RDA in a Day

Last week I went to CILIP HQ in London to attend ‘RDA in a Day’. The course leader was Alan Danskin, who is Metadata Standards Manager at the British Library.

We started off with a brief introduction to FRBR – Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records. As you may remember (not really), I had my first introduction to FRBR when I attended ‘FRBR for the Terrified’, back in 2013. Fortunately, I remembered some of what I learned then as it has become no less confusing over the years! I liked the definition of FRBR as a “conceptual model – a tool for thinking about/expressing part of the universe you’re interested in”. The FRBR model uses groups of entities and their primary relationships to try to  ‘express part of the universe’. As well as FRBR, there are other models in the “FR family”: FRAD – Functional Requirements for Authority Data and FRSAD – Functional Requirements for Subject Authority Data.

The next session was about using the RDA Toolkit, which was really interesting as we don’t have access to it at work so it was my first time seeing the ‘inside’ of it. We also got to actually use it which was most helpful. We then had an ‘RDA primer’ – “a very brief introduction to RDA terminology and some core concepts”. I wrote them all down, but I won’t list them here – at least not right now. Perhaps I’ll make an RDA primer page.

After lunch, we looked at RIMMF. I’ve written a very little bit about RIMMF before – but now I’ve actually used it! This was quite exciting (I’m a bit easily excited by anything cataloguing-related, I fear) and slightly brain-bending after a while when it got more complicated. We practised by cataloguing examples of books (lots of Christopher Brookmyre) using RIMMF. I can see how useful it is for learning the concepts of RDA – it gets you thinking and thus cataloguing in a different way than using MARC and trying to fit/force RDA into it…

Which is what we looked at next (RDA and MARC). I thought it was interesting that any record that is not full RDA should be referred to as a hybrid record rather than an RDA record, even if it contains RDA elements. I suppose, technically, there aren’t really very many true RDA records out there. The ones we refer to at work as RDA are really hybrids of RDA and MARC.

Lastly, we looked ahead at what is (probably) around the corner in the world of metadata/cataloguing/standards/entity relationship modelling. It was interesting to hear about developments such as the LRM – Library Reference Model – and to realise that the world of metadata and ways of thinking about ‘things’ and their relationships to each other and their creators (ontology) is always evolving. One of the reasons I like cataloguing is because it’s a bit like philosophy (perhaps it actually is a form of philosophy?). Thinking about RDA, FRBR and the like certainly stretches the brain, anyway!

Also, the sandwiches were very good.

The only thing was, I felt like it was all a bit theoretical, even the practical bits. No one can catalogue properly using RDA as it should really be used because library management systems don’t have the capacity to do that. Even at the British Library they are creating hybrid records rather than true RDA ones. Also, the fact that ideas, concepts and models relating to RDA/FRBR are evolving, while being interesting, makes one feel in a state of flux. Gone are the days when there were cataloguing rules as with AACR2. This is a good thing, but in a stereotypical-cataloguer-like way I quite like to know where I’m going…It did feel a bit like playing or conducting philosophical exercises because of the lack of practical application. Which was fun, but felt worryingly pointless.

I guess this is mainly because we’re not even attempting to catalogue using RDA so it’s difficult to see how it can be applied in the real world, as it were – so one of my next bright ideas (!) is to go and a library where people do use RDA and see how they apply it in real life. Hello, University of Kent! I will be inviting myself to see you soon…