AALL Reflections – The RDA Decision and What It Will Mean for Me and My Library

Throughout my library career, acronyms have simultaneously struck curiosity and fear in the nether regions of my mind.  It began as far back as library school, with a professor doing her best to explain the nebulous concepts of Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR).  I remember staring blankly at the convoluted slides on her display, asking question after question and rarely receiving a satisfactory answer.  It seemed that even the cataloging experts had a difficult time putting such things into words, and the professor radiated joy that as an older cataloger soon to retire, she wouldn’t have to be bothered with such things.  And with that I filed FRBR away in a dark place, avoided at all costs, forgotten and abandoned.

Enter librarianship and the associated trials and tribulations of metadata and authority control.  Suddenly FRBR was out of its dark place, this time joined by his friends Functional Requirements for Authority Data (FRAD) and Resource Description and Access (RDA). The concepts together proved no less unwieldy, despite having actual library experience under my belt.  Since the introduction of RDA, I have participated in countless webinars, tutorials, and programs on the subject.  Almost every single one of these experiences left me in a tailspin, driven less by my actual confusion and more by the lack of substantial content presented.  Programs presented more questions than answers, and besides the ah-ha moment of finally understanding FRBR, thanks to Barbara Tillett, there were few high points to speak of…

Until now.  Despite its lack of PowerPoint bells and whistles, the excitement throughout “The RDA Decision and What It Will Mean to Me and My Library!” was palpable.  A decision had been made – implementation is imminent.  What do we do now?  And with this program, I finally received some long awaited answers.

The first portion of the program was presentation based, with speakers Jean Pajerek and Pat Sayre-McCoy outlining the major changes of RDA, providing references to supplementary materials and giving their first hand experiences both in training their own staff in preparation for RDA and in implementing records within their own libraries.  Never have I heard such an honest, candid discussion – perhaps because the speakers weren’t restricted by traditional presenting methods.  Participants learned more of the mystery of those new 33x fields and ways real libraries were dealing with new content, the juxtaposition between AACR2 and RDA records both in bibliographic and authority realms, workflow changes and training tips.  Overall, it was so incredibly refreshing to see two catalogers, filled to the brim with experience and ripe to protest these changes, actually exude excitement at being part of the RDA movement, embracing the challenges of interpreting and incorporating these new rules.  RDA introduces freedom for local policies; simultaneously offering an international standard as well as the ability to create a library’s cataloging records with their specific users’ needs in mind.

The second portion of the program was question and answer based, with audience participation driving the content.  With an audience primarily composed of  technical service librarians, questions got down into the nitty gritty of the process, often inspiring discussion not only between the presenters and the questioner, but between the entire group as a whole, covering a whole host of topics – some ending in answers and some not.  Templates and macros were encouraged, solving a number of workflow issues concerning punctuation changes and new controlled vocabularies; at least until ILS vendors begin revamping interfaces with drop down menus and checkboxes.  Vendor relations are increasingly important, with flexibility and autonomy in machine displays at the forefront of desires.  Authority control is a key issue – many questions remain in terms of reconciling RDA and AACR2 authority records within your system, displaying these records to your patrons and weighing the need for privacy in authority controls. With resources such as the WorldCat Identities project and the Virtual International Authority File growing every day, how do we incorporate this burgeoning source of information into records, creating more robust content for our patrons?

Overall, the general air of acceptance of RDA overwhelmed me.  Where earlier programs became a breeding ground for complaints about these new cataloging standards, this program left its participants with a clearer understanding of the day-to-day changes implementation has in store for libraries and ready to overcome the implementation learning curve and embrace these new challenges on the horizon.

Ashley Moye is Metadata & Serials Librarian at the Charlotte School of Law in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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1 Response to “AALL Reflections – The RDA Decision and What It Will Mean for Me and My Library”


  1. 1 Martin Wisneski August 11, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    This program is available to view from the TS-SIS homepage:
    http://www.aallnet.org/sis/tssis/
    the 2011 TS-SIS annual meeting pages:
    http://www.aallnet.org/sis/tssis/annualmeeting/2011/
    and on YouTube:

    Links to resources mentioned in the presentation can be found at:
    http://www.aallnet.org/sis/tssis/annualmeeting/2011/handouts/#hottopic


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