Deirdre Kiorgaard
Publication date: 
Thursday, 1 January, 2009

Library catalogues today need to harness the full power of the metadata that librarians have carefully created over previous decades. For those who describe resources the challenge is to create metadata which meets users' needs for data content and also facilitates machine manipulation of that data for searching and display. Resource Description and Access (RDA) will be an important building block in the creation of better catalogues and resource discovery systems. RDA is the new standard for description and access set to replace the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR) in 2009.

RDA focuses on the data elements needed to meet the user tasks specified in the FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records) and FRAD (Functional Requirements for Authority Records) conceptual models. The use of FRBR concepts will allow the relationships between multiple versions of a resource to be presented to users in a meaningful way.

RDA will have its own data element vocabulary, and specific vocabularies for content types, carrier types, roles, and relationships. These vocabularies have been developed in collaboration with other communities, such as the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI). They will be made available in machine readable/actionable Resource Description Framework (RDF) through the work of the DCMI/RDA Working Group.

This presentation will provide an overview of the advantages of RDA for libraries and library users, and explain what librarians need to do to prepare for RDA's implementation in Australian libraries.


Today the Anglo‐American Cataloguing Rules, or AACR, is the most widely‐used standard for descriptive cataloguing in the English‐speaking world – and it has also been translated into 24 other languages. Resource Description and Access is the new standard for description and access set to replace AACR in 2009. As well as being adopted in Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Canada and the United States, RDA is being considered for adoption in other countries, such as Germany and France, that currently have their own descriptive cataloguing codes.

RDA is being developed as a new generation cataloguing code, designed for the digital world. It will provide instructions for the description of all types of resources, including digital and online. The descriptions themselves will be usable in the digital environment – in web‐based catalogues and in resource discovery services. The RDA standard will itself be a Web‐based tool, not a print tool as it is now.

This presentation will explain the problems that RDA is designed to solve, the conceptual models on which it is based, the different scenarios in which it might be implemented, and how RDA is being designed so that the data created using it is usable in the web environment. It will also touch briefly on what librarians need to do to prepare for RDAʹs implementation in Australian libraries.

AACR and descriptive cataloguing

AACR has been used for decades, and millions of catalogue records have been created using it as the resource description standard. Why then do we need to change to a new standard?

Although AACR has indeed proved to be a very robust standard, as both a set of instructionsand as the basis for our catalogues it has reached the end of its useful life.

AACR is organised around the class of materials to which an item belongs. In AACR there are separate chapters for books, for serials, for sound recordings, for motion pictures, and for electronic resources, amongst others. The structure of every chapter is based around the eight areas of description in the ISBD (International Standard Bibliographic Description).  Nevertheless each chapter has evolved over time to have slightly different rules –even when there is no fundamental difference between that class of material and another class. In addition, the resources we are trying to describe have changed, and the distinctions between them have blurred. For example, a video, some text and some music ‐ once so separate ‐ may now be found together on a website. We need now to find a principles‐based way to describe every relevant aspect of every resource.

AACR was also developed in the era of the card catalogue, and much of the terminology in AACR reflects that, for example terms like ‘heading’, ‘main entry’ and ‘added entry’. However, just updating the terminology alone is not enough to bring AACR into the digital world. We also need to ensure that the data we create using RDA is usable in the web environment. To do this we need to define the data elements so that they are machine manipulable and therefore usable in the web environment.


To meet the goals for developing RDA required a re‐examination of descriptive cataloguingpractice from the ground up (Joint Steering Committee for Development of RDA, 2007). To dothis we have been able to draw on a substantial body of work which looked at how we use thedata in our records to meet user’s needs.

The value of conceptual models

RDA is being built on the FRBR conceptual model developed by IFLA, the International Federation of Library Associations. FRBR is the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (IFLA Study Group on the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, 1997). FRAD (Functional Requirements for Authority Data) and FRSAR (Functional Requirements for Subject Authority Records) will extend the model for authority data (IFLA Working Group on Functional Requirements and Numbering of Authority Records, 2008 ; IFLA Working Group on Functional Requirements for Subject Authority Records, 2008.)

Conceptual models are important because they help us to develop a better understanding of the domain they describe. They are a way of looking at something that concerns us, and

  • Identifying and defining the things that are important (entities)
  • Identifying and defining the significant relationships between these entities, and
  • Identifying and defining the attributes that characterise the entities

Although the model that results from this type of analysis can be implemented in different ways, consistency with a model will facilitate interoperability between implementations (Danskin, 2008).

