The Switch to RDA: How Will It Impact My Library?

By Sarah Kortemeier

Resource Description and Access (RDA) is a new cataloging standard with a user-centric focus. It replaces the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, Second Edition (AACR2), and includes a number of changes designed to enhance the user experience: for example, there are fewer abbreviations in RDA records, and RDA places greater emphasis on relationships (such as the relationship between a parody and its source). The Library of Congress implemented RDA in 2013, and libraries around the country are following suit. I spoke with Deann Hart, Technical Services Librarian at Grand Canyon University, and Eileen Jaffe, Bibliographic Database Manager at Pinal County Library District, to find out how their respective institutions implemented RDA and what other libraries can learn from their experiences.

Initial RDA implementation involves extensive training for technical services staff: Hart reports a six-month training period using the Library of Congress’s Train the Trainer program, while Jaffe attended 11 different RDA webinars over a 2-year period. Both recommend that catalogers take time to become accustomed to the new standard before implementation.

However, both catalogers also emphasize RDA’s inherent “doability.” Jaffe cites a 6-hour webinar from The MARC of Quality titled Rudimentary RDA with TMQ that helped her and her colleagues to begin implementing RDA. “This webinar did a number of things for us,” she says. “First, it showed us the possibilities for the future of the OPAC [Online Public Access Catalog] using RDA, and second, we began to understand…why we also need a new cataloging language.” She adds, “One doesn’t need to be afraid of doing something wrong—after a couple of years of adding RDA records from OCLC one can see that no one does it exactly the same way.” Hart agrees, saying, “It’s no more foreign than the switch from AACR to AACR2 – don’t let it psych you out.”

The changes that most users and librarians will see in public access catalogs will become apparent slowly, as catalog systems begin to display the information that is now being included in RDA records. Hart says that her colleagues are excited about the switch and looking forward to the benefits of RDA. Jaffe and her fellow catalogers are currently doing double the work in order to supply both the information required by their existing cataloging system and the RDA information that will be used in the future. However, she thinks that cataloging under RDA will ultimately “become much easier and our OPAC displays will be far superior to what we now have, which is multiple hits for one title due to so many different editions, formats, etc.” As with any major change in cataloging standards, much of the training and implementation is done by technical services staff—but it’s hoped that RDA will benefit users and librarians broadly in the future.


Got a question about RDA? Interested in learning more? Join AzLA’s Technical Services Interest Group (TSIG) for quarterly meetings, professional development opportunities, and discussion around technology and tech services. Login at to sign up for the TSIG listserv. Join us at the 2014 conference for the TSIG-sponsored preconference workshop, Advanced Cataloging with RDA: Audiovisual Materials and Special Formats, and our annual business meeting.

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