Reviewing RDA ‘Final’ Draft

I’ve been plowing through the final draft of RDA and becoming increasingly frustrated and discouraged.  I’m trying to approach this with an open mind; I really am.  I believe there is a need for RDA and that this could well be a stepping stone on the way toward the semantic web.  And libraries and librarians should be involved, if not leading that effort.  But so far there has been nowhere that I haven’t found something in the RDA draft that is questionable or presents some strange inconsistency or plain just does not feel right.

Making these determinations is challenging to say the least.  It’s hard to really get the structure of this massive document.  Remember this is the first time we’ve had an opportunity to see the whole RDA document. And it was delayed for months, finally released as a gaggle of pdf files.  These are extremely difficult to work with and/or print (which I have avoided preferring instead to work with it online).  Wrapping my head around this is starting to make me kinda crazy.

Where’s the electronic version?  Where’s the ability to chart your path through this document according to the needs of the particular cataloguer?  Where’s RDA?  These 1,000 pages, or however many there are, are not RDA.  And for certain this is not a final draft!  There is so much that still needs to be done:  proofreading, rule reference correction, and most importantly vetting of the conceptual structure and presentation. Why wasn’t the review period extended so the constituencies had more time to try and do this? And the time that was alloted ran over the holiday period. Nice. Thanks.

It’s not ready. It needs more time. Why rush through this? I feel like I’m picking away at a scab and at this rate it’s never going to heal. OK, maybe I’m over reacting … but I don’t think I’m alone.

Waiting for RDA

Well, November 3rd has come and gone, and the week of November 3rd is coming to a close and still no sign of RDA.  This is good because my schedule is pretty packed lately and this delay helps me manage my commitments.  On the other hand I’m looking forward to seeing the final draft especially if the web-based proto-type comes along with it.  Once we get a chance to see RDA in its native digital environment I think the potential value of this as a new tool for bibliographic control will become clearer.  If we just get another wack of paper its going to be difficult and tedious to review it properly.  I’m hopeful, but I can’t help feeling a bit like Estrogan and Vladimir in Samuel Beckett’s, Waiting for Godot, waiting for that something that never shows up.  Let’s get on with it!  🙂

RDA IFLA Satelite Conference in Quebec City

It was great to attend the RDA Conference last Friday in Quebec City. We drove up to Quebec via Ottawa and stayed a couple of nights in the posh dorms of the University of Laval. Friday was a rainy day which made sitting in the windowless conference room just that much more bearable. The day ran very smoothly and delegates had come from as far away as Iceland, Singapore and Australia.

Barbara Tillett set the stage with a wonderful survey of the development of RDA in her presentation entitled, “Resource Description and Access: Overview: History, Principles, Conceptual Models“. This provided a great introduction for those who may have been new to RDA and was also a clear review for the experienced RDA follower. She traced the history from the British Museum rules of 1841, the Paris Principles, card catalogues, the development of the IBSD, OPACs and the current web environment and showed how the FRBR principles were drawn directly from this evolution.

All of the presentations were informative but the two highlights for me were Gord Dunsire’s, “RDA Vocabularies and Concepts” and Chris Oliver’s run through the RDA online prototype.

Dunsire’s presentation was particularly interesting to me because he spoke about the connection of RDA to some of the other players in the bibliographic universe including ONIX, FRBRoo, OWL, RDF and the Semantic Web. Things seem very promising with comments from the communities like: “Why haven’t we sat down and talked about this stuff together before?” Dunsire expressed the importance of enabling the ‘machine’ in this rapidly changing technological environment: “We don’t have to understand it, we’re just humans … it needs to be this complicated so that the machines can understand it … we should just keep talking and let the machines know what we’ve decided.” A brave new bibliographic world to be sure.

Oliver walked us though some screenshots of the online prototype which, unfortunately, was still not quite ready for prime time due to the delay of the final draft. It looks pretty good. Conceptually it seems to be well thought out and includes features like annotating, commenting and workflow creation that will be potentially very useful. The principle developer Nannette Naught was praised very highly and you might be interested in taking a look at her presentation from the RDA Forum at the ALA annual conference this past June, “Product Development Snapshot: A Visual Tour of the Development Process“; especially the diagram that shows the RDA entity-relationships on slide 8 which was included in Oliver’s presentation. A little weeny to actually see, but interesting none-the-less.

There were some criticisms from the European library community who to some degree have felt a bit left out of the process. Anders Cato from the National Library of Sweden outlined the concerns of the international community, but it seemed that many of them had been addressed and dealt with earlier in the day. Dierdre Kiorgaard, Chair of the JSC, assured everyone that all of the submitted comments had been considered by the Committee, but decisions had not been reached for all of them.

Another issue of concern raised during Chris Oliver’s Q&A was the publishing/business model for RDA. How will RDA be developed? Will there be considerations for small libraries, independent cataloguer/indexers and possibly educational access packages for teachers and students? Some wondered about the accessibility of the online version in rural areas and underdeveloped communities and expressed a desire for a print version. There was a representative from the publisher’s group who said they were aware of most of these issues and will address them once the first version of RDA has been issued.

Implementation of RDA also looms as a big question. The Library of Congress, Library and Archives Canada, and the Australian and British national libraries have agreed to take the lead. Once RDA is ready, likely mid-2009, plans for implementation will be prepared with the goal that libraries will start adopting and using RDA sometime in 2010.

It was a great day overall. I had a chance to speak with a number of interesting folks and came away feeling generally positive about the whole endeavour. I’m looking forward to reviewing the final draft of RDA which is due out in mid-October. The conference presentations haven’t surfaced yet but will likely appear on the IFLA website or the JSC presentations page shortly.

Here are a few pictures from the conference.