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 RDA Update from ALA 2012

American Library Association Annual conference (ALA) 2012

22-26 June 2012

Chris Todd, Team Leader, Cataloguing Team 1, National Library of New Zealand

"My real focus at this conference was Resource Description & Access (RDA) implementation. I was part of an international panel on this topic and attended many presentations where RDA was the theme.  Closely-related to RDA implementation is the future of the MARC format and this, along with role that linked data might play in the future of cataloguing."


 RDA (Resource Description & Access)

This year there was a definite sense that RDA is on the way.  Formal and informal discussions were about how to implement RDA not whether to implement.  There was also a strong sense of collaboration and community around RDA implementation.

 RDA Update Forum

At this forum representatives from the Library of Congress, OCLC, ALA Publishing and the Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC) and the Joint Steering Committee for the development of RDA (JSC) spoke about progress over the past year.  Slides and handouts for this session are available at:

MARC – Sally McCallum of the Library of Congress summarised the RDA-related changes to the MARC format since 2009.  Sally concluded with the comment that the pace of change to MARC is likely to be much slower in future.  See also

 RDA  - The rewording of RDA was mentioned positively by several people at this session.  Chris Oliver of McGill University has completed the rewording of the chapters covering the identification of persons, families and corporate bodies (chapters 9-11) and has almost finished chapter 6 which covers identifying works and expressions.  These reworded chapters are likely to be released in the RDA toolkit in December this year and there is hope that the remainder of the rewording will be released in mid-2013.  There will also be a new release of the print version of RDA this December and another release when the final batch of reworded chapters is completed.

OCLC – OCLC have installed all recent MARC updates and have changed some indexes to incorporate new data elements.  There are also RDA workforms in the OCLC Connexion cataloguing client and work is being done on record matching and validation for RDA records.  A key message from OCLC was “No one will be required to do original cataloguing according to RDA.” 

Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC) - participants in this program have been working on various aspects of RDA implementation.  One of the most significant developments is the RDA NACO training programme which is now available as an online package of materials.  There are also many other activities such as the development of record standards and cataloguing guidelines to support libraries moving to RDA.

 RIMMF (RDA in Many Metadata Formats).At a session following the forum, Deborah Fritz of The MARC of Quality demonstrated RIMMF; a free visualisation tool for RDA training.  The Library of Congress are among a number of libraries looking at using RIMMF as part of their RDA training.  While RIMMF is not a cataloguing tool, it has real potential in helping cataloguers move from AACR2 thinking to RDA thinking.

The Future of MARC and the Bibliographic Framework Transition Initiative

The need to move on from MARC, without losing the use of legacy data, was a big talking point at this ALA.  The update forum on the LC Bibliographic Framework Transition Initiative was an absolutely packed session.  At this session, Erik Miller of Zepheira described their project to develop models and tools that would be tested by the library and web communities.  This would involve a translation of the MARC 21 format to a linked data model and include looking at other linked data initiatives such as  The discussion at this session was at a very general level and I noted the phrase “evolution not revolution.”  Another session referred to the bibliographic framework as an environment rather than a single format.  At this stage there are no powerpoints or recordings available of this session, however I have noted that it will be repeated in mid-July at the Library of Congress and a video of this session will be made available.  

There was also an excellent session, presented by Glenn Patton and written by Jean Godby of OCLC entitled “Library standards and post-MARC data models”.  Unfortunately the slides are not yet available, but this one is worth looking out for.

 Linked Data

I also attended a pre-conference workshop Creating Library Linked Data: What Catalogers and Coders can Build.  There were a series of “lightning talks” at the beginning of the workshop that described various library-related linked data initiatives including the Worldcat linked data release.  Most of these are available at the link above. The results of the many of the workshop discussions are also available. Personally I’m still grappling with the gap between my grasp of the fundamental concepts of linked data and the way those concepts might integrate into my work as a cataloguer.  However I remain convinced that this is a part of the future of cataloguing and we need to understand it.


The most valuable lesson I learned from this conference is that we can be part of these developments as contributors not just consumers.  The development of RDA is a gradual process; much of the current content of these guidelines is directly transferred from AACR2 but it can be adapted and changed over time to better meet the needs of the cataloguing community.  New Zealand is definitely seen as part of that community and our ideas, proposals and comments can contribute to the further development of RDA.