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D-Lib Magazine
January/February 2007

Volume 13 Number 1/2

ISSN 1082-9873

Resource Description and Access (RDA)

Cataloging Rules for the 20th Century


Karen Coyle

Diane Hillmann
Cornell University

Red Line

(This Opinion piece presents the opinions of the author. It does not necessarily reflect the views of D-Lib Magazine, its publisher, the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, or its sponsor.)


There is evidence that many individuals and organizations in the library world do not support the work taking place to develop a next generation of the library cataloging rules. The authors describe the tensions existing between those advocating an incremental change to cataloging process and others who desire a bolder library entry into the digital era.


Libraries have lost their place as primary information providers, surpassed by more agile (and in many cases wealthier) purveyors of digital information delivery services. Although libraries still manage materials that are not available elsewhere, the library's approach to user service and the user interface is not competing successfully against services like Amazon or Google. If libraries are to avoid further marginalization, they need to make a fundamental change in their approach to user services. The library's signature service, its catalog, uses rules for cataloging that are remnants of a long departed technology: the card catalog. Modifications to the rules, such as those proposed by the Resource Description and Access (RDA) development effort, can only keep us rooted firmly in the 20th, if not the 19th century. A more radical change is required that will contribute to the library of the future, re-imagined and integrated with the chosen workflow of its users.

The Catalog

Changes in the context in which libraries function have brought the library and its catalog to a crisis point. Today the development of computer technology and electronic document production presents a significantly different challenge than libraries had only fifty years ago, a time when information resources and the libraries that held them were still rooted in the era of books and periodicals, and the card catalog was the entry point to the library's physical holdings. The effect of computers and networks of information resources on the mission of libraries is still being debated, but the very existence of libraries in the future rides on their ability to respond to today's – and tomorrow's – technology.

One area where change is essential is in the area of library catalogs and cataloging. Cataloging rules used today represent an unbroken continuum that began in the early 19th century. The rules were developed for linear presentation, either in printed book catalogs or in alphabetically arranged card catalogs, thus the emphasis on "headings," those carefully crafted strings that are designed to be placed in an ordered list ("Smith, James" "Smith, John"). Headings, in alphabetical order, were once the only access points into the catalog. But as catalog entries became machine-readable records in the 1960's, the rules for cataloging stayed essentially the same. More recently, library systems developers have worked hard to create a machine-readable library catalog that provided functionality beyond that of the analog card catalog, for instance by allowing keyword searching of all data in the catalog record. However, the struggle to accommodate technological change with data created using the old rules is clearly not optimal, and hinders the ability of libraries to create innovative services.

To make an effective transition to the new reality, librarians need to undertake a broad analysis of how the changing information technology and our rapidly evolving information resources are changing user behavior. The goal of that analysis should be to mold the user service of the future, recognizing that users and their information needs should be our primary focus. This will mean that our vision of the catalog and of cataloging must make a radical transformation.

Changes in Information Resources

The early cataloging rules, dating back to the catalog of the British Museum in 1841, evolved primarily to handle textual, published resources. As the twentieth century produced new carriers for information (and libraries determined that these new formats were important to their mission) the cataloging rules extended their reach past the familiar packages of bound paper to newly available musical recordings and motion pictures. In almost every case, the cataloging rules leaned on the similarities between the new formats and old. The significant differences between them were expressed, for the most part, in the notes and physical description areas. This worked for a time, as most of the new formats were issued in commercial packages that were self-describing, that is, they carried on their packaging the key descriptive information on their contents, such as the names of creators and the titles of works.

By the end of the 20th century, with the explosion of digital formats and the Internet, the treatment of non-book formats using the model of book cataloging became less useful. Even conventionally published materials began to appear on the market in multiple formats. In addition, the much looser distribution channel of the Internet eliminated the packaging and any vestige of description that those packages contributed. More telling, the switch from physical media formats distributed through traditional channels to web-distributed digital information pulled the last remaining rug from under catalogers used to relatively stable materials. Descriptive rules based on predictable, stable and named "sources of information" (title pages, colophons, etc.) about a resource, with a prescribed order of preference, were not adaptable to resources without title pages or pages, and not suitable for resources that existed in a state of constant change. Even the special rules designed to integrate loose-leaf services (the most changeable resources handled by traditional cataloging) proved to be insufficient.

