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Implementing RDA: Call for the Alpha Geeks of Library Metadata

Submitted by Patrick Hogan on July 8, 2009 - 3:32pm

"Forget Silicon Valley," writes publisher Tim O'Reilly in a article:

It turns out that many of the great waves of creative destruction that have reinvented Silicon Valley didn't start there. More important, they didn't even start with the profit motive. Rather, they started with interesting problems and people who wanted to solve them, exercising technology to its fullest because exploring new ideas was fun. I call these people "alpha geeks." They are smart enough to make technology do what they want rather than what its originator expected.


The managers of established organizations in mature industries are naturally inclined to identify operational efficiencies and control costs. As libraries and their vendors deal with the constraints of the recession and declining budgets, controlling costs is imperative. "Wait and see" is the reasonable default. Therefore, the innovative breakthroughs in implementing RDA are most likely to come from the fringes of the cataloging community, the mythical garages of libraryland.

The most visible test of RDA will be seen in the testing of the national libraries; that is the United States national libraries. Even from my vantage point within the project, it is unclear what, if any, testing will be conducted in national libraries outside of the U.S. The viability of RDA has been challenged most vehemently here. The testing led by Library of Congress is a byproduct of its Working Group Report, which was critical of RDA. The methodology for testing is described here. My impression is that cataloging communities outside of the U.S. are more receptive to RDA. Presumably, testing will happen, but less formally.

As co-publishers of RDA, ALA Publishing is just beginning to reach out to library systems vendors to explore ways that can incorporate the tools and perhaps the content of RDA. Part of the product will include schemas (.xsd files) made available at no cost. A schema is a record template of sorts--vendors might use it as a building block in their cataloging modules. It's possible that a Software Development Kit (SDK) could make RDA instructions available to institutional subscribers through cataloging modules. All of this, however, entails development costs. None of the major ILS products use native XML databases, so integration with RDA may be more likely at the front-end or Web services layer.

We asked Marshall Breeding about other information systems that might be considered candidates for FRBR records created using RDA. He suggested we look at institutional repositories and digital object management systems. I don't know if the schema will be useful to these systems, but they will at least support tinkering.

Schemas, which will be made available from the RDA product site, could be loaded into any XML editor. Nannette Naught will demonstrate such use at the presentation "Look Before You Leap: Taking RDA for a Test Drive," Saturday afternoon at ALA's Annual Conference. During the weekend, we will be meeting with librarians who catalog music and cultural objects. We hope to get specialized communities involved in beta testing RDA and creating schema. In our product development, we are working with Diane Hillmann and Jon Phipps of Metadata Management Associates. We initiated registration of RDA Vocabularies in the NSDL Registry with the DCMI-RDA project.  Future plans include a discussion layer at the registry to enable community input. Jennifer Bowen's team at the eXtensible Catalog project is reviewing RDA entity relationship diagrams (available as PDFs here) and helping with the development of schemas. A common theme of these projects, echoed in the writing of Karen Coyle, Jonathan Rochkind, and others, is interoperability of library data, a vision of the creators of RDA and a benefit that, if achieved, would outweigh many costs.

What will you do with RDA that we co-publishers, the Joint Steering Committee, and the Committee of Principals don't expect?