Deborah Tomaras | 3 Dec 18:16 2010

Fw: [OCLC-CAT] Status of the US RDA Test -- Part Two

To all Catalogers/Librarians:

Frank Newton recently posted to OCLC-CAT (see his complete email below),
neatly summarizing many people's concerns with RDA and its treatment of the
authority file. He wrote: "The possibility for compromises exists, but only
if the people who oppose the version of RDA which we have as of today can
unite first on a handful of principles for modifying the RDA status quo,
and second on a set of particular wordings for those principles which, like
the original Bill of Rights, will command respect, and be shortly codified
into a revised RDA, or so officially enacted that they prevent people from
interpreting RDA without reference to its amendments."

I believe that time is running out for any organized opposition to RDA,
from those who either want it altered or abolished; certainly, by April of
next year, if not earlier, it will be a fait accompli. So I am now
proposing that the opposition organize, and influence RDA while we possibly
still can. Here are some things that I believe we might need:

1. A listserv for discussion/goal setting
2. A wiki for publicly hosting and editing documents/principles
3. Some form of informal governance (so that we won't debate forever and
pass our deadline for action--simple majority rules, perhaps?)
4. A method of commanding respect from the powers that be (ALA, LC, etc.)
so that our comments will be taken seriously

Perhaps someone more tech-savvy than I could set up the first two, and then
interested parties could organize (on or off-list) and get started on
principles/goals--first being, I suppose, whether to try to modify RDA (on
authorities, or more broadly), or undermine it completely and demand a
moratorium on its adoption. And anyone who might be an "insider", or know
an "insider", with the powers that be could give us some insight into how
to make them listen: form committees under their auspices? Conduct user
research that challenges the underpinnings of RDA/FRBR? Write papers? Host
symposia? Twitter about it?

Never having done this thing before, I'm hoping for lots of grassroots
ideas and support, particularly from the libraries that would be
disenfranchised should RDA be accepted (small libraries, libraries with
vanishing budgets, etc.). Shall we play David to the RDA Goliath? I'll be
curious to see if we can muster a critical mass of support for change.

Deborah Tomaras, NACO Coordinator
Librarian II
Western European Languages Team
New York Public Library
Library Services Center
31-11 Thomson Ave.
Long Island City, N.Y. 11101
(917) 229-9561
dtomaras@...

Disclaimer: Alas, my ideas are merely my own, and not indicative of New
York Public Library policy.
----- Forwarded by Deborah Tomaras/MHT/Nypl on 12/03/2010 10:16 AM -----

  From:       Frank Newton <fnewton@...>

  To:         OCLC-CAT@...

  Date:       12/02/2010 12:53 PM

  Subject:    Re: [OCLC-CAT] Status of the US RDA Test

  Sent by:    OCLC-Cataloging <OCLC-CAT@...>

1. Issues

Wojciech Siemaszkewicz of New York Public wrote:

> We do not object to new authority records being created, just to the
ignoring/alteration of existing ones.

That's my main objection to what I see happening in the RDA test.

Various contributors to the OCLC-CAT listserv have made clear what I
believe are three issues:

1. Wildcat RDA testers may be contributing RDA bib. records to OCLC
WorldCat while ignoring the carefully worked out parameters of the US RDA
Test.
2. OCLC WorldCat is international.  The US RDA Test is not international.
Catalogers from outside the US are not bound in any way, shape, or form by
the provisions of the US RDA Test.
3. RDA exhibits an inefficient, counterproductive, and costly skepticism
towards existing authority records in duly constituted authority files
until now deemed authoritative.

I cannot rule out the possibility that issue #1 is actually issue #2 in
disguise.  For the sake of focusing on core issues, I'm willing to concede
that the category of wildcat RDA testers which has been posited to exist
may be a small part of the problem. Also, I have omitted the adjective
"unprecedented" under issue #3 because it's unclear to me whether the AACR2
revolution in the 70's and 80's was any kinder to existing authority
records than RDA promises to be.

2. The Debate We Need to Have

If I was going to compare the current RDA moment to something in American
history, I would say it's like the Constitution has been written and now
the writers of the Constitution are trying to persuade the thirteen states
that the Constitution is better than the Articles of Confederation.  (I
guess that was ratification, but I don't hear the word "ratification" being
used in the RDA debate -- our word seems to be adoption.)

We recall that this process in U.S. history (1787-1791 if I read Wikipedia
aright) resulted in a compromise in which the Constitution was approved by
securing the support of key opponents whose support was conditional on
adding to the Constitution a Bill of Rights.  Nowadays, we have dozens of
miniature "Bills of Rights" in circulation on every conceivable subject and
sometimes obscuring our view of the Sequoia trees of the original Bill of
Rights ; so -- Resource Description and Access doesn't need a Bill of
Rights -- but it does need some amendments which would play the exact same
role that the original Bill of Rights played in the adoption of the U.S.
Constitution.  One of those amendments should be to limit the ability of
the new cataloging code to compel or even allow people to consider useless
changes to existing authorized and established name headings such as the
heading for Elvis Presley.

The possibility for compromises exists, but only if the people who oppose
the version of RDA which we have as of today can unite first on a handful
of principles for modifying the RDA status quo, and second on a set of
particular wordings for those principles which, like the original Bill of
Rights, will command respect, and be shortly codified into a revised RDA,
or so officially enacted that they prevent people from interpreting RDA
without reference to its amendments.

3. National Libraries as Bulwarks Against Needless Internationalization

To this I would add that I see nothing at all esthetically satisfying or
compelling in any way about the dream of having the same cataloging code
for all the countries of the world.  If the United States wants to end up
with a different version of RDA from all the other nations that is just
fine with me and I hope you don't have a problem with that either.  That is
what we have the Library of Congress for, so we can have authority files
and cataloging rules that are efficient for our nation.  LC is a darned
good thing, and we should be giving thanks every day for the leadership
which our Library of Congress provides for us.

4. Appendix (from a status report on RDA which I wrote to my supervisors)

I have concerns about the financial burden of changing large numbers of
headings.  One example which has been thrown around on the OCLC-CAT
listserv . . . is Elvis Presley.  His heading now is:
     Presley, Elvis, 1935-1977.
A number of people on the listserv are saying RDA will force his heading to
change to:
     Presley, Elvis (Elvis Aron), 1935-1977.

This is obviously a stupid change, but the debate doesn't seem to turn on
whether or not it's a stupid change -- the debate seems to be a
disagreement about whether the rules of RDA would require Elvis's heading
to change like that.

(The authority record for Elvis (n 78079487 [its LC ID] = ARN 214821 [its
OCLC ID]) currently includes the note "full name generally recorded as
Elvis Aron Presley, however gravestone reads Elvis Aaron Presley."  If
Elvis and his family were inconsistent on how to spell his middle name, and
the rest of us have never been in the habit of using it, wouldn't it be
better for library catalogs to continue leaving it out of his heading as
we've been doing?)

Frank Newton
Catalog Librarian
Dover Memorial Library
Gardner-Webb University
P.O. Box 836
Boiling Springs, N.C.  28017-0836

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