The libraries' earliest experience with the proliferation of copies of resources in different physical formats was with the reproduction of printed materials, first in microformats, then in digital formats. Library cataloging rules required each new iteration in a different format to have its own entry in the catalog. Although seemingly efficient in allowing virtual "cloning" of catalog information from one version to another, in the end this practice proved to have a very negative impact on the usability of the catalog, causing an increase in catalog entries for what to many users is essentially the same resource. As mass digitization projects go forward, catalogs are being swamped by these duplicate entries, and since there is little to distinguish the catalog entries for hard copies on the library's shelf and a full text digital copy that the user can access immediately, much confusion among users has ensued. Called the "multiple versions problem," it is one of the more glaring ways that current cataloging rules no longer serve the library's users, and even hinder the ability of systems designers to provide an efficient service for library catalog users [1].

Changes in Catalog Technology and Scope

The goals and functions of a catalog determine the shape and content of its entries, and the creation of those entries is what the cataloging rules define. It is difficult, if not impossible, to make a meaningful separation between the nature of the holdings of the library, the characteristics of the user population that the library is mandated to serve, and the library catalog. All of these factors have been bound together to provide the service that embodies the main mission of the library: to put the desired resources into the hands of users.

As technological advances have allowed libraries over time to develop new kinds of catalogs, the cataloging environment has also undergone changes. The production of printed cards produced by the Library of Congress beginning in 1901 caused a quiet revolution that continues to this day: from that point on, cataloging became a shared activity. Each library that purchased a regularly published book could make use of the cards produced for that title and sold by the Library of Congress. Because not all materials held by a library would be available as printed card sets, the library would have to do its own cataloging for some materials. Both locally produced cataloging and the LC cataloging would be entered into the same catalog (and, by the early 1970's, shared with others), and this meant that national rules were needed to promote uniformity of catalog entries.

In the 20th century the "A.L.A. Cataloging Rules" were issued first in 1908, then revised in 1949 as the "Rules for Descriptive Cataloging." [2,3] The Anglo-American Cataloging Rules were published in 1967 [4], and the second edition of the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules (AACR2) followed on shortly, in 1978 [5]. But AACR2 was issued on the eve of what were arguably the most important technology changes since the printing press: the computer and the electronic network. The rules of AACR2 were written in a time when "library catalog" still meant "card catalog," but within a decade libraries were abandoning cards for electronic databases. The Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC), essentially the card catalog in a database format, became the dominant library catalog by the 1990's, and the World Wide Web soon became the primary means of connecting users to the library and the library catalog.

The online catalog was not just a change in the delivery of catalog data to users, it changed how we think about and use the catalog entries. The catalog was no longer approached as an alphabetical list of headings. Instead, users keyed in search terms and sets of catalog entries were retrieved. As a radical departure from all catalog access up to this time, users were not limited to a left-anchored search on a text string but could search the catalog by any word anywhere in a heading, and sometimes by any word in the catalog entry, including notes.

The library online catalogs made use of the data elements produced according to the rules of AACR2. Those data elements, however, were encoded in a machine-readable cataloging record (MARC) that was developed in the 1960's as the carrier for the library cataloging data. Initially, MARC records were used exclusively by the typesetting operation at the Library of Congress that produced the printed card sets. By the late 1970's the MARC records themselves were becoming the entries in the computerized library catalogs. Although originally designed as a carrier for the cataloging record, the MARC record has always contained additional data elements that are not defined in the catalog rules. Some of these are machine-friendly encodings of cataloging data elements like the date of publication, not easily parsed from a textual description. Others are elements that are not included in the cataloging rules, like the language of the text. MARC became the middleware between the cataloging function and library systems development, and in some ways between catalogers and systems developers. The machine-readable record standard underwent modifications to accommodate the needs of the cataloging community, but it responded as much or even more to the needs of systems. The large bibliographic utilities, such as OCLC, RLG, and WLN, and the library systems vendors became essential to the management of libraries and their catalogs, and hold the key to the actual management of libraries through their products. The cataloger is no longer the sole creator of the library catalog, and the cataloging rules do not define all of the functions of the catalog. What many library users think of as the library catalog is as much the creation of library systems developers as it is a product of the cataloging department.

