RDA is not radical “(Was: Why should RDA matter to me?)

Posting to Autocat

On 17/01/2013 02:37, Michael Kovnat wrote:

RDA is not radical; it is just the latest in our evolution in thinking about cataloging and the relationships between different entities and kinds of library materials.

This statement that RDA is not radical has set me thinking. I personally like radical in many ways (I’m on RadCat!). But is RDA “radical”?

It seems that deciding whether something is “radical” or not can only be determined by seeing the consequences it has. In physics and elsewhere, there is “Chaos theory” which posits that very small changes can have huge consequences, the so-called “butterfly effect” where the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can lead to a hurricane on the other side of the world. Not that I ever believed the butterfly effect–there are lots of butterflies and not that many hurricanes, but certainly small beginnings can have huge consequences. As a social example, during the Roman Empire, a slave could become a Christian and there were only the most minor consequences to society, but when the Emperor Constantine decided to become a Christian, the changes became radical. It could be said that all of those slaves converting to Christianity were preliminary steps toward Constantine.

Still, the changes and structures introduced by RDA and FRBR may seem very small but they will have major consequences on the catalog, on the catalogers, and on the public. Many of these consequences are negative, as I have tried to show in my posts and podcasts, such as the added complexity in searching. It costs more money, which has become increasingly scarce. That is very radical. Cataloging in RDA is not simpler and substantially more complex in several ways. Positive consequences seem to me to be of a very nebulous nature, placing an almost mythic faith in Linked Data, now that the FRBR user tasks are not seen as of such overarching importance.

So I would conclude that RDA is radical in its consequences to cataloging departments. Reference will consider it radical since it will be up to them to re-train the public. In its consequences to what people search and display, it is much less radical since people will find no real change in access (other than the rule of three change) and a few changes in display.  Getting a reliable search result will be much more complicated than it is now, but the majority of searchers may not realize it, and librarians will get a pass.