RE: Protesting RDA

Posting to RDA-L
Brenndorfer, Thomas wrote:

Throughout the RDA text, the first choice listed for identifying entities or showing relationships is to use an identifier (such as a URI). This is followed by an authorized access point, and then in some areas, by textual descriptions. The reason for this is RDA’s objective in supporting three scenarios: catalog card production, MARC catalogs that rely on linked headings, and object-oriented databases ( What is clear though is that access points are a permanent feature of the cataloging landscape– they will always exist and are part of all three scenarios. The main difference is that relating entities in the future won’t be dependent on the form of access points, which is a good idea considering how often they can change. For example, headings change with the addition of death dates, or when authors request that elements be removed (as I discovered recently for an author whose name was attached to many series headings and subject headings).

In addition, the arrangement of RDA into elements that support attributes and relationships for entities is the basis of interest in the Linked Data community. There is a W3C Incubator Group discussing such issues now, and RDA is the game in town in support of these efforts ( In addition to promoting the use of identifiers for specific entities, all RDA elements (and a lot of controlled vocabulary) have registered URIs (
100 $q or Fuller Form of Name is a registered element

Thanks for pointing this out, but it still doesn’t address the point I was trying to make: “we should not pretend to ourselves that changing Elvis Presley’s or Richard Wagner’s authorized form, [or] 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…. 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”

If the purpose of RDA is to utilize URIs (which at the current rate may happen by the year 2050 if we are lucky), what is the purpose of going through the *huge task* of changing one textual string to another textual string? This makes absolutely no difference to our users (unless somebody out there can point to some fairly convincing research), while making an incredible amount of completely useless work for catalogers, when we could be doing work that is more productive. This is an example of what I have been mentioning of changes for “theoretical purposes” instead of “practical purposes”. Libraries and catalogs are facing some of the most serious challenges they have faced in a long, long time, and none of these challenges have anything to do with the *text of a heading* or in problems of *cataloging rules*. In other regards, such as how people are able to find those headings; what happens after they do find a heading, and so on, innovating in these areas would be the types of changes that could matter to our users, but yet we concentrate on the forms themselves.

Even if we were to change the forms, we should aim in the directions that our users would like. I think we have some excellent evidence for their preferences in the disambiguation pages of Wikipedia–built by the users themselves, e.g. or or, where the distinguishing factor isn’t so reliant on dates, but on descriptive terms, e.g. for war:

Write after read, a data hazard
WAR (Sun file format) (Web application ARchive), a file format used to package Java applications
KDE WAR (file format) (Web ARchive), a file format for storing a web page
early versions of Decwar, a pioneering multi-user computer game

I also prefer these types of forms, but they are not the directions RDA is leading us.

I think it’s time (and has been for quite awhile) for libraries and the catalogs to make some kind of big splash; to do something that will make people (i.e. our users) sit up and take notice. We have to do something that will make a difference to them. Many other organizations out there are focusing on making these big splashes right now, as we discuss. RDA has a few distant, theoretical, vague goals that are disputed in themselves, but we still should not delude ourselves that any of the changes they posit will make any difference to our users. If, by some miracle, URIs were actually implemented in our records within a mere 10 years or so (which would be the equivalent of light speed), I am sure that our users will have moved beyond them. We cannot continually be in the process of playing catch up and forever being behind.