RDA in art libraries

With the international cataloguing community gearing itself up for the introduction of RDA early next year, the ARLIS Cataloguing and Classification Committee hosted an informal event in London for art librarians to get together to discuss their plans for RDA implementation. The idea for the session came from an event run by Céline Carty and Helen Williams for RLUK libraries earlier in the summer, and we’re very grateful to them for sharing their experiences and encouraging us to put on the same event for art library community. If you haven’t had a look already, I would thoroughly recommend reading Céline’s excellent blog post about their event which has lots of useful ideas and links to help with RDA planning.

I ran the ARLIS session jointly with Deborah Lee, but our intention was that we were there to facilitate rather than lead the discussion. On my part, this was largely because I have yet to really get to grips with RDA beyond keeping a watchful eye on developments in the wider community – I have to confess that I personally haven’t even had a chance to look at the Toolkit yet. Fortunately, Deborah is much better informed so I hope we made a good team. I took lots of notes during the session and will try and summarise the wide-ranging discussions as best I can, but inevitably this posting will include my own reflections on what was covered.

We started the session by asking for a show of hands to gauge how far those attending had got with RDA planning – it turned out that the majority are at the very early stages. Only one of the 14 institutions represented at the meeting had actively started planning to create RDA records; about half were planning to accommodate RDA records imported from external sources, two were currently converting downloaded RDA records back to AACR2, and the rest had not made any definite plans as yet. This felt very different to the position of the RLUK libraries who seemed further ahead with their planning but I wonder if that is because art libraries tend to be smaller institutions with a lot less resources.

The discussion moved on to the question of timescales and what might trigger adoption of RDA for original cataloguing. Although libraries that download records from OCLC are seeing around 10% of new records in RDA format, other libraries are receiving only a trickle of imported RDA records, and many felt that until the bulk of imported records were in RDA, there was no urgency to adopt the standard. No-one in the room knew what plans the bibliographic record suppliers have for cataloguing in RDA and we wondered if the vendors were waiting for demand from libraries at the same time as we are waiting for them to offer RDA records.

An alternative view put forward was that even if you only plan to accommodate RDA records, there will always be records that will need upgrading, such as CIP level records, and if you’re going to train staff to undertake this work, you might as well go the whole hog and switch to creating new records in RDA as well. Certainly this viewpoint gave me some food for thought.

Unsurprisingly, issues of staff training featured quite heavily in the discussions. There was a lot of concern about who was going to provide training, and many were looking for either the British Library or CILIP to provide this type of support – unfortunately it doesn’t look as though either will be in a position to offer this at the moment (although more on CILIP special interest group offerings in a minute). Various online training resources were noted, particularly from the Library of Congress, and those who had begun to think about staff training were planning to make full use of what was already available rather than starting from scratch. There was also concern about ensuring that the “cataloguers’ judgement” options available in RDA are applied consistently by all cataloguing agencies, and we were all looking for some leadership in this. Whether it will come from the BL or LC remains to be seen, but my feeling is that the US will be leading the way and that we will all be following the LC Policy Statements (LCPS) in order to maintain consistency of approach.

Personally, I have been curious to find out just how important an understanding of FRBR will be, particularly when RDA records in MARC are not going to make use of the hierarchical structure on which FRBR is built. While it was felt that a full understanding of FRBR might not be necessary for non-cataloguing staff working from cheat sheets or locally produced guidelines, it will be essential for those who will be using the RDA Toolkit in order to navigate its structure, not to mention anyone who will be working within a hierarchical catalogue structure now or in the future.  Several people mentioned the “FRBR for the terrified” sessions being offered at various locations by CILIP CIG as being an excellent introduction to the subject, and as a Committee, we are also planning a FRBR event later this year – watch out for announcements later in the autumn.

Inevitably, the discussion turned to the issue of a hybrid catalogue environment, with the majority of attendees accepting the fact that records in multiple standards will be a feature of their catalogues for the foreseeable future. It was generally felt that this stage of RDA implementation – with records are still configured in flat MARC – was probably not going to have a huge impact on users as to all intents and purposes the user interface to the library catalogue will still look much the same. This perceived lack of benefit to users was felt to be one of the challenges of selling the benefits of RDA to senior management, compounded by the worry of not being taken seriously after spending several years warning that RDA is imminent. It was suggested that perhaps rather than selling the benefits of RDA, we should be warning of the risks of not adopting it, both in terms of the financial implications of training cataloguers in both AACR2 and RDA, and in preparing for the longer term move to post-MARC systems. Perhaps the added incentive of being seen to be an institution that is at the forefront of producing high quality cataloguing data might help too!

The final part of the session looked at the question of what the special issues or requirements of art libraries might be, particularly the difficulties of cataloguing exhibition catalogues, artists’ books and audio visual materials. However, the general feeling was that it was too early to be thinking about these specific issues until the more general problems of adopting RDA had been resolved, but someone suggested that it would be useful to encourage some discussion about the theoretical implications of RDA for art materials, and that some discussion papers, perhaps in a special edition of the Art Libraries Journal or online somewhere, could be a way forward. It will be interesting to find out whether ARLIS:NA has had a chance to consider art-specific RDA issues, and whether there is any possibility of collaborating or sharing ideas in the future.

We ended the session with some final thoughts on whether the move to RDA was the big step-change that some are feeling anxious about. As someone pointed out, there is a distinction to be drawn between cataloguing in RDA within the flat MARC format and moving to a hierarchical FRBR-ized environment. My impression is that most people felt the former will involve a cosmetic change to the look and feel of the catalogue but will not fundamentally change cataloguing practices, whereas the latter will involve a much larger change that will certainly have an impact on both users and cataloguers. However, perhaps now is the time to begin looking forward to that major change so that we can be prepared with knowledge, skills and understanding to minimise the effect of that change on staff and users alike.

As Céline had commented after their event, one of the benefits of the session was the opportunity to get together with other librarians who are struggling with the same questions as we are, and we agreed that it would be really useful to get together again next year, perhaps once the British Library have implemented RDA and the landscape is a bit more organised (or am I being too hopeful here!). I hope the other attendees found it as useful as I did, and I want to thank them for sharing their thoughts and concerns so freely. Thanks should also go to the Courtauld Institute who supported the meeting providing a room and welcome supplies of tea and coffee.

My next milestone on the road to RDA is attending the CILIP CIG conference in Sheffield next month, and I’m really looking forward to spending some more time at that event thinking about the next steps for my institution. I hope to meet some of you there too!


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