Monday, December 15, 2008

How Soon RDA?

A week ago Friday (was it really that long ago?) I attended a program given by Diane Hillmann at NELINET. This was a more detailed version of the one she presented at MLA in May. Diane’s handouts are available here.

Diane’s talk was entitled The Future of Catalogers and Cataloging but was really an explanation of RDA (Resource Description and Access) and how it is intended to work.

However, before you read through the handouts, I recommend reading Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger. David’s book sets the stage for Diane’s talk.

It’s difficult to appreciate RDA’s potential unless you are thinking “World Wide Web”. The difference between AACR2 and RDA is similar to the difference between a book and a website. In many ways, they look the same. Both generally have text and images. Websites have “pages” and you can look at a web page and then look at another web page similar to looking at different pages of a book. However, when reading a book, if you want to follow up on a reference you’ve seen, you need to find another book, and that book may or may not be handy. With a web page, you merely click on the reference to get to its source.

RDA is meant to be used online. Like a website, its order doesn’t matter; you click to where you want to go. However, RDA is not yet in online form and is only available as several PDFs. It’s difficult to judge the usefulness of something if it’s in a different form – like looking at a two-dimensional picture of a three-dimensional object.

RDA’s shortfall, however in addition to its software not being available, it that the infrastructure on which it depends is also not available. Instead of having an author’s (or illustrator’s or composer’s) name listed in its authorized form on a bibliographic record, there is a URI (Universal Resource Identifier) that links to a database of authorized names like the Library of Congress Name Authority File. The Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names can be used for cities and countries. Both LCNAF and the TGN offer far more information than a single name (so that users could search on “Big Apple” and still find New York City, for example). But equivalent databases do not exist for much of the information in a bibliographic record. Without these databases to which to link, the new RDA bib record is almost exactly like the current AACR2 bib record.

There’s an amazing new world out there on the World Wide Web, but we don’t yet have the tools to take advantage of it.

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