In the case of the FRBR model, we are able to develop a better understanding of bibliographic and authority data. This model identifies and defines bibliographic entities, their attributes and the relationships between them. But FRBR and FRAD do more than simply list the entities, attributes and relationships. An important feature of these models is that they relate the data recorded in bibliographic and authority records to the needs of the users of those records. They do this by mapping the data elements to the specific user tasks they assist.

FRBR – the basics

The user tasks identified in FRBR are:

  • Find an item that meet their needs (e.g. find an item by an author; on a particular subject; or with a certain title)
  • Identify an item (e.g. to confirm that the item is the one they are looking for; to distinguish between items with the same title)
  • Select an item (e.g. the check the form of an item, or its suitability for a particular group, e.g. high school students)
  • Obtain an item (e.g. information needed to submit a call slip; to request the item; to request a copy; to purchase an item; to access a remote resource)
  • FRAR has additionally defined the following user tasks: Find, Identify, Contextualize and Justify.

The entities defined in these models are in three groups.

In Group 1:

  • Work is the intellectual or artistic creation as an abstract entity. For example the Lord of the Rings by Tolkien.
  • Expression is the realisation of a work in a particular form, e.g. a particular language or notation. Like work, it is an abstract concept.
  • Manifestation is the physical embodiment of an expression of a work – so together all the copies of Lord of the Rings edited by Harold Bloom, and published by Roundhouse in 2001, constitute a manifestation. The manifestation level is the one usually represented in bibliographic records.
  • Item is a single exemplar of a manifestation – what you might think of as a copy.

In group 2 : are persons, families and corporate bodies. Families were not mentioned in FRBR, but are an addition in FRAD.

In group 3: are concepts, objects, events and places. They are the major focus of the third IFLA group on Functional Requirements for Subject Authority Records (FRSAR). These entities are not covered in RDA.

The FRBR and FRAD models go on to describe the attributes of each of these entities – e.g. title of the work; pagination of the manifestation, etc.

Importantly, they also describe the relationships between the entities, for example a person as the author of a work.

FRBR in practice

FRBR as a model has been around since 1997. Since that time it has been used in the design of a number of databases, and in various ways in different projects. It has been used in services such as Red Light Green, offered by the Research Library Group prior to its merger with OCLC. OCLC has also used FRBR in a number of projects such as Fiction Finder and xISBN (OCLC, 2008). It has been used in developing library systems such as VTLS’ Virtua (VTLS, 2008). Closer to home, it was used in the development of Austlit (Austlit, 2008). The National Library of Australia has also looked at FRBR in relation to the Australian National Bibliographic Database (ANBD), and Music Australia (Rajapatirana, 2004; Ayres, 2004). The FRBR Review Group maintains a bibliography of both theoretical work on FRBR and also implementations and other uses of FRBR, for example, its use in library education (IFLA Cataloguing Section. FRBR Review Group, 2007).

New database structures based on models like FRBR are important on a number of levels. For cataloguers and system administrators they will improve the efficiency of data creation and maintenance. This will happen by, for example, allowing data for works and expressions to be created and stored once only, and re‐used as needed. Importantly, FRBR‐based database structures will also improve the ease and effectiveness with which users are able to access the data and navigate the database.


These models will be reflected in RDA in a number of ways.

Firstly they will be reflected in RDA’s scope. The scope of RDA will cover bibliographic data and authority data as it is represented in FRBR and FRAD. Work on FRSAR is just beginning and so RDA will not cover FRSAR in its first release. However, placeholders for concepts covered in FRSAR have been built into RDA.

Secondly, the models will be reflected in RDA through the entities, attributes and relationships described by the RDA data elements.

Thirdly, the models will be reflected in RDA’s structure, that is in the organisation of the chapters in RDA. The chapters will be linked to the user tasks they relate to

Fourthly, the terminology used in the models will be reflected in RDA, for example the terms work, expression, manifestation and item.

Finally, the FRBR user tasks will influence the RDA elements that are defined as ‘core’ or essential elements.

It is difficult to imagine that FRBR can be realised without changes to descriptive standards such as RDA. However, FRBR cannot be realised through RDA alone, but also requires changes to encoding and to the systems used to support resource discovery.

