expressions, manifestations and items by their authors, titles and subjects.”

That’s not what the user tasks are in FRBR.

Individual discrete elements (regardless of entity involved) are evaluated against some criteria for how they help users in performing the most basic tasks in working with the data. Another way to say this is that a business case has to be made for every data element in that the element must be shown to assist users in some way. It’s not just WEMI, and it’s not just browsing collocated headings, so you should cease and desist from using such poor choices in language and unhelpful straw man arguments.

There is a lot to take issue with here. For instance, I believe that my original statement is quite different from how you paraphrased it. But that is beside the point. Of course, I understand that the FRBR user tasks are more complex than the shorthand everyone uses, and it is obvious to anyone that nobody wants to obtain the entire work, including the expressions, manifestations and items, of Homer’s Iliad. That is what all of the tables are in FRBR, to show which entities and attributes a user wants to find vs. to identify vs. to select vs. to obtain. I understand all of this and I think almost everybody else does as well.

But this too is absolutely beside the point. My stance is that the public does not want or need the FRBR user tasks in the vast majority of searches they make. I certainly don’t need them most of the time, and I understand all of that better than 99.99% of the patrons out there. My evidence is that people are abandoning our catalogs for more modern tools based on various types of search engine optimization in turn based on keyword. FRBR aims only to give our patrons a new version of something they have already shown they do not want.

What people want is… I don’t know. I readily confess that. That puts me in good company though because nobody knows. The information world is in too great a flux right now to make any real decisions. Yet, I do know very clearly what library catalogs have been designed to provide for the last couple of hundred years or so, and I also know that it is very dangerous merely to assume that this is what library users want today.

If you absolutely insist that a business case cannot be made for RDA as a whole, but it can only be done bit by bit, I find it rather strange, but if that is true, then you really have a huge amount of work to do within a very short time. The fact is, the business case cannot be taken for granted and many libraries cannot or will not do it. If the RDA community wants libraries to implement RDA then those libraries must be helped to make the case. There are just too many real consequences to too many staff members, their families, along with many libraries as a whole plus their communities.

The business case comes down to something very simple. To make a business case that helps someone argue, “I have “x” amount of money in my budget. I must provide “y” number of dollars/euros/pesos whatever to train staff, give access to the rules, acquire new systems that can handle all of that, and something left over to cover at least a few unforeseen needs. There is no chance for extra money, and in fact, we should assume that current budgets will go down. Therefore, my library is losing staff and resources already, but implementing RDA will lead to even less staff, along with still fewer resources and services that I can provide my patrons. This is extremely serious for my staff, my patrons and my library. So, what exactly do I get in return for these very definite sacrifices besides promises of a rosy future?” A very simple question, very real, and very necessary.

Comparing RDA to format integration is wrong too, I believe. I remember it very well. Format integration called for very little retraining and most catalogers were unaffected except for fields many of us hated, including myself, especially the 246. Still, these were minor problems and we dealt with them. Many libraries, including mine, did not fully institute the 006 field since catalogs dealt with it poorly and there was little need for it.

I myself would have been unaffected by format integration too, but I wanted to understand what was happening so I spent a lot of time with it and wrote some documentation for the catalogers to help them understand it. (I found it in the Internet Archive. Cataloging was done in RLIN and NOTIS at the time. Here are a couple of pages: and 90% or more of format integration was handled at the systems level. Unicode had even fewer effects among most catalogers. But with FRBR, catalogers must be trained individually to think in different structures and relearn how to use completely new rules. This changes everything they do.

Fine. I would agree with that–but only if it is shown to be worthwhile and we have not seen that yet, because so far there is been no business case. Access will be the same and the only place anyone will notice anything with FRBR will be in a few displays. People will see even fewer changes with RDA and in fact, I think it’s fair to say people won’t notice any changes at all. Then how do we justify the sacrifices to our staff and our communities if there are no noticeable changes? This is a very reasonable question that demands an answer. When people are still trying to make a valid business case at such a late date, something is wrong.

This does not have to be what happens. There are so many things that could be done now to make our records much more useful to people with much less disruption. I have already pointed out a few. I have suggested others in different postings and I am sure that other librarians, plus users, could find many more.

Unfortunately, I see no alternative (paradoxically enough!). The implementation of RDA will clearly split the library community at a very inopportune time. And that truly is, very, very sad.

Finally, I have never said that AACR2 should not change since it must eventually but we don’t know how it should change yet. The work must be done to find out what the real user tasks are. That will take some time but once we get some useful information, we may find that changing cataloging rules will provide a useful way forward. In the meantime, we can, among hundreds of other suggestions: change the format, make the subject headings function usefully again, try creating some new displays using our current data, and above all, free the data so that we can all discover what people really want.