When I recently began reading about the transition of cataloging rules from AACR2 to RDA, I assumed that only catalogers would be interested in the conversion, but according to Teressa M. Kennan’s 2014 article, RDA: Cataloging Standards Affect Reference Service, interest should extend to all library disciplines, most specifically reference librarians. Reference librarians, as noted by Kennan (2014) “often function as mediators between patrons and the library’s resources, which are represented by bibliographic records in the library catalog,” therefore it is imperative that reference librarians understand how RDA affects their institutions OPAC systems (RDA…THE BASICS section, para. 2).
RDA was designed to promote the international community, to better serve users, and to promote the FRBR (Functional Requirements of Bibliographic Records) model. This model suggests that end users should be able to search for a specific item in an OPAC, while also being introduced to “more information about works and authors” (Kennan, 2014, FUTURE POSSIBILITIES section, para. 5). This “extra” information can be beneficial to researchers who are interested in delving deeper into the life or works of a specific author. RDA supported by FRBR strives to provide this additional information “in one basic catalog record”… “accompanied by choices and versions and availability rather than a long results list of individual records” (Kennan, 2014, RDA…THE BASICS section, para. 4).
Although RDA reinforced by FRBR has not yet been fully implemented by the majority of institutions, research librarians should prepare themselves for the transition by becoming accustomed to searching in a RDA backed OPAC. Kennan discusses several areas that will be beneficial to reference librarians, such as the elimination of the “Rule of Three,” the utilization of full spellings instead of abbreviations, and the removal of the GMD (General Material Designator) in the title field. Catalogers termed the inability of AACR2 to hold more than three authors in a record, the “Rule of Three”. When an item contained more than three authors, AACR2 rules said that catalogers had to list the first three authors followed by “et al”. According to RDA rules, catalogers should “include the names of all authors who contributed to the intellectual content of the resource,” which allows end users and reference librarians to search an OPAC with any of the authors names as opposed to being confined to only the first three (Kennan, 2014, AUTHORIZED ACCESS POINT, “MAIN ENTRY” AND THE “RULE OF THREE” section, para. 4).
In addition to the elimination of the “Rule of Three,” RDA does not use abbreviations for any metadata within a record. The disuse of abbreviations stretches from basic words in the title, such as “edition” to the ability of users to search for “Bible Old Testament” instead of “Bible O. T.,” which “will make the catalog record easier to read, requiring less need for interpretation” (Kennan, 2014, RICHER AUTHORITY RECORDS section, para. 2). Finally, the absence of the GMD in the title field, replaced by three separate format fields (found at 336, 337, and 338) could initially confuse users. Kennan (2014) notes that some frequent “library patrons” may become discouraged when they cannot see the GMD in the title field, but that “they should not despair because the information is still readily available; they just need to look in different places” (GENERAL MATERIAL DESIGNATOR section, para. 2).
In order to continue offering patrons exceptional research assistance, reference librarians will need to familiarize themselves with RDA cataloging rules. According to Kennan (2014), this may not be such an easy feat, as “the vast majority of research and literature about RDA has been written for catalogers” (CONCLUSION section, para. 2). The possibility of soon to come research and literature for the reference community seems promising if one considers the fact that RDA was only adopted by the Library of Congress in early 2013.
Keenan, T. M. (2014). RDA: Cataloging standards affect reference service. Reference Services Review, 42(3).