Informal RDA discussion for RLUK members: what I got out of it

As I mentioned in my previous post, yesterday was the informal discussion about RDA that Helen Williams and I organised for RLUK members. Helen and I were really gratified to see so many people turn up and felt the discussion went well. I personally found it very useful and got a lot out of it, I hope the other participants did too. We held the discussion under the Chatham House Rule, to facilitate open and free conversation. At the start of the meeting, I did mention that I’d be blogging about the discussion but would not identify any individuals or institutions that took part or say anything that could identify them. Everyone is of course free to report back to their institutions about what was discussed, indeed I hope they found enough of interest that they do want to report back, but again without identifying/attributing comments to individuals or institutions. Although this all might seem a bit unnecessarily like a John le Carré novel (and let’s face it, there are few enough opportunities for that in my daily life), I firmly believe that offering that kind of confidentiality really helped everyone feel able to talk openly and made the discussions more useful.

This blog post is a report of the main points of discussion during an extremely full two hours of conversation, but is obviously slightly affected by that confidentiality. It obviously reflects my own personal impressions and the things that struck me as most interesting. I could never hope to cover everything discussed in those two hours. Doubtless other attendees would have taken home a slightly different impression and may, indeed, decide to blog about it themselves or add to the comments here to offer a rounder picture.

For me, the best thing about the morning was just having a rare opportunity to talk openly and freely to UK colleagues in a similar situation, colleagues who are thinking about RDA implementation, planning or worrying about training needs and figuring out how to tackle the same hurdles. I now have a network of people I have met personally who are dealing with these issues in other institutions which will be extremely valuable over the next few months. People did air some unresolved issues about RDA itself: the timing of implementation, the content of the RDA rules/guidelines, the problem of not having had easy access to the Toolkit to make a full assessment, the value of RDA while still in a MARC environment. None of these issues will be new to people who’ve been following RDA over the last few years and many of them I feel are extremely valid concerns. However, putting those aside, I think there is a general acceptance now that RDA is coming (finally!), it really is happening and we simply need to prepare for it now that we know the Library of Congress and the British Library are moving to RDA on March 31st 2013. I’d sum this up by saying that we’re now in a “when not if” world and that represents a change of mindset.

Having said that, the “when” is not a straightforward question to answer and only a couple of institutions represented at the meeting had made a firm commitment to move to RDA on Day 1, along with LC and the BL. Some were waiting for a new library system (or necessary upgrades to an existing one) or a new discovery layer. However, in general, the majority were preparing to accept RDA records from Day 1 and a smaller number of people expected to be also creating RDA records. The general sense was that this wouldn’t be a “big bang” switch to RDA, but a more gradual process possibly over the course of the whole of 2013. Again, while there was a variety of experience round the table, very few people had actively begun RDA training for their cataloguing staff or had written RDA documentation or even created RDA catalogue records. However, there is a real sense of movement with this and those institutions with some idea of a timetable were certainly looking at training within the next year.

An interesting aside, more institutions than I expected (from an admittedly small and interested sample) had access to the RDA Toolkit and few more were actively planning to get a subscription in the coming year. However, there seems to be some concern about how much use of the Toolkit can be assumed for the majority of staff, especially paraprofessional staff, copy cataloguers or those who do cataloguing as part of a much broader job description. Several participants plan to create documentation separate from the Toolkit that will work as a “cheat sheet” set of instructions to walk someone through the steps need to edit or create an RDA record (or update an AACR2 record to RDA) without requiring any access to the RDA Toolkit. This matches current practice for many, where staff are not expected to look things up in AACR2.

At one point, when speaking about the need to make senior library management aware of the implications and costs (in productivity terms but also for the RDA Toolkit, etc) of RDA implementation, I realised that the seemingly constant delays to the arrival of RDA may have made those of us talking about it seem like the boy who cried wolf. And it’s only finally this year that we’ve been able to say “it really is coming this time, we have a date, honest!”. Getting RDA into annual appraisals and objectives for managers (and sometimes also for staff) or into the annual plan for the department seemed to be a common way of getting the message out to senior management about the changes coming.

Someone asked whether we have any actual measures, for example from the US National Test libraries, of the drop in productivity when training staff in RDA, either of how great this drop is or how long it lasts before productivity begins to pick up again. I have to say I haven’t seen any hard measures of this, though I remember being surprised by reports from test libraries that the productivity picked up more quickly than they expected. That’s something I’d be interested in following up, though, as we’re all very conscious of the need to maintain productivity and hit rates in our ongoing work even during this transition.

