Re: [ACAT] New rule implementation

Posting to Autocat

On 29/03/2012 16:05, John Hostage wrote:

The catalog codes that we used all through the 20th century were based on a stable technology that served us well for a century or more: the card catalog. Many of the criticisms of RDA fail to recognize the fundamental changes that have happened since AACR2 was introduced over 30 years ago: the card catalog has gone away, the electronic catalog is not the only nor even the most significant tool for people to access information, and the World Wide Web happened.

My problem with RDA is that it is still mired in the world of card catalogs. Manually typing out abbreviations is only one example. The underlying goals of RDA and FRBR are what the library provided people almost 200 years ago. The only difference is that now, there seems to be the fervent hope and faith that if we throw our records into the Semantic Web mash, that will improve matters…. somehow.

If libraries, and their catalogs, are to make a difference to the world at large, there must be a realistic look at the situation. Expecting catalogers to spend more time typing out abbreviations (yes, it *really does* take significantly more time in the aggregate), and pretending that there are always separate *things* that are works, and expressions that need separate records, and then creating those records, even when the vast majority of resources have only been published once can only lead to very sad results. Plus, we pretend that the public wants and needs to navigate through those works, expressions and manifestations, even though the most popular search engines have never allowed anything like that. Plus, it can be shown that in the correct computer system, even those so-called “user tasks” can be done right now.

At the same time, RDA pretends that a website, whose title can change constantly and without any notice, can be dealt with in the same way as a physical item, that is: manually. Of course this penchant of virtual resources for change extends to each part of the record. How are catalogers supposed to deal with such incredible maintenance? Also, there has been no discussion of workload. What would a catalog department do if a selector said, “I want you to add all the courses in English that are in ITunes U. And I am still considering the ones in French and German.”

Our authority structures have not worked ever since the computerized catalog was introduced, especially when keyword searching was added. So, our cross-references, along with the subject-subdivision method of browsing that worked fairly well in the card catalog, broke down completely. I think this would possibly be the most promising area for work since our subjects provide something found nowhere else in the world. But I have discussed that elsewhere.

RDA is also silent about how to work with other databases out there, such as the IMDB. In fact, the rules call for us to duplicate the work in the IMDB and possibly, other databases.

RDA posits the FRBR user tasks, but at least now, I think people pretty much accept that those tasks are not what the vast majority of the public wants the vast majority of the time, but was what the library was designed to provide, mainly for the work of the library.

What do we get from RDA? Retype abbreviations, less access (rule of three to the rule of one), some other cosmetic changes such as changes in transcription practices that will drive librarians crazy but will mean nothing to users. New words, a new “conceptual model”.

What I have tried to show here (and not only here) is that the problems faced by libraries are not with the cataloging rules. Therefore, devoting lots of a library’s resources on that is like what I would see rather often when I lived in the American Southwest. Some guy would own some lousy old jalopy: it would barely start, all dented up, seats slashed, worth maybe $100 dollars. But the guy would have put $500 tires with sidewalls and raised white letters! He would keep those tires clean, too. Sorry buddy: your car is still a jalopy.

That is how many people are going to see this RDA so-called “change”. Expensive tires on something that still doesn’t work. And it is others who will make that decision, not us.

There is so much that needs to be done, and can be done. It would be really exciting for experienced catalogers to try to solve these problems that will really make a difference to the public. But they’ll be too busy typing out abbreviations, sinking under the workloads, and thinking grand thoughts of FRBR so that we can enter the Linked Data Universe.

But we don’t need FRBR to go there.

A lot of the discussion hinges on: what is the purpose of the library catalog in today’s networked world? If there were at least some bit of clarity on this, perhaps the solutions would become clearer. But in any case, RDA will make no difference to the public.