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Bulletin, June/July 2009

Resource Description and Access (RDA) and New Research Potentials

by Shawne D. Miksa

Shawne D. Miksa is associate professor in the Department of Library and Information Sciences in the College of Information at the University of North Texas. She can be reached at Shawne.Miksa<at>

Resource Description and Access (RDA) [1], set to be released in the third quarter of 2009, is a new set of descriptive cataloging rules developed to replace the longstanding Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules 2 (AACR2) [2], first released in 1978. The principal goal of the new rules is to facilitate resource discovery through library catalogs in a more consistent and powerful way than is currently possible with AACR2. To understand this new rule set, it is necessary to understand the critical concepts found within Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) [3] and Functional Requirements for Authority Data (FRAD) [4], two publications developed through International Federation of Library Association (IFLA) that are used to form the backbone of the RDA. 

The change in cataloging rules is much needed, but not welcomed by all. Blogs and listservs such as Planet Cataloging [5] or RDA-L [6] within the global cataloging community are ablaze with talk on RDA and functional requirements, raising more questions and offering critical and constructive analysis (for example, see comments by the Cataloguing Committee of the Swedish Library Association Swedish Library [7]). They are also very often portals for venting frustrations brought on by an imminent change in comfortable cataloging procedures. The main questions being asked are “How do we use it?” and “How do we implement it in our library?” and “Are the vendors creating new systems that use it?” Perhaps the most challenging aspect will be learning the complexity of the FRBR entity-relationship models in which information resources are classified as Works, Expressions, Manifestations and Items (often referred to as WEMI). 

The FRBR and FRAD conceptual models resulted from the international cataloguing community’s effort to address a constantly changing information environment, the emergence of new forms of information resources and increasing density of networked information systems. In 2007 Howarth and Weihs [8] wrote

The cataloguing community is clearly at a crossroad, navigating the transition from forty years of creating bibliographic records using the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules within a print-dominant environment to a proposed new content standard that reaches beyond the library domain to a world of digital objects and multipurpose metadata. (p. 15) 

Entity-Relationship Chart

Figure 1. Entity-Relationship chart (from, at the FRBR blog at [9]

The Joint Steering Community for the Development of RDA (JSC) has called for constituency reviews of several drafts of the new rules [1], with the intent of reviewing all submissions and incorporating comments and edits when and where possible. 

AACR2 arranges chapters by the type of information resource and then by type of main or added access points (see Table 1). In AACR2’s Part I, chapters 2-12 each focus on a separate format and address only the description of the resources. The code is weak on access points, even though Part II is devoted to choice and formation of personal, corporate body and title access points and discusses main and added access points (always a sore point for many catalogers, especially in the digital environment). Catalogers have to look all over Part II for access point provisions (for example, title access points are mentioned in chapter 21 only – and then just as a default provision and with little direction). Most importantly, AACR2 is not based on the idea of a work. Rather, it is very much based on the unit record system (that is, the item).

Table 1

Table 1. RDA [1] and AACR2 [2] compared. (Left) RDA (37 chapters, 13 appendices) and (right) AACR2 (20 chapters, 5 appendices)

RDA puts considerably more emphasis on authority control as well as having a vastly different structure from its predecessor. As outlined in the “RDA Scope and Structure” [1] the new rules are “… divided into ten sections: sections 1-4 cover elements corresponding to the entity attributes defined in FRBR and FRAD; sections 5-10 cover elements corresponding to the relationships defined in FRBR and FRAD.” (p. 7). Furthermore the choice of what type of record to create, once based on the format, is shifted to what “type of description” the record should represent – comprehensive, analytical or multi-level (that is, both comprehensive and analytical). In cataloging terminology an entry is “analytical” if it includes a description or analysis of the sub-parts of the resource being cataloged. In other words, with the RDA, the variety of resource formats represented in a library catalog is not in question. The question now centers more heavily on the scope of the representation. This shift in focus allows the catalog to accommodate the interpretation and/or depiction of relationships between resources more readily within a dynamic library environment. Current catalogs mostly operate on the premise that one record represents one resource. It is now possible with RDA to create records that may represent more than one resource, should the cataloger choose to do so, or to group and display single-item records in order to show more clearly how they are related.

     However, as Oliver points out [10]: 

RDA is a content standard, not a display standard and not a metadata schema. RDA is a set of guidelines that indicates how to describe a resource, focusing on the pieces of information (or attributes) that a user is most likely to need to know. It also encourages the description of relationships between related resources and between resources and persons or bodies that contributed to creation of that resource. (p. 251) 

Despite the fact that it is not an actual display standard, the possibilities of new display options in catalog systems is intriguing. 

New Research Potentials
The prospect of the re-learning of library cataloging by seasoned catalogers and the re-engineering of bibliographic control systems is daunting, but we should also consider some of the areas of potential new research that may present themselves as a result of RDA, FRBR and FRAD. 

The Library of Congress (LC), the National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the National Agricultural Library (NAL) are working together “to make a joint decision on whether or not to implement RDA, based on the results of a test of both RDA and the web product. The goal of the test is to assure the operational, technical and economic feasibility of RDA” [11]. These tests should generate a considerable amount of data for analysis and study. At the very least, the testing may simply reveal that the rules don’t work and thus show us how not to develop cataloging guidelines, which is always a valuable lesson.

Here are some other areas, in no particular order, that hold possibilities. Where possible, corresponding research already in progress is noted:

• FRBR’s four users tasks (find, identify, select, obtain). Are they successful? How are they supported in the library catalog? MARC content designation utilization (MCDU) project has investigated MARC support of these tasks [12].