Another quote I came away with was the notion of “accommodating RDA versus creating RDA”. That the process of implementation might be in several stages, the first one of which we are currently in as we see RDA records arriving from external sources. Training could take place in stages: train cataloguers to recognise RDA, deal with copy, before moving on to creating RDA records. “Accommodating RDA” also points to wider issues around derived records, batch-loaded records, vendor records (for shelf ready, e-journals, etc) and various workflows where decisions will have to be made about what kind of records are acceptable. Even once cataloguing fully in RDA, there will be many situations where AACR2 records are still being downloaded into the catalogue for one reason or another and it is unrealistic for most libraries to attempt to convert these to RDA. The notion of hybridity in the catalogue proves quite a relief, then, as we can accept the plurality of records.

There was a huge amount of enthusiasm during the discussion for pooling resources and sharing training materials. There was interest in training events, perhaps even a train the trainer model where possibly the British Library, CIG or even RLUK might provide something centrally. However, there is a real shortage of experienced RDA cataloguers in the UK (outside of the British Library certainly). There’s obvious concern about everyone being self-taught – someone queried where the quality control would come from if everyone simply interpreted the guidelines for themselves. I mentioned something someone had said to me at ALA last month and which I found extremely reassuring: a colleague from one of the US test libraries said that during training she was only ever half a step ahead of the people she was training. This is a very different situation from the one we are used to as experienced cataloguing trainers and needs some different approaches. The best ideas discussed yesterday included:

  • Sharing training material and documentation, ideally by making it public
  • Making workflows within the RDA Toolkit public (the BL has said it will be doing this shortly but possibly other libraries should do it too)
  • The possibility of a forum or other space where people could discuss issues, ask questions (I had some hesitation about this as it feels like that may be reinventing the wheel but I also agree that the main mailing lists are not always the most helpful venues for advice or answers at the moment)
  • Building in ongoing support after the initial training, things such as “open clinic” or regular meetings where staff can come together and look at records they have been working on to discuss questions or where decisions might have been difficult
  • Developing some kind of “application profile” – almost a subset of the LC/PCC Policy Statements – to help with the options and alternatives in RDA as cataloguer’s judgement is not always a helpful concept

We also shared resources we have found useful. My personal favourites, which I’m going to come back to in my write up of ALA too, include:

  • the ALCTS webinars which are extremely reasonably priced anyway but which also become freely available (audio & slides online) after a 6 month period and where there is already a huge amount of great RDA stuff
  • the entire training schedule and documentation from the Library of Congress and all the new links being added to Cataloguers’ Learning Workshop
  • finally I mentioned a great idea from Lauren Bradley (@BibliosaurusRex on Twitter) who I spoke to at ALA. She has created a training checklist in a Google doc, pointing people to various online training resources but suggesting an order and making a selection of what she feels is useful. I think this is a fantastic idea and think I’ll be adopting a similar approach. Lauren very generously made her checklist available as a Google doc and she was asking for comments, so please do have a look and let her know what you think. If I do develop one then I’d like to make it publicly accessible too. Obviously each institution will have its own requirements but the basic skeleton is a very useful way to navigate around the huge amount of RDA training material available online

I’ve only skimmed over our discussion but my conclusions are that this format of open, confidential discussion in a small enough group to enable everyone to participate (we had 12 people) worked very well. Much as Helen & I would love to spend our time travelling round the UK talking about RDA with people (seriously, we would, especially if you offer us biscuits), that’s not really going to be possible. However, we are reporting back to the CIG committee the outcomes of this first discussion and the fact that we feel there’s a lot of interest in this in other parts of the country and from a broader audience than just the RLUK membership. If you think a similar discussion might be useful for you then do let us know and we can pass that on to CIG, who might be able to help facilitate other meetings. We were very grateful to RLUK for covering the cost of tea, coffee and biscuits (the things which allow a discussion of RDA to be civilised and enjoyable). Mike Mertens is reporting back to RLUK on the discussion to see how they can further support their members and the users of the Copac database.

Finally, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who came along and particularly to Helen Williams at LSE for following up on my initial “wouldn’t it be great if we could get everyone involved in planning for RDA implementation in a room” tweet, for offering us a room at LSE and for basically making this happen.


5 comments so far

  1. A really interesting post, thanks Céline. I’m conscious that this is an area I need to brush up on more so will look forward to that training checklist, it’ll be useful!

  2. Hugh Taylor on

    Personally speaking, I’d like to suggest that “hybrid” records are a non-issue. Right now, how many institutions, or their staff, even notice when they have (for example) an AACR1 description with AACR2 access points? And why – were it not for specific MARC 21 “fixed field” values that imply we always have a “pure” record – would any of us care? Such situations rarely affect either access or understanding of data (and certainly no more than following AACR2 requirements to the letter). There are other, far more important issues.

  3. Heather Jardine on

    I agree with Hugh that hybrid records needn’t be a problem, as long as you don’t have two kinds of records for the same title, or two headings for the same person or body; it’s when an inconsistency is obvious from a list of results that our colleagues and users assume that they can’t both be right, therefore that one of them is wrong, therefore that someone’s made a mistake. Which doesn’t help the credibility of the institution or its cataloguers.

  4. […] 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 […]

  5. […] 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 […]

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