Changes in the Information Environment

While the computer was revolutionizing the library catalog, it was also making possible enormous changes in the nature of knowledge production. No longer were published items the only form of mass communication of ideas; anyone could create a document or other creative work and make it available to the public on the Internet. At first seen as amateurish, the Internet gained in bona fides to the point that today some disciplines give preference to online publication, taking advantage of increased speed of delivery to an audience and broader geographical coverage. The library catalog and its conventions, valued by libraries as both an inventory of regularly published items and as the sharing mechanism for catalog entries, does not have a means to respond to this new, more chaotic information environment. The work on the Dublin Core metadata standard [6] grew directly out of the recognition that the kind of extensive, collaborative cataloging that libraries undertook for the thousands of new items published each year would be far too expensive to cope with the many hundreds of thousands of useful works that appeared during the same period on the World Wide Web. Information professionals, among them librarians, needed a much simpler yet standard way to describe the new forms of intellectual output, as well as the more granular items turning up as products of libraries' and archives' own digital library projects.

Changes in Users, User Activities and Library Collections

Today's library users have a different set of information skills from those of just a few decades ago. They live in a highly interactive, networked world and routinely turn to Web search engines for their information needs. This new generation of users (not limited to the young) finds library OPACs stodgy, difficult to use, and unnecessarily limited by a single library's boundaries. They are comfortable with the search engine's abbreviated search results, in part because the ability to click on a result and determine quickly its suitability is far more satisfactory than the detailed "full record" description that is provided by the library catalog. The fact that users have become comfortable with the result of a search leading seamlessly and instantly to the delivery of the resource to the user's workstation undermines the whole notion of the value of a detailed catalog. A complex metadata surrogate describing resources in detail is unneeded when the actual item can be viewed within a few seconds and with little effort on the part of the user.

Libraries that take seriously the calls for re-examination of their mission are increasingly looking as well at changes in thinking about library collections as they attempt to retool for the future. In a recent article for LRTS, Mark Sandler writes:
"Fast forward now to a world where a single digital copy of an article or book can be delivered to multiple users, anytime, anywhere. This is a world in which publishers can deliver in real time the books or articles as needed by users – electronically or in print – rather than libraries or retail booksellers stockpiling the content on consignment; a world in which a user can locate and buy a print copy of almost any known book – new or used – and expect delivery the next day; a world in which a single catalog of books (and non-books) can be searched at the word level, leading users to library holdings and purchase opportunities. This is the world today, or the world that we know to be close at hand. It is potentially a world of disintermediation for libraries of all types, but especially for those research libraries that have historically defined themselves in terms of the extent of holdings rather than the relevance of services" [7].

Sandler, and others looking at the future of library collections, see the focus on the published products of scholarship, where libraries have traditionally put most of their effort, making way for a new focus on primary collections of research materials. These collections, often unique and organized with emphases on geographic relevance, programmatic needs, and faculty interests and strengths, are not the product of the scholarly enterprise, but instead the precursor. More effort to acquire and manage these materials will require different cataloging approaches than used now on the published products collected redundantly by libraries, as well as a more flexible infrastructure. There are certainly other, equally compelling visions of what the future will look like for libraries, but what stays the same is the need for reusable data from others (as materials are combined "virtually" for delivery to users), as well as for more sustainable and efficient ways to describe these materials. The level of interoperability required for this new environment of data sharing cannot be accomplished with the current proposals for revision of the library cataloging rules.

Why RDA is Failing Libraries

Resource Description and Access (RDA) is a standards effort to develop cataloging rules that would supersede the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, 2nd edition (AACR2) [8]. Work in this area has been taking place for at least a decade, starting in 1997 with the International Conference on the Principles and Future Development of AACR, held in Toronto [9]. The work on the standard takes place under the auspices of the Joint Steering Committee for Revision of Anglo-American Cataloging Rules (JSC).