Implementation scenarios

Optimally, RDA would be implemented in databases which themselves are modeled on FRBR. Realistically, RDA needs to be able to be implemented in any number of present and future database structures. To help the JSC in our thinking about how RDA data can be used, the Editor Tom Delsey, has developed three implementation scenarios (Delsey, 2007) RDA data can be readily mapped to any one of these implementation scenarios. In all cases the data will support the functional objectives that RDA is designed to fulfill. However, the data structures used to store the data and to reflect relationships will affect the efficiency of data creation and maintenance. It will also affect the ease and effectiveness with which users are able to access the data and navigate the database.

Two of these scenarios reflect the present. In the database structures often used in library systems, data is stored or exchanged using bibliographic and authority records, and in some implementations in holdings records as well. The bibliographic and authority files may be linked, or there may be a flat file structure.

In some library systems today, and increasingly in the future, data will be stored in a relational or object‐oriented database structure that mirrors the FRBR and FRAD conceptual models. In this type of structure there would be separate records for each FRBR entity  Relationships between the entities would be made using links. The links might be access points, but are more likely to be identifiers, preferably persistent identifiers. The changes made in RDA will help us move towards this future.

Advantages of RDA

The move to RDA has advantages both for the cataloguer and for the library user.

RDA as a cataloguing tool

The first advantage relates to how RDA will be used by cataloguers. RDA will be produced as a fully interactive online tool. It is not just an electronic text, but a product that will allow customization and integration with institutional or network policies. In addition, it is intended that it will be possible to have specialised views of the text, for example to limit the instructions you see to the core elements, or those used with serials. There will be different ways to access RDA: through searching or browsing the contents, through the existing AACR rule or MARC21 tag, or through workflows that guide you through the process of creating a record. Integration with cataloguing systems is planned, so that you will be able to click through from your cataloguing system to the RDA instruction for the data you are inputting.

Better coverage

From the point of view of our catalogue’s users, another benefit of the move to RDA is the improved coverage of a broader range of resources, including visual materials and archival materials.

The description of online resources in particular has improved. In a record created using RDA you will be able to record all relevant aspects of a resource: both that it is an ‘online resource’ as well as other aspects such as that it is a text or graphic, or consists of audio or video files. RDA is also introducing the concept of persistent identifiers as a type of resource identifier. Persistent identifiers are permanent, location independent and unique identifiers for resources, most especially online resources.

Resource categorisations

The work done on resource categorisations will result in a major improvement to user’s ability to select the resource that best meets their needs, and improvements in system’s abilities to present that information to users. The categories in RDA separate, as far as possible, terms which relate to the content of the resource from those which relate to the carrier.

The categorizations in RDA were developed in consultation with ONIX – the publishing standard, and will also be used by them – which is one step towards better data exchange between the library and publishing sectors. These categorisations will replace the Material Designations ‐ GMDs and SMDs. GMDs are the terms such as ‘music’ or ‘manuscript’ which are used in the title area in AACR to group broad categories of types of resource. SMDs are the terms such as ‘score’ or ‘microfiche’ used in the statement of extent. RDA will replace both the GMDs and SMDs with three separate elements: Media category, Type of carrier, and Type of content.


The ability to show the relationships between resources themselves, and between resources and those who have played a role in their existence, is vital if the catalogue is to provide more than just keyword searching. Information on relationships can be used to allow users to move between related works, or for systems to organize large results sets in a way that is more meaningful to users. In RDA the emphasis on relationships has been strengthened.

Relationships in RDA include:

  • Links between the FRBR group 1 entities connected to a resource
  • Relationships among works, etc
  • Relationships between works etc, and their creators, etc
  • Relationships between persons, families and corporate bodies

For example, with RDA you will be able to specify that ‘The fellowship of the ring’ has a sequel called ‘The two towers’; or that Vivaldi is the composer of ‘The four seasons’; or that Frank Seiberling is the founder of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. These are thetypes of relationships that it is difficult if not impossible for a machine to derive, although new technologies can facilitate their creation and make them cheaper to provide.

Building better resource discovery systems

In another paper presented at the ACOC seminar in 2008 I argued that cataloguers today are no longer designing metadata just for our own library catalogue but instead for any service in which the metadata might be used now, and for any future service (Kiorgaard, 2008). We can’t and wouldn’t want to re‐catalogue our resources every time they are used in a different context or different service, so we need to describe our resources in a way which maximises the value that can be extracted from the data.

