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Since this is an ALA re-cap from me, you probably know what’s coming-a lot of jabbering about RDA. But wait, this one includes even more jabbering about RDA, because right before leaving for Chicago, I went down to Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina for two full days of RDA training (I missed the final half day, because I had to fly to Chicago for ALA). The enterprising folks at Winthrop had somehow managed to wrangle an in-person training session taught by Jessalyn Zoom, a cataloger from the Library of Congress who specializes in cataloging training through her work with the PCC (Program for Cooperative Cataloging). In-person training by experts at her level is hard to come by, so Winthrop was very lucky to land her. Leslie and I went to the training, along with Alan Keeley from PCL and Mark McKone from Carpenter. We all agreed that the training was excellent and really deepened our understanding of the practical aspects of RDA cataloging.

The training sessions were so good they got me energized for ALA and the meetings of my two committees, the Continuing Resources Section Cataloging Committee (i.e. serials cataloging) and CC:DA, the Cataloging Committee for Description and Access (the committee that develops ALA’s position on RDA. I’m one of the seven voting members on this committee. I know in a previous post I wrote I was one of nine voting members, but I got the number wrong, it’s seven). CC:DA met for four hours on Saturday afternoon and three hours on Monday morning, so it’s a pretty big time commitment. I also attended the Bibframe Update Forum, the final RDA Update Forum and a session on RDA Implementation Stories. Because so much of the discussion from these various sessions overlapped, I think I’ll break my discussion of these sessions down thematically.

Day-to-Day RDA Stuff

The RDA Implementation Stories session was particularly useful. Erin Stahlberg, formerly of North Carolina State, now of Mounty Holyoke, discussed transitioning to RDA at a much smaller institution. She pointed out that acquisitions staff never really knew AACR2, or at least, never really had any formal training in AACR2. What they knew about cataloging came from on-the-job, local training. Similarly, copy catalogers have generally had no formal training in AACR2, beyond local training materials, which may be of variable quality. With the move to RDA, both acquisitions staff and especially copy catalogers need training. Stahlberg recommended skipping training in cataloging formats that you don’t collect in (for example, if you don’t have much of a map collection, don’t bother with map cataloging training). She recommended that staff consult with co-workers and colleagues. Acknowledge that everyone is trying to figure it out at the same time. Consult the rules, and don’t feel like you have to know it all immediately. Mistakes can be fixed, so don’t freak out. Also, admit that RDA may not be the most important priority at your library (heaven forbid!). But she also pointed out that training is necessary, and you need to get support from your library Administration for training resources. Stahlberg also said that you have to consider how much you want to encourage cataloger’s judgment, and be patient, because catalogers (both professional and paraprofessional) will be wrestling with issues they’ve never had to face before. She encouraged libraries to accept RDA copy, accept AACR2 copy, and learn to live with the ambiguity that comes from living through a code change.

Deborah Fritz of MARC of Quality echoed many of Stahlberg’s points, but she also emphasized that copy cataloging has never been as easy as some folks think it is, and that cataloging through a code change is particularly hard. She pointed out that we have many hybrid records that are coded part in AACR2 and part in RDA, and that we should just accept them. Fritz also pointed out that so many RDA records are being produced that small libraries who though they could avoid RDA implementation, now have to get RDA training to understand what’s in the new RDA copy records they are downloading. She also said to “embrace the chaos.”

Related to Fritz’s point about downloading RDA copy, during the RDA Forum, Glenn Patton of OCLC discussed OCLC’s policy on RDA records. OCLC is still accepting AACR2 coded records and is not requiring that all records be in RDA. Their policy is for WorldCat to be a master record database with one record per manifestation (edition) per language. The preference will be for an RDA record. So, if an AACR2 record is upgraded to RDA, that will be the new master record for that edition. As you can imagine, this will mean that the number of AACR2 records will gradually shrink in the OCLC database. There’s no requirement to upgrade to an AACR2 record to RDA, but if it happens, great.

