Share it with RDA

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One of the key points behind RDA is being able to re-use bibliographic data held in library management systems, outside of the system. If you release this data into the wild, it’s likely that someone else will come up with an interesting and innovative way of using it, way beyond its original purpose on the library system.

In the past, library communities have managed to share data between their systems fairly successfully – as long as you catalogued your stock according to the rules. We achieved this sharing process through the use of MARC formats.

Unfortunately, I think the use of MARC formats, specifically MARC21 (the dominant MARC format in the English language speaking world), will be the thing that undoes the RDA plan to share data outside of the catalogue.

MARC21 records are stuffed full of punctuation that will need to be stripped out before you can share it. There’s no doubt that this can be done – if you added the punctuation in the first place, based on rules, you should be able to strip it all out again. However, it would be a lot more helpful when going down the “Let’s open this data up to the world” route if we didn’t have to do this. Why should users of the data have to frustrate themselves with this process?

So, now RDA is with us, isn’t it time to look at MARC21 and do something about this barrier to sharing data?

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RDA for the People

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I’ve known RDA was coming along for us cataloguer librarian types. I knew what it was all about, but until recently I’ve been trying to work out why it’s so important and what difference it will make? How will it change what I’m doing in my day job? I know you’ve got the practical side of things – how MARC cataloguing on our library system ties in with the new RDA rules, but apart from this, what’s the big deal?

I think the big deal and most important thing for me, is that it puts into words and agrees rules on what a lot of cataloguers have been trying to do for some time now – providing information in catalogue records with a focus on helping users of the catalogue, rather than as an academic and formal exercise in cataloguing.

Whenever I’ve been cataloguing over the past 15 years, it’s always been a case of “this is cataloguing – it needs to fit the standards set out in MARC and AACR2, but it also needs to give the users what they want.”

I know I’m not unique in this situation – other cataloguers recognise that MARC needs to be tweaked, based on the information you know the users will make use of and how individual library systems work.

In recent years there’s been a change in the way we look at cataloguing – defining the purpose from a different angle, acknowledging that the information world is dominated by internet search and presentation and shifting accordingly. We needed to give the users a way of searching/interacting with the catalogue in a way they’re familiar with.

This is why for me the most important part of the RDA changes are:

(1) Recognising users needs, including the type of information they want to see eg. fiction genres

(2) Focussing on keyword search styles

(3) Presenting information in a human readable form –  no longer inverting subject headings and moving away from abbreviations

(4) Display issues

(5) Reducing the need for editing of data.

Now that RDA says it’s okay to focus on the users needs, I can sleep soundly in my bed and not worry about whether I’m offending another cataloguer by using the incorrect form of an abbreviated inverted main title entry, with trailing responsiblity codes, or not!

PS. I just made up the ‘abbreviated inverted main title entry, with trailing responsiblity codes‘ statement for illustration and you don’t have to worry that it doesn’t make sense. It would only be us cataloguers who’d be able to tell I was talking rubbish anyway 😉