Wednesday, May 21, 2008

MLA, RDA and the Future

I spent four stimulating days in Falmouth at the Mass Library Association Conference from May 6-9 which included a Pre-Conference on The Future of the ILS (Integrated Library System). My two favorite programs were the Keynote Speaker David Weinberger of Everything is Miscellaneous fame and Diane Hillmann who spoke on The Emerging Cataloging Future: RDA, DCMI, and the Semantic Web. I actually skipped a program called Learn, Laugh and Let Go: A Comic Stress Management Program with mime Robert Rivest to listen to Diane Hillmann. While I’m sorry I missed the mime, I’m not at all sorry I heard Ms Hillmann explain how RDA (Resource Description and Access) is intended to work.

The key to my enlightenment during the RDA program was first listening to David Weinberger. I read Everything is Miscellaneous last summer and really enjoyed it. Mr. Weinberger does not bash traditional library classification. His point is that organizing digital objects is different from organizing physical objects which can only be in one place at any one time. When people are meandering through the web, the path is not linear. We can begin at one place, click on a link to an entirely different place and, from there, go somewhere unrelated to where we began. Blogs and websites are good examples of how people navigate on the web. Think of all of the additional information “contained” on a blog via its links. While a book may have footnotes and citations, the material cited is not actually in the book.

With that image in mind, consider RDA, the successor to AACR2. RDA is meant to be digital, so it is not linear like AARC2 or any print resource. Most of the discussion I’ve been following on AUTOCAT and other lists has focused on the rules themselves. The larger picture of RDA creates bibliographic records with links instead of actual text. The links display as text, so the end result is the same at what we’re used to seeing.

For those of you who have a name authority file embedded in your OPAC, your main (and other) entries are linked to the records in that authority file. If you change the authority record, you globally change every name attached to it. This makes life a lot easier when adding a death date, for example and also links together all titles by one specific author.

RDA goes much further. Many (most?) terms can actually be linked to an authority record which contains much more information than the term. For example, while you might see the phrase “New York”, in actuality the place of publication would be a URI to the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names. Where ever there is some sort of authority file such as LC name or subject authorities or the previously mentioned Getty Thesaurus, the person creating the bibliographic record could insert a URI rather than keying in a phrase. Then, if the viewer chose, he/she could follow that link and see the extensive information about New York contained in the authority record.

While many authority files exist, many more need to be created. An infrastructure must be built in order for RDA to work well. What a fascinating future we have ahead of us!

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