Implementing RDA in Cambridge University Library

Celine Carty, Cataloguer at Cambridge University Library and member of the Cambridge RDA Steering Group, writes about the Library’s transition to using RDA.

Entrance artwork at Cambridge University Library

Bronze book bollards at the entrance to Cambridge University Library

“Cambridge implemented RDA in 2013”. What a simple statement that seems to be, but behind it lie an awful lot of detail and hard work.

Getting started

The main University Library and four of its affiliated libraries all implemented RDA (Resource Description and Access) on March 31st 2013. The other Cambridge libraries – there are over 90 in total including colleges, faculties and departments – will implement on October 1st. The preparations for this implementation began at least a couple of years ago, however, and the transition to RDA requires ongoing support and learning even after the initial training is over. Those 5 words at the start of this post describe a long process.

Once the Library of Congress and the British Library announced that they would be implementing the new cataloguing standard RDA on March 31st 2013, it made sense for Cambridge to follow suit. As part of the Legal Deposit Libraries Shared Cataloguing Program, we contribute to the BNB (British National Bibliography) and as part of NACO  (Name Authority Cooperative Program) we both use and contribute to the LC/NACO Authority File. Once the date was set, it suddenly felt like we had an awful lot of work to do in a very short time.

Training and implementation

One of the main challenges of RDA implementation in Cambridge was simply the logistics of coordinating training and implementation across so many libraries. By the end of this month, we will have offered RDA training to almost 200 people across all of the Cambridge libraries, some of whom are full-time cataloguers but many of whom only do some cataloguing as part of a more generalist post. Developing and delivering training in this context is quite a big job in itself. Beyond that, though, the main issues were agreeing Cambridge policy for the various options and alternatives available in RDA and also making sure all the systems were able to display, index and interpret the new MARC fields. The fact that RDA itself is in constant flux as changes and clarifications are made to the text and to the practices of the major national libraries certainly makes RDA implementation more complicated too.

The fact of setting an implementation date was itself quite useful, as it helped to focus the mind and encourages staff to take a bit of time out of their very busy work schedules to think about RDA. Over time, the number of RDA records in the BNB, in the Library of Congress and in Copac itself has grown and grown. This meant that many staff saw RDA in their copy cataloguing, which was very useful for familiarising them with the changes that RDA brings (particularly the more immediately obvious such as relationship designators, the loss of GMD (General Material Designation) and the new-look 264 fields for publication, distribution and manufacture information).

Cambridge RDA logo

Cambridge RDA logo (links to training materials website)

Creating policy: Do, discuss, document

Based on our experience of developing local policy for RDA, I would say that there is no need to wait until every aspect of policy decisions is finalised – instead try as early as possible to do some hands-on cataloguing in RDA. This really helps to bring to the surface the main issues and problems. At the recent CIG (Cataloguing & Indexing Group) pop-up workshop on “Getting started in RDA”, I talked about the 3-Ds of creating policy: “do, discuss, document”. This iterative process allowed us to develop our local policy, all of which is documented in the Cambridge Monograph Workflow (available in the RDA Toolkit, for anyone with a subscription) as well as our Cambridge Standard Record. Both of these documents are being constantly updated as changes are made to the RDA guidelines or in light of our own experiences with cataloguing in RDA.

There is a great deal of RDA training freely available online. Originally, we planned to avoid writing our own training by using as much of the freely available material as possible. However, although the Library of Congress modules were thorough and detailed, we felt that their pace and content wasn’t quite right for our local needs. It quickly became apparent that we would need to rework the existing training to make it suitable for Cambridge cataloguers. We therefore adapted the LC and BL modules, with some additional material. At this stage, we incorporated all the Cambridge local policy decisions about RDA (and developed more when we realised we needed them).

While we were preparing the training, I was in frequent contact with colleagues at the University of Oxford, Trinity College Dublin and the British Library as well as in many national and academic libraries in the US, Canada and New Zealand. The help of this international community of cataloguers proved invaluable to our own work and we were extremely grateful to other institutions, in particular to the Library of Congress  and British Library, for making their documentation and training available.

Cooperation and sharing

We agreed that it was very important to build on this spirit of cooperation and sharing and so, in May 2013, we launched CambridgeRDA, a website hosting all of the RDA documentation developed for training the staff of the libraries in the University of Cambridge. All of these materials are made available under a Creative Commons CC-BY licence for anyone to reuse or adapt. CambridgeRDA gives full details of the contents and order of the training modules. Although the training materials were developed for an internal audience and so obviously reflect Cambridge practice and policy, we hope they may be of use to you if your institution is thinking about implementing RDA cataloguing some time in the future.

Card catalogue - "superseded by"

Image is in the public domain:


Copac contributor RDA survey

At Copac we have been taking an interest in RDA and related developments for the past few years, but this has been very much a sideline activity. However, when the Library of Congress announced the results of their RDA trial and the British Library followed with their own timetable for moving to RDA we decided it was time to consider the implications for both the RLUK cataloguers’ database and the Copac service in more detail.

Anything we do in relation to the RLUK database will be agreed in collaboration with RLUK and the member libraries, whilst we also need to talk with our other contributors regarding their views on this change to RDA as this will impact directly on Copac. So to get things started we carried out a short survey, to get an impression of what our contributing libraries are planning.
A summary report (PDF) is available.

In short, out of 35 respondents just over half are definitely moving to RDA, with just under half still undecided. Only 2 libraries are definitely not moving. The timescale ranged from within a year to over 2 years, though again for about a third of libraries this has not yet been decided. Of those libraries not having decided to move to RDA, 5 will be accepting RDA records within their local catalogue, but for most others this was an area of uncertainty.

We received a range of general comments on the move to RDA, including areas such as interest in the actions of system suppliers and other libraries; concerns about training and a desire for support; and the effect of changes in the cataloguing environment being a long-term driver to move to RDA.

We will be working with RLUK and our other contributing libraries take this work forward. And in the longer term we will be exploring the potential of RDA to offer new ways of working with the data to support our user communities.