Initially, RDA was envisioned as a third edition of the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, and was accordingly called AACR3, but in an effort to emphasize the break from the past it was renamed to Resource Description and Access (RDA). In its prospectus for RDA, the JSC expresses its intentions as:

"Built on foundations established by the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR), RDA will provide a comprehensive set of guidelines and instructions on resource description and access covering all types of content and media. The new standard is being developed for use primarily in libraries, but consultations are being undertaken with other communities (archives, museums, publishers, etc.) in an effort to attain an effective level of alignment between RDA and the metadata standards used in those communities" [10].

This quote succinctly expresses a typical contradiction in the RDA effort: the desire to continue the AACR tradition while acknowledging that a greater change is needed. RDA cannot be successful without addressing the key changes in the information environment that have caused libraries to fall behind as primary information providers. The challenges of this rapidly changing environment may be more than the developers of RDA can accommodate, given the firmness of their ties to AACR. What follows is an analysis of some of the serious issues in the RDA drafts to date, issues that may spell failure for the future of library catalogs.

Goals Based on the Past

The rapid rate of the introduction of new formats that are used for text, sound, and images, as well as the increase in resources issued in more than one format, have resulted in a catalog that presents users with many entries for what appears to be the same thing. The Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR), published in 1998, was an attempt to define a model of the current bibliographic universe that would enable a rationalized approach to cataloging practice in a multiple-version resource environment [11]. The increase in web-based information resources, including a wealth of scholarly materials, has led to debate in the library profession on the primacy of the catalog as a discovery tool. Users spend less time with bibliographic description and more time browsing through full texts; less time searching and more time interacting in social environments that lead them to information. It seems obvious that libraries are at a tipping point where changes in practice are essential to meet these challenges. Libraries have adapted to some changes in the format and delivery of information, licensing digital content and enabling users to access a great deal of their journal holdings as digital full text. But new calls for the integration of social tagging mechanisms, reviews, and use-based recommendations, inspired by experience with sites like Amazon, challenge even more the traditional assumptions about library catalogs.

RDA is being presented by the JSC as a change in practice that will position libraries for the electronic age. As stated on the JSC/RDA web site, "RDA is being developed as a new standard for resource description and access designed for the digital world." However, the possibilities for innovation in this standard are hindered by the limited vision of the JSC. The RDA prospectus sets a serious limitation when it declares that "... the need to integrate data produced using RDA into existing files (particularly those developed using AACR and related standards) is recognized as a key factor in the design of RDA." This declaration of fealty to the data included in current databases of bibliographic information permeates the discussion about RDA. On the RDA-L discussion list some participants fall into the shorthand of naming MARC tags for data elements while discussing RDA rules, and it has even been suggested that MARC-formatted examples be included in the RDA documents [12]. There seems to be no question in the minds of many participants in the RDA process that the new standard will be similar enough to AACR2 that the cataloging produced will be compatible with the libraries' machine-readable record format and with current library systems.

In addition, although lip service has been paid to the FRBR Group I entities and the idea of disaggregating the current cataloging record to better make use of FRBR's insights, RDA is not going in this direction. The focus of RDA is called "the resource" and the resource is a FRBR manifestation/item described using the same concept of a pre-coordinated "record" as we find in AACR2. This record brings together in single package a bibliographic description based on a manifestation, as well as some elements that "reflect attributes of work and expression associated the intellectual or artistic content of a resource" [13].

