Thoughts on Gorman and RDA

This was a cataloging assignment early in the semester.

Gorman, M. (2007). RDA: Imminent Debacle. American Libraries, 38(11), 64–65.

Michael Gorman’s article was pretty strong in its attack of RDA. I have to wonder how much of it is out of a desire to not change. As the principle author of AACR2 he has a vested interest in that, and his language is such that it would be easy to dismiss this article as jealous ravings.

Trying to look past the emotional language, I see his complaints as follows:

  1. AACR2 works. It works for books and other media.
  2. AACR2 is internationally standardized.
  3. The metadata of RDA will be uncontrolled terms written by non-professionals
  4. AACR2 is being replaced by Google and free-text searching
  5. FRBR is good for theory but not for cataloging.
  6. AACR2 has minor flaws that could be easily corrected
  7. The RDA does not include standards
  8. He doesn’t like the format of that early draft
  9. He is confused by the examples of this early draft
  10. He found editorial errors in the early draft


His obvious flaws include:

  1. He is working from an early draft of RDA
  2. He uses emotional inflammatory language


Many of Gorman’s complaints are possibly due to the fact that he was responding to an early draft of RDA. A lot of things, like confusion, format, and editorial errors get worked out as a written work goes through editing. I wish he had stuck to the actual content of RDA, then it would have been easier to make a judgement about it. This article was published in 2007, and I do not know what has changed or what RDA actually became when it was finished.

I am currently in a Metadata class, and it seems to me that AACR2 is clunky for digital items. I have spent a good bit of time looking in the catalog at work matching up vinyl records, and that is horribly clunky.  I know that the goal of both is for objects to be found.

Having said all of that, I believe that as a rule the powers that be do tend to change for the sake of change, and often the new is much more complicated than the old without being appreciably better. Gorman raises many valid questions.  But as technology and resources change, cataloging will have to change too.

In the end, reading this article gives me questions to ask of RDA. Does it work better than AACR2? Does it effectively catalog books (and other things) so they can be found? We are still using subject headings, where does Gorman’s concern about losing those come in? How does RDA fit internationally, has it been adopted internationally? And how have libraries changed over from AACR2 to RDA? What is the cost of switching over?




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