With the release of RDA, people on every blog and listserv and Twitter feed are debating its merits. But I’ll tell you right now: RDA is not going to work. Why?
1. It’s not easy.
2. It’s not free.
You can debate it up, down and sideways, but honestly, it’s as simple as that. Clay Shirky (in Here Comes Everybody) says, “When an activity becomes more expensive, either in direct costs or increased hassle, people do less of it.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: cataloging is hard. When it’s hard to do things right, people will get it wrong. Through no fault of their own. Who can blame the cataloger who applies subject headings incorrectly when there are literally 4 volumes of instructions, many of which have different rules and guidelines for each different subject? Who can blame someone for misremembering if a colon or a semi-colon precedes the 300b field? Who can blame a person for entering the title of a work in title case, rather than lower case (except for the first word and proper nouns), especially when the former is a national community standard taught in elementary education. And who can blame someone for not following these outdated standards because technology makes them no longer applicable or necessary?
This needs to change. It’s impacting our ability to offer quality services and access to materials. We need to make it easy to do things well.
I understand how complicated and complex some aspects of cataloging can be. But I don’t think “complex” necessarily has to equal “difficult.” I think there are ways we can structure software and cataloging interfaces to work for us rather than against us. When I first heard of RDA and it’s requisite electronic interface, I had envisioned it to be something along the lines of a “choose your own adventure,” or an electronic flow chart, where answering questions about the resource in hand would lead to the complete, automated creation of a catalog record.
I understand the use of consistency and standards, and how previously this was achievable solely through human application. But that’s no longer the case–many of these outdated standards can be automated, and in turn, more consistent than applications prone to human error. And if the profession values such standards, and truly wants everyone and every library to adhere to and meet those standards in order to create more interoperability, those standards not only ned to be easy to implement, they need to be freely accessible.
Many librarians are balking at the cost of implementing RDA, I think rightfully so, although not for the same reasons. I’m not bitching about it because it’s unaffordable for smaller libraries, or because it’s a subscription rather than a one-time printed book cost (although I think those are valid points). I’m bitching because putting a dollar amount on something, now matter how low it is, will stop people from using something, especially if there’s a free alternative. In this case, I see the free alternative as ‘ignoring rules altogether and/or making you your own standards.’ Requiring a price makes adhering to standards–a key value-added service of libraries and librarians–inaccessible. Which is pretty ironic, considering that libraries are supposed to be all about access. We’re all proactive about offering access to our patrons, but we can’t extend that same philosophy to ourselves, to help us do a better job??
The more depth and complexity in cataloging standards, the more we need to make it as easy as possible for catalogers to apply these standards. More work will get done (and done correctly!), more tasks delegated, turn-around times improved, access increased–all of which benefit not only the cataloger and other library staff, but in turn the patron, which is ultimately what it’s all about.
Help us, ALA. Give us better, faster, easier, more efficient ways to do our jobs so that we can, in turn, make our patron’s information experiences better, faster, and more efficient. If you can’t or won’t help us, who will?