Monday, 27 October 2014

Metadata Update #20: April 2014 RDA updates


This blog post was originally intended to be posted in June 2014:

I’ve finally gotten around to completing my reading about the April 2014 changes to RDA.  As is the case with reading the details of any descriptive cataloging standard, it’s enough to either give you a headache or put you to sleep if you try to focus on too much of the detail at once.

I do have a few comments to make about this update.  First of all, many of the changes are, in my mind, just clarification of the points which help to bring metadata creation away from the world of trying to fit as much information as possible onto a little index card and into a complex international information environment.  For example, it is reinforced that for serials you don’t assume that users understand that “v.” stands for volume.  Instead, volume should be spelled out as such as should issue.  This does make sense in an international, multicultural and multi-generational environment.  Certainly, for many users “v” stands for the Roman numeral five and in other parts of MARC records (such as where pagination is notated) “v” definitely does represent the Roman numeral 5.  As library workers and metadata creators we can’t change the fact that publishers tend to number the preliminary content of the print publications using Roman Numerals but we can control how we record information in our records and we can continue moving toward the goal of creating records which will be understandable today and sustainable into the future.  Many of the changes in this update reflect movement towards that goal.

My second comment is one of concern.  I am not one who supports rants in blog posts but this one exception.  I realize that many libraries and information contexts wish to harmonize the past with the present in terms of the continuity of format in their metadata records.  But doing this must be done in a reasonable way and resources shouldn’t be wasted on continuing practices which have no pratical purpose in the long run.  Some of the “options” which are increasingly creeping into the updates appear to be reactionary rather than moving the progress of metadata creation into the future.  It could be that I am misunderstanding the purpose and intent of the options but at this point I haven’t seen an explanation that makes sense.  If, for example, ISBD punctuation is no longer seen as necessary or required in a linked data environment and if the applications which are used to display the results of searches can be designed to implement suitable display of records, including punctuation, why do we need to have options which “allow” for an obsessive concern over spacing and punctuation which no longer seems relevant?!  Why do those involved with cataloging RDA in MARC continue to make it such a big deal whether or not centimeters, as abbreviated, has one or two periods after it?  If I ever read or hear that debate in a serious forum again I think that I will pull out every bit of my voluminous hair!          

My wish for the near future is that the cataloguing and metadata community revisit the original vision of RDA, FRBR and FRAD and begin to question their assumptions and beliefs.  In today’s economic environment, very few libraries have the resources to waste on having highly-paid, highly-trained staff obsess over punctuation, spacing and even things like shelf-listing when these aspects of the records they create have very little impact on the functionality of the records or bring little benefit to the users.  In my last blog post I noted how much work needs to go into an RDA record for some non-print resources to make it as functional as it can be for those who are trying to discover and use that resource.  In my opinion it would be so much better if the cataloguing community could learn to let go of those things which were important in the past for reasons that no longer exist and focus on creating those highly discoverable records which following RDA has the potential for creating.

Just as I don’t generally like ranting blog posts, I also don’t like it when people complain repeatedly about something but don’t make any sort of effort to either accept what they don’t like or do something about changing it.  At this point, I only have a couple of months left in my term and one of my goals while I am still in this position is to seek out opportunities to educate anyone who will listen about the future of metadata and why the focus of our attention and our energy needs to shift.

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