The developers of RDA appear to believe that the rules they are creating are compatible with database technology and data architectures. The prospectus states: "RDA is being developed to provide a better fit with emerging database technologies..." and "The aim is to provide a set of instructions for recording data that can be applied independently of any particular structure or syntax for data storage or display." Yet throughout the draft documents there are instructions for highly structured strings that are clearly not compatible with what we think of today as machine-manipulable data: Number of units
When recording the number of units, record the number in arabic numerals followed by an
appropriate term or terms to indicate the type of unit..."
12 posters
1 sculpture

Examples of legacy approaches abound in RDA. Particularly problematic is the insistence that notions of "primary" and "secondary," designed to use effectively the space on a 3 x 5 inch card, must still be a part of RDA. Preferences about identification of materials continue to focus on transcription in concert with rules for creating textual "uniform" titles by which related resources can be gathered together for display to users. Similarly, relationships between works or derivations have been expressed using textual citation-like forms in notes. These legacy practices fly in the face of the reality that in the digital world, identity is rarely expressed in a textual way, but instead standard linking technologies with Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs) are preferred. Because most catalogers do not understand how these techniques can easily enable human readable displays, they tend to insist that cataloger-created textual notes are still the preferred methodology, and must be prescribed in the rules.

Perhaps most telling is the view of computer scientists working in the metadata arena towards the approach RDA has taken. At the recent Dublin Core conference, Mikael Nilsson of the Knowledge Management Research Group, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, described the rules from his point of view as basically "stenographic conventions for constructing value strings" [14]. Clearly, if future library metadata approaches are expected to incorporate machine created metadata and support advanced machine manipulation, as recent reports from the Library of Congress and the University of California have stated, the views of computer scientists should be taken seriously [15, 16].

One of the key aspects of library cataloging that has kept a larger community from embracing library practices is the sheer complexity of the rules. Even within the library world there is beginning to be some questioning of the cost-effectiveness of library cataloging conventions. Acknowledging this, one of the RDA goals is "Ease and efficiency of use" [17]. Instead, RDA drafts reveal highly detailed rules with large numbers of special cases. The current plan for RDA contains 14 chapters and 4 appendices. Of the extant drafts, chapters 6 & 7 alone are 120 pages in length. It is hard to see how these rules can be anything but daunting, unnecessarily complex and expensive to implement.

Open discussion on the issues necessary to define a new standard has been hampered by a plethora of unexamined assumptions evident in early drafts. For the traditional cataloging community, full and detailed descriptive cataloging is still the gold standard. They believe fervently that this level of description is essential to the continuation of scholarship, and resist most challenges to this view of their role and mission, even as Google seduces their users. The library cataloging community's experience with computer solutions has been the OPAC module of integrated library systems. Early systems showed little understanding of either MARC data or the goals of the library catalog, and even innovative solutions have disappointed some in the cataloging community because of their distance from the linear, card-based model that catalogers must still embrace in order to apply the rules of AACR2. These librarians have no reason to believe that different, often simpler or less-structured approaches to cataloging that rely on more sophisticated use of computer mediation could provide the level of user service to which the card catalog aspired. In particular, they reject any challenges to the rules designed to force catalogers to describe resources uniformly. The notion that different communities of practice might welcome the ability to manipulate a catalog record display in ways not anticipated by rule makers, and that this capability should be considered essential as rules are formulated, is generally dismissed by this group as unworkable.

Lack of Community Support

Presumably the pressures on libraries and the call for breaking down traditional barriers were well known to the experienced and well-intentioned members of the Joint Steering Committee. As few JSC members were participants in the larger metadata world, they sought formal relationships with the Dublin Core community and the IEEE LTSC as well as other communities [18]. Despite these important attempts to look outward, they continued to see their primary audience within the traditional cataloging community and sought the bulk of their reviewers there. Thus was the stage set for a clash of cultures that the JSC was ill suited to referee.

Dissatisfaction with the RDA process and the already distributed drafts has recently surfaced in the ALA Committee on Cataloging: Description & Access (CC:DA) documents. In a response to the most recent chapter reviews, CC:DA noted:

