What's After AACR2?

Addressing Questions about RDA—Resource Description and Access

Jennifer Bowen, University of Rochester Libraries, ALA Representative to the Joint Steering Committee for revision of AACR

Over the past year, considerable progress has been made toward developing a new standard to replace AACR2, which will be entitled RDA—Resource Description and Access. A new draft of part I of RDA has been posted for public comment on the Web site of the Joint Steering Committee for Revision of AACR (JSC). Two new reports are also available: a detailed account of recent work on RDA and a brief Executive Summary of that longer report.

In addition to providing progress reports on recent work on RDA, the JSC has recognized the need to respond to questions about RDA, and has created a list of Frequently Asked Questions on the JSC Web site. The RDA FAQ will be expanded with additional questions and answers as work on RDA continues.

This is the first in a series of semiannual articles in the ANO, and includes some general questions from the RDA FAQ, including a definition of RDA, how it will look, and why it is being developed. It includes additional questions that have been posted to various lists or asked at information sessions about RDA that have been offered in the United States. In future issues of ANO, JSC members and others working on the development of RDA will address other questions related to RDA.

RDA Basics

  1. What is RDA? RDA stands for "Resource Description and Access" and is the working title of the new standard that will succeed AACR2.
  2. Last year I heard about work on AACR3. What happened to that? In April 2005, the Joint Steering Committee for the Revision of AACR (JSC), in consultation with our parent organization, the Committee of Principals (CoP), determined from comments received on the revision of part I of AACR3 that we needed to change our approach. After reviewing a number of alternatives, we decided that RDA should be a new standard designed for the digital environment. The term "digital environment," in this case, refers not only to our vision for including guidelines and instructions for description and access for all digital and analog resources, but also that records created using RDA will be used in a variety of digital environments (the Internet, Web OPACs,etc.). Additionally, it refers to RDA itself being primarily a digital product (a print version will also be available).
  3. Why did the name change to RDA—Resource Description and Access? The name RDA—Resource Description and Access more appropriately reflects the changes both in format and scope envisioned by the JSC and CoP at our April 2005 meeting, and signifies that we are creating a standard that will be very different from AACR2. RDA will provide:
    • A flexible framework for describing all resources-analog and digital
    • Data that is readily adaptable to new and emerging database structures
    • Data that is compatible with existing records in online library catalogs

