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Since Leslie has already done such a good job of summarizing the keynote address of the RTSS Spring Workshop, I will discuss the next most useful session I attended, “Next Generation Cataloging Standards: RDA + FRBR,” presented by Erin Stalberg, Head of Metadata and Cataloging at North Carolina State University.

RDA, or Resource Description and Access, is the new code being developed as a successor to AACR2. Work began in 2004 on AACR3 with the intension of making the rules more flexible and comprehensive, yet the group working on it soon found that the changes needed were too sweeping to be accommodated in an AACR3, and thus RDA was born. RDA is a content standard, not an encoding standard, and it is intended to be independent of MARC, but compatible with the MARC format.

RDA is to be a new standard for resource description and access designed for the digital world. It is designed to cover all types of resources. Although it is being developed for use in libraries, it is intended to be applicable anywhere. And the code is designed to be compliant with FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, a conceptual model for bibliographic description, not a set of rules).

The Joint Steering Committee for Development of RDA (JSC) is the group responsible for developing the new code, and it includes international representation, although it is heavily represented by the English speaking world (US, UK, Australia, Canada, etc.). The completed version of RDA is expected August 2008, but it is being vetted by a large number of cataloging groups, committees and interest groups in ALA and other organizations.

Stalberg outlined some of the areas of description that will change under RDA (punctuation, where titles are derived from, use of abbreviations, etc.), but I won’t bore the non-catalogers with that info, particularly as the code has not yet been adopted.

The JSC is committed to guaranteeing that RDA-produced records will be compatible with AACR2-produced records, which will thankfully save us from having to retrospectively re-catalog our entire collection. However, this also results in the criticism that if AACR2 records are compatible with RDA records, does RDA really go far enough in re-vamping the catalog code. That is, isn’t RDA then effectively AACR3? Other criticisms include that RDA is too complicated, too confusing and too redundant, and that the code still has too much emphasis on human creation and manipulation of records, not enough on computer-to-computer interchange.

The real takeaway for me from this session was that, as a practical matter, RDA is a long way from affecting actual cataloging practice in libraries. Not only must RDA be approved by the JSC and a huge number of cataloging interest groups in the US and abroad, the MARC format will have to be updated to accommodate RDA, bibliographic utilities (such as OCLC) will have to accommodate a revised MARC format, ILS systems will have to be revised to work with new RDA-compliant records, and catalogers will have to be trained in working with the new rules and attendant format changes. Optimistically, we’re looking at several years (if not longer) before records cataloged according to RDA are in use.