RDA’s New Governance Structure

Changes promise to raise RDA's global profile

October 1, 2015

RDA Toolkit logo
RDA Toolkit logo

Significant additions were made to the Resource Description and Access (RDA) Toolkit in 2015 that should enhance its value to users across the world.

In February, the Music Library Association’s Best Practices for Music Cataloging Using RDA and MARC21 was published on the Toolkit, followed by the publication of the Spanish translation of RDA in March. While these are important additions and represent significant steps in raising the profile of the standard, the most important news this year may be announcements from the Committee of Principals (CoP), the group that oversees the RDA project.

The changes promise to open up RDA development to greater international representation and wider community participation, and significantly advance RDA’s standing as a truly international standard.

The need for change

The reevaluation of the governance structure began in spring of 2014 when CoP met in Chicago with an eye toward examining how they and the Joint Steering Committee for the Development of RDA (JSC) were conducting business and how their processes and structure might be improved.

Among the outcomes of that meeting was a commitment to a new vision for RDA as the global standard enabling the discovery of content. The committee announced a review of the current governance structure of RDA with a goal of revising it to better meet the goals of the new vision.

In July 2014, CoP released a discussion document outlining the current governance structure, principles for any new governance structure, areas for development, and the key questions for consultation and invited response from all stakeholders. The response period ended in December 2014.

The new governance structure

On May 29, CoP announced a restructuring of RDA governance, stating that “RDA has now reached a critical point in development and the key to its continued success is a firm commitment to further internationalization and exploration of wider cultural heritage description communities.” The restructuring will happen during the next 3–4 years.

The new structure includes two major components: revised representation and expanded avenues for input into the standard. Under the new governance structure, CoP will be renamed the RDA Board. Membership will consist of the JSC chair, representatives from the American Library Association (ALA), Canadian Library Association, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (the co-publishers of RDA), national institution representatives from six geographical regions (North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, Asia, and Oceania), and two representatives from board-identified communities. A representative of ALA Publishing (which is responsible for the daily management of the Toolkit and RDA products) and members from RDA board working groups will attend meetings when necessary.

The significant changes are the additions of geographic and community representatives. The geographic representatives will be selected from regional RDA groups similar to the model established by the European RDA Interest Group. Community representatives will represent those whose input is of particular interest at a given time, including archivists, cultural heritage communities, publishers, content aggregators, and application developers.

The board hopes to establish clear avenues for all libraries to put forward proposals and topics for review and discussion. These topics can then be elevated to the steering committee as necessary.

The JSC will become the RDA Steering Committee in the new structure. The composition of the committee will change and expand to include a chair, a secretary, an examples editor, liaisons from the technical and translation working groups, wider community representation, and representatives from the six geographic regions. An ALA Publishing representative and the chair of the RDA Board will also attend steering committee meetings. Just as with the restructured RDA Board, the new emphasis on geographic representation and community expertise is meant to bring new perspectives and knowledge to RDA and steer the standard toward CoP’s 2014 objective.

The other key component of the new governance structure is a reliance on both short- and long-term working groups to grapple with specific and ongoing RDA issues.

Both the board and steering committee will have the power to form working groups and select membership. The new plan calls for the RDA Board to receive reports from four working groups. The Co-Publishers/Fund Trustees group and the RDA Toolkit Technical Committee (including the RDA Development Team subgroup) have already been formed. The other two groups are the Marketing, Outreach, and Communications Working Group and the Grants Working Group.

The steering committee will have two permanent working groups. The Technical Working Group has been functioning for the past year; the Translations Working Group is currently being assembled. The committee has already formed eight “task and finish” working groups on aggregates, archives, capitalization, fictitious entities, music, places, RDA/ONIX, and relationship designators. These groups are typically given a clearly defined task or set of tasks that it is expected to complete. Once the work is completed, the group will be disbanded. All working groups are expected to submit reports and/or proposals to the steering committee and fulfill any tasks assigned by the steering committee.

These working groups are an important method for expanding the experience and knowledge available to the RDA governing bodies as they attempt to resolve complex issues. The changes described are only a portion of the initiatives that CoP is pursuing to make RDA a package of data elements, guidelines, and instructions for creating library and cultural heritage resource metadata that is formed according to international models for user-focused linked data applications.

The full text of CoP announcements can be found at rdatoolkit.org and at the JSC website.