Re: [alcts-eforum] Topic 5: Has RDA moved cataloging to more directly consider user needs?


I have been an unabashed critic of RDA, so this topic has been interesting. I really like the idea of focusing on the user, since that is something that cataloging has rarely focused on, although catalogers have always claimed otherwise.

Abbreviations are a good example. While someone can spell out the abbreviations in the new records, there are lots and lots and LOTS of old records out there, so, from the user’s standpoint, they will always be looking at the abbreviations in any search they do until those records are “updated”. For a long time into the future (decades at least?) the public will still be seeing them, e.g. As a result, nothing fundamental will change for the user, since they will always be seeing cataloging abbreviations in every search they do.

Concerning the rule of three turning into the rule of one–which has the strange addition of illustrators of children’s books–as staffing levels in catalog departments continue to decline, the pressure will continue for more productivity, i.e. cataloging more materials, and that means that catalogers will need to pump out ever higher numbers of records. If massive numbers of catalogers are not hired (and I don’t know of anyone who has suggested that more catalogers will be hired), this will mean that as the number of records goes up, the complexity of each record must go down, and therefore the number of name headings will decrease towards the minimum…. one now, and not three. As a result, I believe that the ultimate result of getting rid of the rule of three will be that the numbers will go down. It is simple mathematics.

There are other problems with RDA as well.

My own experience has shown me that the major problems people have with the catalog are more fundamental than these relatively trivial issues. This has been pointed out in other posts in this list. People already have difficulty comprehending what the catalog is, and it is only understandable. In the age of full-text at the click of a button, the very concept of a separate bibliographic record that does not immediately lead to full text is already difficult for some to understand and this can only get more pronounced with time. With 360
search and other types of federated searching, bibliographic records without full-text will get increasingly mixed in with full-text results, in addition to the massive numbers of materials that are not RDA, and the result will be additional user confusion, who will see more and more strange results coming from the catalog.

Cross-references, which are so necessary to make a library catalog coherent, still are not incorporated into keyword searches, and this must be addressed eventually if the catalog is to survive as a useful tool for information discovery for users. So, for instance, if someone is looking for “Literary characters” they absolutely must be aware of the strange subject heading that they would never think of: “Characters and characteristics in literature” otherwise, their searches will retrieve only very strange results. Or if they search for “IBM” they must know that they need to search for “International Business Machines Corporation”–mainly that is, except for lots and lots of sub-bodies which may be different.

What does the public really need? Returning to the abbreviations: should catalogers spend their decreasing time on abbreviations, of all things?! All of those points are difficult to know, and the first place to start is with usability studies. I am glad to see libraries making the effort to find out where catalogers should be focusing their resources.