  4. What is the significance of taking "Anglo-American" out of the title? AACR2 has been translated into 25 other languages and has been used in 45 countries outside the United States, so the designation "Anglo-American" is no longer really accurate. International communities of libraries and other information providers worldwide have told us that they would like AACR to evolve to become an international standard, and we are working to ensure that RDA will be compatible with internationally established principles, models, and standards. RDA will be derived from English language conventions and customs, but will be used in other language communities. As with AACR2, RDA will include instructions that will allow those applying RDA and translating RDA into other languages to substitute their own language preferences where RDA specifies English as the preferred language or specifies the use of an English language term.
  5. Will taking the word "cataloguing" out of the title diminish the esteem in which cataloging is held? Actually it can be seen as a step toward doing the opposite! Efforts by other communities to reinvent "cataloging" by creating their own descriptive metadata guidelines often fall short of applying the basic principles of bibliographic description. Unlike the term "cataloging," the words "resource description" are well understood by other communities that produce metadata, so using this terminology in the title will emphasize the universal nature of descriptive principles. RDA will combine guidelines for description with guidelines and instructions for controlled access, and will include a section devoted to guidelines and principles of authority control. By presenting these principles in a way that is understandable to other communities, the guidelines and instructions in RDA will continue to promote these fundamental values of librarianship.
  6. Why is it necessary to issue a brand new standard? (What is wrong with the old one?) AACR2 was first published in 1978. Although it has been updated many times through the revision process that was established by the JSC, it is largely designed for an environment dominated by the card catalog. The International Conference on the Principles and Future Development of AACR that was held in Toronto in 1997 identified substantive problems with AACR2. Although the updates issued in the years following the conference addressed some of these problems, it became clear that a fundamental rethinking of the code was required to respond fully to the challenges and opportunities of the digital world.
  7. Could we just adopt one of the other metadata standards for digital materials rather than create a new one ourselves? One of the goals for RDA is to create a single standard for cataloging all types of resources, both analog and digital, so that records for all materials will be compatible. Other metadata standards are designed only to describe digital materials. As described above under Question #5, most metadata standards include only guidelines for resources description but not for controlled access, and do not fulfill our needs in this regard. Another problem is that many metadata standards (such as Dublin Core) simply define data elements to be used within a particular schema, but do not address how to record the actual content of the data elements. RDA, on the other hand, will define data elements and also address what content to record within those elements.
  8. Will RDA be exclusively used by libraries? RDA is built on the foundations established by the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules ( AACR) and will provide a comprehensive set of guidelines and instructions covering all types of content and media. RDA is being developed for use primarily in libraries, but consultations are being undertaken with other communities (e.g., archives, museums, publishers, educators, book dealers, ILS vendors) in an effort to more closely align RDA and the metadata standards used in those communities.
  9. Is it realistic to think that other metadata communities will adopt RDA as a content standard? It remains to be seen whether other communities will adopt RDA. However, we now have a unique opportunity to develop a new standard that can potentially fill the need of other communities for a content standard. Even if other communities do not adopt it, RDA can still inform the development of other metadata schemas. The library community has a huge investment in existing bibliographic and authority records, and it will be of tremendous benefit to have other metadata communities create records that are as compatible as possible with those created under RDA and currently under AACR2.
  10. Will RDA still include the rules on card-catalog-based punctuation and display from AACR2? The major focus of RDA will be on providing guidelines and instructions on recording data to reflect attributes and relationships associated bibliographic and authority records. Guidelines on ISBD punctuation and display, such as those that appear before each section of rules in AACR2, will appear in an Appendix of RDA in order to establish a clear line between the recording of data and presentation of data. This separation of content and display is one of the key elements of RDA.
  11. How does RDA differ from FRBR? (And, what exactly is FRBR, anyway?) FRBR and RDA are two entirely different things, although they are both concerned with bibliographic information and will have a close relationship to each other.

    The acronym "FRBR" stands for "Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records." FRBR was developed by an IFLA Study Group (1992-1995), and includes a conceptual model of entities and relationships and attributes; identifies specific user tasks that bibliographic records are intended to fulfill (find, identify, select, obtain); and recommends a set of elements for inclusion in national bibliographic records.

    FRBR is part of the conceptual foundation for RDA. RDA will include the FRBR terminology when appropriate (for example, use of the names of bibliographic entities: work, expression, manifestation, and item), will use the FRBR attributes as the basis for specific data elements to be included in bibliographic descriptions, will address FRBR relationships in part II, and will use the FRBR user tasks as the basis for defining a set of mandatory data elements.

    Using RDA

  12. How will RDA be organized? There will be three major sections to RDA plus appendices, a glossary, and an index. The three main sections include:
    • Part I - Resource Description (including the functional objectives and principles of resource description)
    • Part II - Relationships (general guidelines on reflecting relationships including persons, families and corporate bodies associated with the resource; citations for related works, and special instructions for particular types of works)
    • Part III - Access Point Control (formulating access points and recording data used in access point control)
    RDA will also include:
    • Appendices dealing with capitalization, abbreviations, initial articles, presentation of descriptive data, and presentation of access point control data
    • Glossary
    • Index

