Re: [RDA-L] JSC, ISBD, and ISSN: harmonization discussions

Posting to RDA-L

On 22/08/2012 08:56, Bernhard Eversberg wrote:

20.08.2012 21:59, J. McRee Elrod:

Heidrun wisely said:

The ISBD has been a common core of many cataloguing codes for decades. This common ground shouldn’t be casually abandoned.

VERY true.

While not taking issue with the importance of ISBD as such, it can, I think, not be called a “common core” of cataloging codes in general, but of those of their parts relating to description. While the D in RDA is for Description, the focus is really all on the A for Access, and that’s a lot more relevant these days for most people using catalogs. So, I think it is appropriate that RDA doesn’t go to all the lengths, as older codes did, of painstakingly describing every bit of descriptive information and how it should all be stitched together for a readable display. The latter can and must be left to software, and I think it is true that ISBD had not been formulated with an eye on how well the rules lent themselves to being algorithmically representable. Where there is still a demand for ISBD display, and I’m not arguing with this, one will have to live with minor flaws. What’s more important is that much more detail than before should be actionable for algorithms. This, of course and among other things, speaks for standardized codes and acronyms rather than vernacular verbiage.

The focus in cataloging must be on access points and their standardization and international harmonization by way of vehicles like VIAF. Thus, RAD would be a more appropriate name for a contemporary code. Another focus should be on the question of *what* we catalog, and here in particular, how to treat parts of larger entities. As of now, the woefully inadequate contents note for multipart publications seems still very much alive.


Right now I am assisting on an inventory of serials so therefore at this moment, I am feeling that the rules for description must be standardized, otherwise pure chaos awaits. For instance, interlibrary loans (so long as they are allowed!) demand precise description and therefore, if we want ILLs, precise descriptions seem unavoidable if they are to work at all–otherwise, everybody will forever be requesting what you already have, requesting what another library doesn’t have, or they send something you do not want. ISBD provides this level of standardization and nothing I have seen has tried to displace it. Selectors also need such accuracy.

How a record displays is another matter but, I have always felt that the display aspect of ISBD has been overblown by the IT community. I believe there should be a standardized display (for experts) and the current ISBD is as good as any for now, but I am sure there are many other displays that could serve the purpose just as well or better. Today, displays are flexible, as they have been for quite some time, and this flexibility should be the emphasis for the public. Expert-librarians have their own requirements, but these requirement are no less important then what the public needs. Modern systems should be able to allow it all.

I do believe that the purpose of description should be reconsidered since our current rules suffer from a paradox.  Description of physical materials that never change are one matter, but online materials that change randomly, sometimes very frequently, and without any notification, present an entirely different situation. Sooner or later, catalogers must consider how it is possible to describe virtual materials that are completely mercurial, by creating a record that must be changed manually. I have thought about this for a long time, and have never found any solution, nor have I seen one offered, therefore novel ideas must be tried. Notes such as “Description based on web page (Dec. 23, 2008)” are 100% completely useless for everyone involved, including the catalogers, and serve only as salve for the cataloger at the time of making the record. The description should be based on the resource as it stands currently, not on some version that no longer exists.

The only solution in the traditional sense would be to try to start cataloging each instance as found in the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive, but the very prospect is a nightmare. I think we would find very few takers on that one! You can count me out. That would truly be like trying to “fight the ocean and you will drown”.

Several years ago, I wrote a letter to D-Lib Magazine about this issue, and surprisingly, I find that I still agree with it