"There is a growing crisis of confidence within ALA regarding the RDA development process and its ability to produce a viable standard" [19].
Suggestions were offered to refocus and move the work forward successfully, among them the following:
"Adopt a top-down development approach: Deal with larger, overarching issues before addressing smaller, technical ones. Determine a clear and explicit scope for RDA in terms of whom it will serve, what resources it will address, and what types of metadata it will produce. Based on this, provide a better assessment of the existing Principles and Objectives, editing them as necessary to achieve the stated scope; establish priorities among competing principles and objectives. Finally, develop an intermediate level document consisting of a principled set of general rules. These will constitute a benchmark against which to evaluate specific rules in terms of their appropriateness and whether they are of a general, specific, or special nature.
Revise the development timeline, allowing an opportunity to review RDA as a whole: Without access to the entire standard (including introductions, appendices, glossary, and examples), constituency reviewers are unable to assess its potential viability or its fulfillment of the objectives and principles. The development schedule must be modified to allow for additional drafts as deemed necessary by the content developers and to provide constituencies the opportunity to review the standard in toto.
Do not use AACR2 alone as the source of ideas and practices for RDA. We draw attention to earlier work in the development of Dublin Core and its underlying abstract model, DACS and CCO, the work of Tillett and Smiraglia (among others) on bibliographic relationships, and conferences like the Bicentennial Conference on Bibliographic Control for the New Millennium as resources to further inform RDA, its development, and its rules" [20].

Perhaps the strongest area of agreement between the CC:DA and the metadata communities is the concern about the lack of a top-down process, beginning with agreements about models and general principles for description and setting the stage for detailed extension by any specialized community. In his 1997 paper for the International Conference on the Principles and Future Development of AACR, Michael Gorman (one of the original editors of AACR2) called for simplifications and a focus on general rules: "First, we should get rid of all the 'special' case law rules that were imported into Part 2 of AACR2 ... (for example, the numerous cases of special religious materials and laws). Second, we should prune descriptive rules of the over elaborations in particular cases – those that are insufficient for the specialist cataloguer and too much for the general cataloguer (for example, in the rules for music and maps). The needs of the specialist cataloguer and special collections could be catered to by specialist manuals created by the relevant cataloguing bodies and overseen and certified as true interpretations of AACR2 by the Joint Steering Committee" [21]. More recently, both RDA insiders and outsiders have made a similar suggestion: that the most effective thing JSC could do is develop the general principles and rules for description, and leave the details to the specialized communities of practice. A key component of this idea is that traditional library cataloging is but one of these specialized communities, not the entire focus of the standardization effort.

In response to the CC:DA criticisms, the JSC issued a new document early in December: RDA – Resource Description and Access: Scope and Structure, which " ... defines the scope and structure of RDA in relation to its underlying conceptual models (FRBR, and FRAD) and to two related metadata models (the DCMI Abstract Model and The <indecs> Metadata Framework)" [22, 23, 24, 13]. Unfortunately, in addition to asserting that the special rules will continue to be a part of RDA, the document uses the language of the models to express JSC's continued adherence to AACR2-style textual representations of names and other access points, apparently to support backwards compatibility rather than forward thinking. In this new document, definitions are derived from various new models, but the assumptions about what will be included in a cataloging record reflect little change from tradition.

In a particularly interesting recent development, one that seems to indicate a lack of confidence in the JSC, on Dec. 1, 2006, the Library of Congress, citing the pressure of technological change, announced the formation of a "... Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control to examine the future of bibliographic description in the 21st century" [25]. This group, which includes representatives of most of the major library associations plus Microsoft and Google, is asked to: "Present findings on how bibliographic control and other descriptive practices can effectively support management of and access to library materials in the evolving information and technology environment; Recommend ways in which the library community can collectively move toward achieving this vision; and Advise the Library of Congress on its role and priorities." It seems unlikely that this group will endorse the continuing primacy of traditionally based cataloging rules in their report, due in fall 2007.

In spite of these clear criticisms, the JSC seems convinced that the new standard can be built on the crumbling walls of AACR2 and that other communities will flock to adopt it. Such a position of denial would be laughable if it were not so disastrous for the library community. On the other hand, if JSC could be persuaded to take seriously the fundamental concerns they have heard so far, and to accept the offers of help from outside their traditional community, the advantages to all could be considerable. The Dublin Core and IEEE LTSC, while not focused on catalogs, are interested in interoperability with the library world and in reusing the experience of libraries in their own arenas. The archival community and the museum community, who considered themselves marginalized by AACR2, might well return to the fold if RDA could break the bonds of the AACR2 legacy.