  13. What happened to my favorite AACR2 chapter on _____ (fill in the blank: music, continuing resources, cartographic materials, etc.)? The JSC experimented with several possible arrangements for part I that would have retained some division of rules for type of content and type of resource, and included one such arrangement in the 2004 draft of part I of AACR3. However, reviewers of that draft found the arrangement to be unworkable (particularly for digital materials) because it would have required catalogers to consult multiple chapters. Rather than using this approach, part I of RDA will be arranged in a single sequence, with special instructions for specific types of resources placed with the general instructions on the element involved. In the Web version of RDA, catalogers will have the capability to locate easily all of the rules pertinent to describing a certain category of resource and mask the display of others.
  14. Will RDA include instructions for MARC coding along with the cataloging rules? AACR2 and MARC 21 are two different standards designed for different purposes, and this will be the case for RDA and MARC 21 as well. While a tool that combines RDA guidelines with MARC 21 coding instructions might be useful for those libraries that intend to keep using MARC 21 in the future, it is important that the RDA standard maintain its separation from MARC 21. RDA will contain guidelines for choosing and recording data to include in bibliographic and authority records. MARC 21 is one possible schema for encoding records created using RDA, but it will also be possible to encode records created using RDA in other schemas, such as MODS or Dublin Core.
  15. How will RDA affect the way that records are coded in MARC 21? Some aspects of the development of RDA will have specific ramifications for the MARC 21 formats. (For example, the new RDA data elements being discussed for Type and form of content and Type and form of carrier may need coding other than that currently used for the GMD). The JSC will be discussing possible modifications to MARC 21 to accommodate RDA with the USMARC Advisory Committee and MARBI as work on RDA continues. We expect that most RDA data elements, however, can be incorporated into the existing MARC 21 structure using current MARC 21 guidelines for coding and order of data elements, and thus, in most cases, will not force users of MARC 21 to make changes to the way their MARC data is coded.
  16. Will I have to make major changes to my catalog records? No. Significant changes to existing records will not be required. The reworking of instructions derived from AACR for inclusion in RDA will produce a standard that will be easier to use, more adaptable, and more cost-efficient in its application. This process is being guided by recognition of the equally important need to minimize the need for retrospective adjustments to existing data when data produced using RDA is integrated into existing files or databases.
  17. What will be the effect of RDA on my integrated library system? In large part, this depends on how ILS vendors decide to incorporate RDA into their software. ILS vendors are major stakeholders in the RDA process and will be officially notified when important RDA documents are available for comment. We will also ensure that their questions are answered concerning RDA. Regardless, the RDA instructions are designed to be independent of the format, medium or system used to store or communicate the data, and be readily adaptable to newly-emerging database structures.

    Submitting Comments on RDA

  18. How can I see drafts of RDA when they are available? Drafts of parts of RDA will be posted on the JSC Web site as they are released. The draft of part Iis availablenow and drafts of parts II and III will follow approximately every six months according to the posted schedule.
  19. How can I submit comments on drafts of RDA? The process for submitting comments on RDA drafts uses the existing JSC constituent groups if applicable, and is posted on the JSC Web site.Within ALA, the ALCTS/CCS Committee on Cataloging: Description and Access (CC:DA) has established a web form for submitting comments from within the United States (other than from staff members at the Library of Congress). This Web form is accessible via the CC:DA Web site.Comments submitted via this form will be considered for inclusion within the official ALA response to the draft of part I of RDA.

    The JSC has also set up other mechanisms to establish relations with other stakeholders-other cataloging rule makers, other metadata communities (e.g. Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, archives, museums, publishers). In general, stakeholder communities are being asked to set up RDA response groups that represent the view of that community and can respond to RDA.

  20. How can I keep myself informed and participate in discussions about RDA? The JSC has established an online discussion list devoted to RDA, called RDA-L. The JSC Web site now includes information on how to subscribe.The RDA-L list archives will be made publicly available early in 2006 and will be accessible to both subscribers and non-subscribers.
  21. How can I get my RDA questions answered? You can start by submitting them to RDA-L. While the majority of RDA-L messages will not receive a response from someone officially affiliated with the RDA project, members of the JSC, RDA Editorial Team, and RDA Outreach Group may occasionally respond to postings, particularly when it is necessary to clarify misinformation, or to redirect an off-topic discussion thread. And if certain questions keep coming up repeatedly, we will include the answers in a future installment of the RDA FAQ.
The author gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the members of the Joint Steering Committee as well as Marjorie Bloss, RDA Project Manager, Tom Delsey, RDA Editor, and Matthew Beacom, JSC Outreach Group Chair, to the content of this article.