• RDA implementation issues, feasibility studies, training issues, usability studies involving catalogers, reference librarians and the end-user as they work on creating and using RDA-based records, across all types of libraries. See programs given by the RDA Implementation Task Force (ALA) at 2008 and 2009 annual and mid-winter meetings or the National Library of Australia [13] on issues of implementation. 

  • Redesign of library systems in order to take advantage of the entity-relationship modeling. See VTLS [14] and LC [15] for examples of FRBR display software.

  • More in-depth studies of bibliographic relationships, bibliographic families and how these relationships impact user searching and bibliographic control or if they are successfully represented using RDA and similar questions.

  • Entity-relationship models and visualizing new cataloging workflows; how the ER model of work, expression, manifestation, item (WEMI) is used to portray relationships between resources, its impact resource discovery, user satisfaction and other factors. See the cataloging scenarios at the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative website [16].

  • Impact on encoding standards such as MARC and Dublin Core [17], [12]

  • Historical studies of cataloging rules, changes in these rules and AACR1, AACR2 implementations (for example Knowlton’s recent article in Library Resources & Technical Service on criticism of cataloging code reform 1957-66 [18]).

  • Diffusion of RDA within the cataloging community, rate of adoption and understanding by libraries and catalogers

  • Re-conceptualization of bibliographic control: This will perhaps be the most impacted area of LIS. See recent reports such as On the Record by the Working Group for the Future of Bibliographic Control at the Library of Congress [19], as well as the public testimonies submitted to the group by members of the cataloging community. Recommendations from the report – the guiding principles, Chapter 3, Chapter 4 and Chapter 5, in particular, should be considered.

  • Re-defining the library catalog – what are the boundaries of the catalog, objectives of the catalog. These issues are worthy of a serious dissertation or two. (For example, see the RDA-L listserv [6] thread “libraries, society and RDA” from Nov 2008.)

  • Addition of non-traditional data to bibliographic records such as citation data, reviews and tag clouds

  • Studies such as Shoichi Taniguchi’s work on orientedness in cataloging rules, recording the history of changes in data values, design of cataloging rules and similar topics ([20], [21], [22], [23], [24], [25])

  • Interoperability between library systems, copy cataloging, outsourcing of records as impacted by choice of type of description (comprehensive, analytical or multilevel)

  • Bibliographic control education in LIS programs – new curriculum, standards, textbooks, manuals and other teaching materials, especially the problem of when, and if, to stop teaching AACR2 and when to start teaching RDA.

Resources Mentioned in the Article
[1] Joint Steering Committee for the Development of Resource Description and Access. (2009). Resource description and access. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from
[2] Joint Steering Committee for the Revision of AACR2. (2002). Anglo-American cataloguing rules, (2nd ed., rev. with 2004 updates). Chicago: American Library Association.

[3] International Federation of Library Associations, IFLA Study Group on the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records. (1998). Functional requirements for bibliographic records: Final report. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from

[4] International Federation of Library Associations, IFLA Study Group on the Functional Requirements and Numbering of Authority Records. (2008). Functional Requirements for Authority Data. Retrieved October 17, 2008, from (May 1, 2009: Please note the actual pdf is not currently linked – a final version of FRAD is in the works.)

[5] Planet Cataloging (web log):

[6] RDA-L (listserv):

[7] The Cataloguing Committee of the Swedish Library Association. (2009). Comments on the final draft of RDA. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from

[8] Howarth, L., & Weihs, J. (2007). Making the link: AACR to RDA: Part I: Setting the stage. Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, 45(2), 3-18.

[9] Denton, W. (2008). Entity-relationship chart. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from

[10] Oliver, C. (2007). Changing to RDA. Feliciter, 53(7), 250-253. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from

[11] Bibliographic Control Working Group, Library of Congress. (2009). Testing Resource Description and Access (RDA). Retrieved May 1, 2009, from

[12] Miksa, S., Moen, W., Snyder, G., Polyakov, S. & Eklund, A. (2006). Metadata assistance of the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records’ four user tasks: A report on the MARC Content Designation Utilization (MCDU) Project. In G. Budin, C. Swertz, & K. Mitgutsch (Eds.). Knowledge organization for a global learning society: Proceedings of the Ninth International ISKO Conference (Vienna, Austria, July 4-7, 2006) (pp. 41-49). Würzburg: Ergon. (Advances in Knowledge Organization, 10)

[13] Australian Committee on Cataloguing, National Library of Australia. (2009). Resource Description and Access. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from

[14] Visionary Technology in Library Solutions (VTLS):

[15] Network Development and MARC Standards Office, Library of Congress. (2009). FRBR Display Tool. (Version 2.0.) Retrieved May 1, 2009, from

[16] Dublin Core Metadata Initiative. (2009). Scenarios. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from

[17] RDA/MARC Working Group. (2009). Retrieved May 1, 2009, from

[18] Knowlton, S. (2009). Criticism of cataloging code reform, as seen in the page of Library Resources and Technical Services (1957-66). Library Resources and Technical Services, 53(1), 15-24.

[19] Library of Congress Working Group for the Future of Bibliographic Control. (2008). On the record. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from

[20] Taniguchi, S. (1996). A system for analyzing cataloging rules: A feasibility study. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 47(5), 338-356.

[21] Taniguchi, S. (1999). An analysis of orientedness in cataloging rules. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50(5), 448-460.

[22] Taniguchi, S. (2004). Design of cataloging rules using conceptual modeling of cataloging process. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 55(6), 498-512.

[23] Taniguchi, S. (2005). Recording evidence in bibliographic records and descriptive metadata. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 56(8), 872-882.

[24] Taniguchi, S. (2006). A system for supporting evidence recording in bibliographic records. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 57(9), 1249-1262.

[25] Taniguchi, S. (2007). A system for supporting evidence recording in bibliographic records. Part II: What is valuable evidence for catalogers? Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 58(6), 823-841.