What We Risk

The emerging concepts of the Library Without Walls and Library 2.0 [26] are the progressive librarians' response to a changing information environment and the need to interact directly with a multitude of information providers and the networks that connect them. These interactions have not been without problems due to the need to merge data that are created in different contexts and from different metadata traditions. Too many librarians still consider themselves the only true experts both in bibliographic metadata creation and in service to information seekers, behaving condescendingly to others newer to the information enterprise. But users have spoken with their keyboards, overwhelmingly preferring non-traditional and non-library sources of information and methods of information discovery. Recent changes in library user interfaces are a belated attempt to catch up with services that users have already come to take for granted from other providers, such as the immediate access to full text and user determined ranking and clustering of retrievals.

While the goals of the progressive librarians building new interconnected library services are admirable, they need to be achieved in short order if libraries are to retain their users' loyalty. It does not seem to matter to most users that libraries currently are the only conduits for a wealth of published literature that is not available for open access on the public Internet. Users will engage with services that provide materials quickly and with the least effort. The "invisible library," like the dark web, is of no interest to those who do not know that it exists.

The role of the cataloging rules in enabling or disabling these goals is not just a matter of insuring that library systems can accept metadata from non-library sources, and that library metadata can leak out into the public network environment. We must set the stage, with our standards and our use of technology, for library bibliographic services that serve today's users. These users are increasingly ones who have never known a world without computers, much less a world without the Internet. The new generation of users begins each information quest with a few typed keywords into an online query box. When seeking a book whose title they only partly remember, many of them turn to Amazon. There they not only get the bibliographic information that they sought but also find themselves in a reassuring online community that reviews, recommends, and encourages them to take part.

Since the development of the first OPACs, libraries have been trying to move forward while dragging behind them the ball of a century of legacy data and the chain of an antiquated view of the bibliographic universe. The defense of this legacy universe has all of the elements of a religious argument rather than a systematic analysis of the actual requirements for a 21st century library. The prospect of change challenges libraries' investment in their current catalogs as well as their desire to feel competent to do the business of running the library. But institutional change today cannot be gradual, not when technology is setting the pace. Activities like the mass digitization of books being pioneered by the commercial information sector show that if libraries do not step up to the challenge of change they will become increasingly marginalized in the information age to come.


A rearrangement of the cataloging rules is not the right starting point for libraries. The library catalog has undergone considerable change from a simple finding list to an integrated database that serves both library management and user access functions. For the most part, it continues to be limited to the holdings of a designated library or group of libraries. Prior to elaborating detailed cataloging rules for libraries, we need to decide whether the user will view a general bibliographic tool that connects users and information resources no matter their origin, or continue to view a library inventory, that requires users to look elsewhere for other information they might need. In parallel, we need a concerted effort to work with interested non-library communities to apply principles of systems analysis to define the functional requirements and use cases that can assist in focusing the general principles and general rule development for bibliographic description. Structuring this effort using a proven approach should allow some useful examination of the assumptions that hobble us as we attempt to move forward.

Some of the advocates for gradual change insist that RDA will of necessity be transitional, and that "next time" the changes to support the desires of the impatient will be easier to accommodate. It's hard to imagine where the energy and resources for such a "next time" effort will come from, given that it is far more likely that, should the current process fail to look forward rather than backward, others will claim the territory. Far better not to "stay the course" on RDA, but to set a new goal to achieve consensus on the top layer: model, basic principles and general rules, and leave the details to the specialized communities.

There are indeed librarians who understand both the need for a deeper re-evaluation of the library catalog and the dangers of continuing to delay the fundamental changes that are necessary. Within the library ranks, particularly at the management level, there is a growing discomfort with the leadership provided by the JSC. If new cataloging rules are developed without the parallel development of new models for library catalogs, then it will be necessary for some in the library world to set off in their own direction, rejecting what they see as insufficient change with a large price tag for implementation. Members of our profession who have embraced the present information technologies and are looking forward to what the future will bring are particularly dismayed at the creation of another set of cataloging rules based on technologies that are now decades past. Despite our long history of service to users, it will be a continuing struggle for libraries to interact as equals with the key players in the fast-paced information age; it will be impossible for us to do so if we do not have a unified vision allowing us to harness our collective strength as we go forward.