The RDA element set

To make our catalogue data more usable resource discovery systems beyond our local catalogue, and to make it more accessible in the web environment, an RDA element set or element vocabulary has been defined. The element set has clearly defined elements for both attributes and relationships. Some AACR elements have been split if they covered more than one concept, and new elements have been added to parallel elements used in related schema, e.g. MARC 21. Multiple instances of elements are provided for. RDA elements also have a greater level of granularity. RDA elements can have sub‐elements and element sub‐types. Sub elements are components of the element. For example the element of “Edition statement” has sub‐elements of “Statement designating edition”, “Statement of responsibility relating to the edition” and so on. Element sub‐types all fall under the definition of the element, for example, the element of “Title” has sub‐types for “Title proper”, “Parallel title”, “Other title information”, and so on. This level of precision will allow cleaner mapping to and from other standards, and also facilitate machine manipulation.

To facilitate the use of RDA data in the web environment, RDA will incorporate identifiers for all of the defined entities. To facilitate the use of RDA itself in the web environment the JSC hope to make the element set (but not the instructions) freely available online.

RDA and vocabularies

Resource discovery services can offer the most to users when there is commonality in the data they base their services on (Kiorgaard, 2008). In recognition of this the JSC have worked to reuse existing vocabularies in RDA and to develop new vocabularies with related communities.

For example the JSC have chosen to use an external vocabulary for languages (ISO 639‐2/langhome.html). The JSC have also worked with other communities to develop vocabularies where no acceptable ones existed (e.g. the RDA‐ONIX joint framework for resource categorization, see Dunsire, 2007). With the DCMI community the JSC are looking at areas where the development of joint vocabularies would be useful to both communities. The JSC intend to make some or all of the RDA controlled vocabularies available for free on the internet, including the terms for content, carrier and media type as well as the relationship designators.

RDA and the semantic web

The RDA elements are also being designed to be usable in the semantic web. In 2006 the JSC hosted a meeting with representatives from the Dublin Core and semantic web communities at which three possibilities for future collaboration were explored: the development of an RDA element vocabulary; the development of a RDA Dublin Core Application Profile and the disclosure of RDA value vocabularies. Work is continuing on making the RDA data model, data elements and values available for use in a machine readable form which is consistent with semantic web standards, such as the RDF: Resource description framework. The work the JSC is doing on relationships will feed into this, as they allow for statements to be made about resources in the form of subject‐predicate‐object expressions, called triples (Dunsire, 2008).

Preparing for RDA

RDA will be released in late 2009, and there will be a period of testing and evaluation before it is implemented in 2010. Between now and implementation there are many things you can be doing to prepare for implementing RDA.

Learning about FRBR and RDA

During the pre‐publication period, you should take the opportunity to gain some familiarity with RDA by reviewing the full draft and trying out the online product (Joint Steering Committee for Development of RDA, 2008b). Both the RDA Prospectus and the Introduction to RDA are good starting points (Joint Steering Committee for Development of RDA, 2008a). There are also a number of articles about RDA which provide a good introduction (e.g. Oliver, 2007; Chapman, 2008). Consulting the Frequently Asked Questions on the JSC site might also be useful. You should also familiarise yourself with the concepts and vocabulary found in FRBR.

Keeping up to date

The main place to find information about RDA implementation in Australia is the ACOC (Australian Committee on Cataloguing) website. The site will provide a range of information relevant to RDA implementation in Australia. It provides a list of FAQs, information about scheduled training courses and presentations, links to relevant presentations and articles, as well as the latest information on implementation dates, product pricing and availability.

There is also an email discussion list which provides Australian libraries with a mechanism for asking questions about and commenting on the full draft and the online product and about implementation related issues. In addition to these activities, regular notices about RDA will appear in future issues of In‐Cite and other journals.

Implementation strategy

Internationally, the National Library of Australia is working with the Library of Congress, British Library, Library and Archives Canada and the National Library of Australia to develop implementation strategies and coordinate implementation dates.

Locally, the National Library of Australia is also working with ACOC, ALIA, library schools and training bodies to develop a national implementation strategy, which is intended to assist Australian libraries with their own implementation plans. This includes developing shareable workflows and documentation, sharing information about changes to library systems, and developing training tools and documents.MARC and system changes

Most RDA data elements will be incorporated into the existing MARC 21 structure, and we are working with the MARC community to put through proposals for changes to that standard to incorporate new RDA elements.

The JSC are also keeping library systems vendors aware of what’s happening, so they can prepare to implement changes to their products, for example changes to their tag tables and indexes. You should speak to your library system vendor about how they plan to incorporate RDA into their software. In addition to talking about the MARC changes, you might also ask if they are planning any changes to catalogue displays.

