My Year of RDA

April 18, 2012

I’ve been a librarian for 30 years and have seen a lot of changes during that time. I’ve welcomed them as new challenges, even as I’ve seen many of my older colleagues become very negative—whining, complaining, and vowing to retire before they have to alter their ways.

But in the past couple of years, the tables had turned when I found myself rolling my eyes and wishing I could retire after the introduction of Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) and Resource Description and Access (RDA).

Now, two years later, I’m a convert. And I would encourage all catalogers to jump in and start learning it as soon as you can. In my experience, RDA was not something that came easily to me after one training session or reading the manual (Toolkit). It is a whole different way of cataloging.

My library is fortunate to have Special Collections and Formats Catalog Department Chair Robert L. Maxwell on staff. Maxwell has been actively involved with FRBR and RDA from the start, and he was determined to have our cataloging employees become RDA experts. Here’s how he did it.

Between 2008–2010, Maxwell led at least one training session every year in which we began to explore FRBR and RDA. At the time, basic FRBR terms such as “work,” “expression,” and “manifestation” were as clear as mud. I would roll my eyes and pray that the Library of Congress would throw the whole concept in the circular file so I could happily retire with AACR2.

Around September 2010, my library was asked to participate in the RDA test (November–December 2010), and much to my dismay, Maxwell asked me to be one of the testers. I now had to put into practice the RDA concepts I had learned over the past few years. The test was difficult; participants were asked to catalog all the different formats, not just their specialties.

After the RDA test, we were asked as a department to continue cataloging in RDA. If there was an AACR2 record in OCLC, we created an RDA record for the OCLC institution record, which included any necessary RDA authority records. If we did an original record, it was created as an RDA record.

I cataloged a few books each month in the RDA format. The bibliographic record wasn’t too hard to do in RDA—I mostly just added the content type (336), media type (337), and carrier type (338) fields, avoiding the use of abbreviations, and then added the name relationship designator terms.

For me, the most difficult part was working on the authority records. Much information could be added to an authority record, such as dates, associated places, field of activity, affiliation, occupation, gender, and language. About 90% of my authority records were sent back to me for correcting before being sent to OCLC because I (a) didn’t have the correct terminology for the field of activity, (b) failed to use the authorized geographic name, or (c) didn’t capitalize the occupation. It also took more time to find additional information. Because of the steep learning curve and the time it took me, I cataloged only a few RDA institutional records per month.

In August 2011, I was asked to catalog manuscripts and use the RDA format for all the institutional records. Not only was the RDA format totally new for me, so was manuscripts cataloging. I had to jump in with both feet instead of dipping in my little toe. And I’m here to tell you that after several months of consistently cataloging in RDA, I finally have a better understanding of it. More importantly, I actually see the benefits of the RDA format.

From a scholarly point of view, associating the relationship designator terms with personal, family, or corporate names is of great value. Librarians and patrons will more clearly know what the relationships are between a resource and the persons, families, or corporate bodies associated with that resource.

For librarians, the additional information in the authority records will be useful because it reduces the need to decipher whether the authority record is appropriate for the item in hand. In the past few months I have had to play detective to search for additional information to add to an authority record. And I have been extremely satisfied after including additional information to a new or existing authority record, making that name more distinctive.

So, all of you catalogers, jump in and give yourselves plenty of time to attend trainings, ask questions, create records, practice, and practice some more. Put together a cheat sheet with all the additional information you could add to the RDA authority record, and keep it in front of you.

Start learning about RDA and be prepared to spend more time with every record you create. The additional information that RDA provides will benefit all of us—catalogers, reference personnel, and patrons.

I never thought I’d say it, but RDA has been a good thing after all.

PATRICIA FRADE is manuscripts cataloger at Brigham Young Universitys Harold B. Lee Library in Provo, Utah.



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