Re: [ACAT] RDA and the plague

Posting to Autocat

On 17/04/2013 20:32, Marian Veld wrote:

But those are just cosmetic changes, and if that’s all RDA is about, we don’t need it. (I know you do think that we don’t need it.) But the point of RDA is not in these cosmetic changes. It is in a new, more logical and structured way to organize bibliographic data. It’s about transitioning from the old, much added onto and patched up data structure to a new, rationally thought out one. It’s about putting up shelves in the junk room and labelling them so that everything has its place. It’s about making our data comprehensible to the programmers who write the software that uses it. RDA is just a first step, but if we never take a first step, we’ll never make any progress.

I know you (James) think we are not ready for this step and need to do more research first. You may be right. I happen to disagree.

I also want many of the changes you mention, but these are just the sort of vague promises that those who believe in RDA repeat over and over. The question we should be asking however is: can RDA really provide what it says it can? I see nothing wrong with asking this question and asking it seriously. Nothing has ever been demonstrated, only the same vague promises, such as, it is a “new, more logical and structured way to organize bibliographic data”. Really? Why? Certainly the MARC21/ISO2709 format is anti-deluvian and needs to change into something more modern. It doesn’t even necessarily need to be a change into a 21st century format. A late 20th century format would be a huge improvement. That should have been the first step a long time ago, and it could have been made relatively easily.

It should be demonstrated that RDA can actually achieve the goals it claims instead of everyone just accepting those claims silently. Also just as important: are the goals what the public wants? Are there other ways that are cheaper and easier to implement?

How does RDA provide people with what they want better than other methods? Research hasn’t even been done to find out what the public wants from our catalog records or how they use the catalogs now! To assume that the public wants to manipulate the information found in library catalogs in ways similar to how they can manipulate data on various topics (that is, linked data/Semantic web) certainly remains to be demonstrated, as I went into some pains to show in my podcast “Cataloging Matters No. 17: Catalog Records as Data” Even then, are there other, more efficient and effective ways of reaching the same goals? For instance, let’s just assume that people really do want the FRBR user tasks so desperately (which I do not believe, but I am ready to assume so for now). To achieve the FRBR user tasks, do we need to change our bibliographic structures in very expensive and laborious ways, or can those user tasks be achieved with the information and structures we have now? The simple fact is, the FRBR user tasks can be achieved using what we have right now. But nobody seems to care…. Why? I have my suspicions but I confess I don’t know.

I agree that we need to take a first step, but it should be forward, not backward or even to the side. Without research, we have little idea what “forward” really means for users of our catalogs. RDA promises a lot but is guilty of false advertising, in my opinion. Since nothing has been demonstrated, and everything remains so vague, it must be taken on faith that RDA will be able to do what it claims. So, it comes down to those who have faith and those who don’t. We can only hope that RDA and FRBR will lead to the promised land, but as I have said, it will be a matter of blind luck if it does because it has never been demonstrated. Sad.

And saying that 400,000 changes are “cosmetic changes” is really something. Especially in these very difficult economic conditions such changes represent an overwhelming workload for lots of libraries. Seems to me that number represents an overhaul!