1. Schneider, Karen. How OPACS Suck. ALA Techsource, 2006. Available at: <
> (Part 1);
> (Part 2);
> (Part 3)

2. Catalog Rules; Author and Title Entries. Compiled by committees of the American Library Association and the (British) Library Association. Chicago: A.L.A. Publishing Board, 1908.

3. A.L.A. Cataloging Rules for Author and Title Entries. 2d ed. edited by Clara Beetle. Chicago: American Library Association, 1949.

4. Anglo-American Cataloging Rules. Chicago: American Library Association, 1967.

5. Joint Steering Committee for Revision of AACR. Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, Second Edition. Chicago: American Library Association, 1986.

6. Dublin Core Metadata Initiative. Available at: <>.

7. Sandler, Mark. Collection Development in the Age Day of Google, LRTS, Oct. 2006, 50(4) p. 239-243.

8. Joint Steering Committee for the Revision of Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules. RDA: Resource Description and Access. Available at: <>.

9. The principles and future of AACR : proceedings of the International Conference on the Principles and Future Development of AACR : Toronto, Ontario, Canada, October 23/25, 1997 / edited by Jean Weihs. Ottawa : Canadian Library Association ; London : Library Association Publishing ; Chicago : American Library Association, 1998. Some papers available at: <>.

10. Joint Steering Committee for the Revision of Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules. RDA: Resource Description and Access: Prospectus . Available at: <>.

11. IFLA Study Group on the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records. Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records: Final Report. Munich, K.G. Saur, 1998.

12. MARBI Meeting Minutes, ALA Midwinter Meeting, San Antonio, TX - January 21-22, 2006. Available at: <>.

13. Joint Steering Committee for the Revision of Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules. RDA – Resource Description and Access: Scope and Structure. Available: <>.

14. Childress, Eric. Report of the RDA Special Session at DC2006 (Wednesday, 4th October 2006). Available at: <>; also Nilsson, Mikael. Comments on RDA. Available at: <>.

15. Calhoun, Karen. The Changing Nature of the Catalog and its Integration with Other Discovery Tools. March 17, 2006. 52 p. Available at: <>.

16. University of California Libraries, Bibliographic Services Task Force. Rethinking How We Provide Bibliographic Services for the University of California: Final report, December 2005. Available at: <>.

17. Joint Steering Committee for the Revision of Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules. Draft RDA Objectives and Principles. p. 2. Available: <>.

18. IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee. Available at: <>.

19. RDA: Resource Description and Access. Part A, Chapters 6-7. Constituency Review of June 2006 Draft. ALA Response. September 25, 2006. p. 2 Available: <>.

20. Ibid, pp. 4-5

21. Gorman, Michael. "AACR3? Not!" in: The Future of the Descriptive Cataloging Rules : Papers from the ALCTS Preconference, AACR2000, American Library Association. Chicago: American Library Association, 1998. p. 28

22. IFLA UBCIM Working Group on Functional Requirements and Numbering of Authority Records (FRANAR). Functional Requirements for Authority Records: A Conceptual Model, 2005. Available at: <>.

23. Andy Powell, Mikael Nilsson, Ambjorn Naeve, Pete Johnston. DCMI Abstract Model (2005-03-07). Available at: <>.

24. Godfrey Rust and Mark Bide. The <indecs> Metadata Framework: Principles, Model and Data Dictionary (June 2000). Available at: <>.

25. "Working Group Established to Discuss Future of Bibliographic Control" [The Library Today (Library of Congress)] (Dec. 1, 2006). Available at: <>.

26. Walt Crawford, "Library 2.0 and 'Library 2.0'" Cites and Insights: Crawford at Large. v. 6, no. 2 (2006). pp. 4-6.

Copyright © 2007 Karen Coyle and Diane Hillmann

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