Re: [ACAT] Advantages of RDA

Posting to Autocat

On 4/16/2014 7:47 AM, Hal Cain <> wrote:

The alternative view is the pragmatic one: it’s happened, we’ll just do the best we can with it.

I’ve been out for a few days, and just saw this thread.

The advantages of RDA are primarily theoretical: based on entities and attributes, so that the public can navigate the works, expressions, manifestations and items (WEMI) by their authors, titles and subjects (ATS). This is now being supplemented by adding more explicit relationships, so that the searcher knows that the relationship of two entities: e.g. a specific work, has a specific relationship to another entity that is not only an author, but e.g. a thesis advisor.

To believe this, you must ignore a lot of the reality that is right in front of our very faces: right now if someone wants to, anybody in the world can navigate the WEMI by their ATS by using the new technologies that allow facets. All you need is a uniform title and everything works from that. If implemented correctly, you don’t even have to know that much to be able to use it, and anything can display however you want it to. As an additional plus: all of the technology is not owned by some monopolistic company that can charge any outrageous fees it wants and you are locked in forever, but because of the essential goodness of some very talented people, it is all open source and is downloadable for free. Those are simple facts and anyone can convince themselves of their correctness in a couple of minutes.

Another fact is that if the public is to search for the specific relationships, e.g. find people as thesis advisors (but there are far more relationships among all of the entities), then it is a fact that none of it can possibly work until those relationships are added to the records–including those that already exist–otherwise people will be searching only the tiniest fraction of what is really available to them. To add those relationships to all the entities (the relationships among the WEMI and ATS are truly complex) will demand vast resources and will have costs, but no one has even suggested any kind of ultimate figure. What we have seen so far in RDA/FRBR implementation represents only the barest costs, and already beyond the reach of many libraries in this economic crisis we are going through.

I shall ignore the obvious question of whether people actually want to find, identify, select and obtain WEMI by their ATS, or if they actually want something else, but will just point out that it is folly to assume that it is what they want without evidence.

To get more of a grasp upon the reality, we should also try to see things from the point of view of the users. I think that a very good way to do this is to watch the talk by a library IT person “E-Books Do Not Exist (and Other Conundrums of Digital Asset Management)” but to consider this talk not so much in terms of libraries dealing with this information, but of users dealing with this information. In short, he says that the number of records he is putting into the catalog is 8000+ per day. I may be wrong, but would suspect that the average large library adds anywhere
from 1000 to 2000 records per week. In a year’s time, this would be the difference between

8000 x 5 (days per week) x 50 (weeks per year) = 2,000,000 per year
1000/2000 x 50 (weeks per years) = 50,000 to 100,000 per year
(or no more than 5% of what is being added to the collection)

The speaker of this video mentions that since there is so much, he cannot know what records are being put in there–he cannot ensure any kind of authority control, cannot figure out what is and is not duplicated, which links work and which don’t, etc. etc. etc. While this is obviously a serious matter for the library, I want to focus on the users. The speaker describes the situation he is in as “being squashed like a bug.” I am sure he is right, but if he feels this way, what does this mean for the users? Also, we have to remember that these numbers do not in any way represent everything relevant that is available to the public. As an example, I am personally very interested in following the latest Ukrainian news, and the best place for me to find that information is on the web, not in a library, and certainly not in JSTOR, Proquest, Ebscohost, or anything libraries pay for. On almost any topic, there are wonderful materials on the web that are just as vital, interesting and useful for the public than many of the materials on our shelves–if not more so.

These comments are merely to introduce some of the facts that users and other non-catalogers have to deal with every, single day. While Hal is right in one sense about RDA, “it’s happened, we’ll just do the best we can with it,” it still doesn’t mean that RDA is dealing with any of the very real problems people, and libraries, are facing. It was introduced through executive fiat, without a business case, and we are seeing the consequences of such a decision.

Sooner or later, the cataloging community is going to have to deal with it, otherwise at yearly rate of 5% of the whole, the catalog records that we make will constitute tinier and tinier proportions of the growing mass, eventually winking out of realistic existence in the information universe.

I am personally not so pessimistic: I believe there are many, many things catalogers and catalogs and libraries can do–and very important things at that–but first of all, they have to face some very obvious facts, and accept that any solutions must be both practical and sustainable. Concerning RDA and FRBR: do they offer real solutions to the very real problems that people are facing, and are those solutions practical and sustainable? What relationship do these records have with the far greater numbers of items available to the public through the entirety of what the library pays for, plus the even greater numbers of resources available through the web?

I and others have asked these questions repeatedly but neither RDA nor FRBR have been very concerned with the stark realities that catalogers, librarians and the public, all face. There are serious questions that need to be asked, and answered, not “which relator term do I use?” or “Does this author go with the work or expression?”