Higher Level RDA Stuff

A lot of my time at ALA was devoted to discussions of changes to RDA. In the Continuing Resources Section Cataloging Committee meeting, we discussed the problem of what level of cataloging the ISSN was associated with the Manifestation level or the Expression level (for translations). I realize that this may sound like the cataloging equivalent of debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin (if it doesn’t sound like flat-out gibberish), but trust me, there are actual discovery and access implications. In fact, I was very struck during this meeting and in both of my CC:DA meetings with the passion for helping patrons that was displayed by my fellow catalogers. I think a number of non-cataloging librarians suspect that catalogers prefer to develop arcane, impenetrable systems that only they can navigate, but I saw the exact opposite in these meetings. What I saw were people who were dedicated to helping patrons meet the four user tasks outlined by the FRBR principles (find, identify, select and obtain resources), and who even cited these principles in their arguments. The fact that they had disagreements over the best ways to help users meet these needs led to some fairly passionate arguments. One proposal that we approved in the CC:DA meetings that is pretty easy to explain is a change to the cataloging rules for treaties. RDA used to (well still does until the change is implemented) require catalogers to create an access point, or heading, for the country that comes first alphabetically that is a participant in a treaty. So, the catalog records for a lot of treaties have an access point for Afghanistan or Albania, just because they come first alphabetically, even if it’s a UN treaty that has 80 or 90 participant countries and Afghanistan or Albania aren’t major players in the treaty. The new rules we approved will require creating an access point for the preferred title of the treaty, with the option of adding an access point for any country you want to note (like if you would want to have an access point for the United States for every treaty we participate in). That’s just a taste of the kinds of rule changes we discussed, I’ll spare you the others, although I’d be happy to talk about them with you, if you’re interested.

One other high level RDA thing I learned that I think is worth sharing had to do with Library of Congress’s approach to the authority file. RDA has different rules for formulating authorized headings, so Library of Congress used programmatic methods to make changes to a fair number of their authority records. Last August, 436,000 authority records were changed automatically during phase 1 of their project, and in April of this year, another 371,000 records were changed in phase 2. To belabor the obvious, that’s a lot of changed authority records.


BIBFRAME is the name of a project to develop a new encoding format to replace MARC. Many non-catalogers confuse and conflate AACR2 (or RDA) and MARC. They are very different. RDA and AACR2 are content standards that tell you what data you need to record. MARC is an encoding standard that tells you where to put the data so the computer can read it. It’s rather like accounting (which admittedly, I know nothing about, but I looked up some stuff to help this metaphor). You can do accounting with the cash basis method or the accrual basis method. Those methods tell you what numbers you need to record and keep track of. But you can record those numbers in an Excel spreadsheet or a paper ledger or Quicken or whatever. RDA and AACR2 are like accounting methods and MARC is like an Excel spreadsheet.

Anyway, BIBFRAME is needed because, with RDA, we want to record data that is just too hard to fit anywhere in the MARC record. Chris Oliver elaborated a great metaphor to explain why BIBFRAME is needed. She compared RDA to TGV trains in France. These trains are very fast, but they need the right track to run at peak speeds. TGV trains will run on old-fashioned standard track, but they’ll run at regular speeds. RDA is like the TGV train. MARC is like standard track, and BIBFRAME is like the specialized TGV-compatible track. However, BIBFRAME is not being designed simply for RDA. BIBFRAME is expected to be content-standard agnostic, just as RDA is encoding standard-agnostic (go back to my accounting metaphor, you can do cash basis accounting in Excel or a paper ledger, or do accrual basis in Excel or a paper ledger).

BIBFRAME is still a long way away. Beecher Wiggins of Library of Congress gave a rough guess of the transition to BIBFRAME taking 2 to 5 years, but, from what I’ve seen, it’ll take even longer than that. Eric Miller of Zephira, one of the key players in the development of BIBFRAME said that it is still very much a work-in-progress and is very draft-y.

If anyone would like to get together and discuss RDA or BIBFRAME or any of these issues, just let me know, I’d be happy to gab about it. Conversely, if anyone would like to avoid hearing me talk about this stuff, I can be bribed to shut up about it.