Since RDA has yet to be implemented, this might sound presumptuous but I’ll throw caution into the wind and just say it: we should move past RDA to a post-RDA cataloging world.
This is an idea I’ve been kicking around for several months, having cataloged professionally at ProQuest now for soon-to-be 7 months! Jan. 5th came and went quicker than the 6 month acknowledgment allowed–kinda like those linger holiday thank-yous that I swear Steve and I will write this weekend. Being a professional, rather than a student, cataloging is fully on my mind all the time now.
What we catalogers need is a grass-roots cataloging initiative and guidelines.
There, I’ve said it. Does it seem radical? I hope the answer is both yes and no.
Yes, because cataloging is coordinated and administered, on the whole, by the Library of Congress. Don’t get me wrong, I love them (and would love a job there!!!–as many of us would) yet their purpose is not to be the central conduit and decider of all things cataloging. It just ended up that way because it was nicer and easier for all libraries who happened to have many of the same items and could rely on LC for good records and shelf list cards, subject headings and call numbers. It made cataloging consistent and got items out to patrons sooner since it shared information amongst the cataloging network. So proposing a grass-roots coordinated effort sounds crazy.
No, because catalogers truly care about the information and records they provide to the public and their users. Most of the time, a para or a professional cataloger will proof the copy cataloging that is brought in, to ensure quality and make personal adjustments for the library and its collection as needed. LC was never meant, and still isn’t supposed, to be the cataloging aggregate so it makes sense that since the Internet connects us all now, that we catalogers can take back this charge that LC has wonderfully kept in check all these years and reclaim what should be our prerogative, especially now that we have the tools and capabilities to catalog together as a profession.
What exactly is the idea that I am proposing? Rather than trying to rush RDA which still seems to be not ready, and with no successor to MARC in sight, as a cataloging community of paraprofessionals and professionals, we should create and maintain our own cataloging wiki that contains all the rules and guidelines, authority files and subject headings, classification and call numbers, that can be edited by any cataloger.
We all care about the work we produce. The listservs make this clear. So what if we funneled all that energy and knowledge and experience into a self-created and maintained wiki for all catalogers? So many people complain about lacking and unsatisfactory subject headings, for example, that wouldn’t it be great to have a wiki in which we all give our input and create not only what we need but what the users want? It would remain a standardized list but we as catalogers would control it.
AACR2 and MARC are still viable but what we need to do as professionals is start hacking them more–see my previous post. There is room for expansion in the available fields and subfields, as well as indicators. We could repurpose what we need for now and growth for the future, rather than trashing it all for RDA or some other systems that isn’t yet fully realized. If we took over cataloging guidelines and standards, cataloging could become what we want it to be for the current and future needs of libraries and their patrons. We shouldn’t let the past blind us to the capabilities of what we already have and use today. Computers hold far greater quantities of information, so we should put in all the information, fully written out and complete, that we need to explain the item and that the user needs to find it. Sure, AACR2 and ISBD were especially useful for shelf list cards but we can and should expand beyond those restrictions since they don’t apply anymore. Same goes for MARC, it is still perfectly good; it just needs some tweaking to expand it.
Sure, this time next year RDA might be officially rolling out and we will all likely be learning it, but what if? What if an idea like mine took off and revolutionized the cataloging world, not in a way we expect by undertaking a new set of guidelines but in a vastly different way of conceiving and maintaining the cataloging world all together, in a collaborative wiki run by us catalogers?