The National Library of Australia will shortly be issuing a document outlining the system changes that will be required to implement RDA. This information will assist you in your discussions with your system vendor. Some changes to library systems will also be required to be able to import RDA records from and export records to databases such as Libraries Australia, Te Puna and WorldCat. For those libraries that either purchase records or use external cataloguing providers, you will also need to talk to your vendor about RDA


Although RDA will incorporate training aids, such as a concordance with AACR2 as well as comprehensive search facilities and workflows, it is expected that many cataloguers will  require some formal training. The National Library of Australia will work with existing training providers and library schools to ensure that relevant training courses are available. Details of training courses provided throughout Australia and New Zealand will be publicised on the ACOC website and on the various list serves as the information becomes available.

Purchasing RDA

The pricing structure and subscription model for RDA will be announced early in 2009. The publishers are currently examining a variety of models for RDA pricing, taking into account factors such as usage, size of library, consortial licences, educational licenses, etc. The Library of Congress also hopes to incorporate RDA into Cataloger’s Desktop, as it has done with AACR. Pricing information will be widely disseminated as soon as its available.


Although the changes in RDA are significant, RDA is nevertheless founded on the strengths of its predecessor, AACR. The move to RDA is an important and necessary step in building better catalogues and resource discovery systems for the future. These are exciting times to be working in the area of resource description and resource discovery.


Austlit: the Australian literature resource. Viewed 28 November, 2008.

Ayres, Marie‐Louise (2004) “Implementation of FRBR Concepts in Austlit and other projects”.
Paper presented to the ACOC seminar Revolution or Evolution? The impact of FRBR.
 Viewed 28 November 2008.

Babeu, Alison (2008) Building a “FRBR‐Inspired” Catalog: The Perseus Digital Library
Experience. Viewed 16 December 2008.

Chapman, Ann (2008) RDA: a cataloguing code for the 21st century. Viewed 27 November 2008.

Danskin, Alan (2008) Putting RDA: Resource Description and Access into context, Viewed 27 November 2008.

Delsey, Tom (2007) RDA Database Implementation Scenarios, Viewed 27 November 2008.

Dunsire, Gordon (2007) “Distinguishing Content from Carrier: The RDA/ONIX Framework
for Resource Categorization” in D‐Lib magazine Vol. 13, No. 1/2, January/February 2007.
. Viewed 13 October 2008.

Dunsire, Gordon (2008) RDA vocabularies and concepts. Presented at the IFLA Satellite
Meeting on RDA August 8, 2008, Québec City, Canada, Viewed 28 November, 2008.

IFLA Cataloguing Section. FRBR Review Group. (2007) FRBR Bibliography. Viewed 28 November 2008.

IFLA Working Group on Functional Requirements and Numbering of Authority Records
(FRANAR) (2008) Functional Requirements for Authority Data: A Conceptual Model. Viewed 27 November 2008.

IFLA Working Group on Functional Requirements for Subject Authority Records (FRSAR)
(2008) Viewed 27 November 2008.

IFLA Study Group on the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (1997)
Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records: Final Report. Viewed 27 November 2008.

Joint Steering Committee for Development of RDA (2007) Strategic plan for RDA
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Joint Steering Committee for Development of RDA (2008a) RDA Prospectus, Viewed 27 November 2008.

Joint Steering Committee for Development of RDA (2008b) Full draft of RDA. Viewed 27 November 2008.

Kiorgaard, Deirdre (2008) “Designing metadata for resource discovery”. Paper presented at
the ACOC seminar RDA: next generation cataloguing standard; Viewed 28 November 2008.

Markey, Karen (2007) “The online library catalog : paradise lost and paradise regained?” in DLib magazine, Vol. 13, no. 1/2, January/February 2007. Viewed 13 October, 2008.

Music Australia. Viewed 13 October, 2008. OCLC. OCLC Research Activities and IFLAʹs Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records. Viewed 28 November, 2008.

Oliver, Chris (2007) ‘Changing to RDA” in Feliciter Vol. 53, No. 5, 2007. Viewed 27 November 2008.

Rajapatirana, Bemal (2004) “Application of FRBR in Australiaʹs National Bibliographic
Database” Paper presented to the ACOC seminar Revolution or Evolution? The impact of
FRBR. Viewed 28 November 2008.

VTLS (2008) Enriched User Searching : FRBR as the Next Dimension in Meaningful Information Retrieval, Viewed 15 December 2008.