By Your Powers Combined… An Argument for a Coupled Implementation of RDA and DACS

As a child raised in the 1990′s, I religiously watched the television show Captain Planet. In essence, the show follows five children, known as Planeteers, who gallivant across the world to defend Earth, educate others on saving the environment, and counteract destructive pollution. For tasks too cumbersome for the youths to complete, they must combine their individual powers (through their magical rings) to enact change. With the help of Captain Planet, the united children defeat the world’s villains, protecting their world from the harmful toxins that threatened to permeate the scene. As Captain Planet reminds us: with combined efforts, “The Power Is Yours!”

Surely the cataloging world finds itself in similar need of rescue from the various types of pollution it holds: without some movement towards catalog standardization in this digital era, information exchange is clouded, affecting the institution, material access and the user. However, recent progressions in description standards indicate a possibility in unifying library and archives—and in decontaminating the murkiness currently found in both method and access. Could this be the catalog’s metaphorical Captain Planet?

The archival community entered a new age after the implementation of FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records). After a 1990 consortium of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, participants agreed that a change was needed in the cataloging world: redundancy in catalogs, as well as advancements in technology and the ability to link or share information, had to be addressed in a new system (Picco 625), and above all, catalogs should promote user accessibility and needs (Trebbe 6). When FRBR finally arrived in the late 1990′s, it brought with it an efficiency and improved mapping of relationships through its implementation of the work—expression—manifestation—item line: for instance, “creating a single Work record for the original helps eliminate data redundancy and improve accuracy and completeness” (McGrath et al 52). This was clearly the case with OCLC, which estimated that under the FRBR model, it could automatically create authority records for 80 percent of WorldCat’s 40 million records, thus limiting in-depth work to less than 20 percent of the items (Tillet 6).

In late 2008, a preliminary edition of Resource Description and Access (RDA) represented the first step towards a multi-national integration of the FRBR model with cataloging code—as well as the intended replacement of AACR2 (Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, Second Edition). In fact, RDA incorporated numerous improvements upon its predecessor, from addressing outdated or inconsistent descriptions/terms to consideration and inclusion of various technologies—and finally, to an effort in bridging the gap between traditional library and archival resources. One of the most influential changes incorporated into RDA was the addition of the “content, carrier, and media type” in place of the non-descriptive GMD (General Material Designator) used in AACR2—a positive element for identifying and accessing moving images. To be sure, RDA represents a much-needed progression—bringing the cataloging community out of 1978 (the year AACR2 was introduced) and into the digital present.

In addition to the mentioned, another weakness of AACR2 fell in its inability to properly provide cataloging instructions for archival materials—instead catering rules to “general libraries of all sizes” (DACS vi). Describing Archives: A Content Standard was created for this reason: to provide “more specific guidance in the description of contemporary archival materials,” as well as coding information tailored to archival aspects that were lacking in AACR2 (ibid). Significantly, DACS addresses the challenges that film archives face: for instance, as explained by Michael Rush (et al), DACS “helps a film archives bridge the gap between traditional ways of describing moving images at the item level and the need to describe bulk aggregations lacking formal titles” (212).

However, RDA—now in its elementary stages of implementation—also contains its share of vagueness in language and practice. While not written specifically for RDA, DACS offers a more succinct direction in how to approach such cases. For this reason, coupling RDA and DACS for archival description will promote the strongest cataloging consistency, subsequently adding to approachability on the user’s end. Furthermore, their dual implementation has the potential to positively influence the moving image catalog in distributable, normalized descriptions. By their powers combined, RDA and DACS can promote a needed standardization in the archival strain without limiting the user or archive’s needs, while also preparing the catalog for inevitable transitions into the future.


Power One: RDA

Untitled1American Libraries published an article in December 2007 that discussed RDA—but in all reality, “discussed” is a euphemism. Rather, the article’s author, Michael Gorman (editor of AACR2), presented a scathing review of RDA in comparison to AACR2. In it, he damns FRBR as a foundation for cataloging code, calling it “the witches’ brew of ignorance, neophilia, and the exaltation of theory over practice that has given birth to the draft RDA,” and additionally laments RDA’s projected abilities in web integration, explaining instead that it abandons standard cataloging to appease the “metadata crowd and boogie-woogie Google boys.” One must wonder if Gorman was trying to offer a valuable critique, or simply defend his work from becoming obsolete.

A sector of the library world has responded similar to Gorman, with a tumultuous energy toward the changes at hand (Copeland 14). However, such a response has not been equally observed from archival or museum community, who, as Karen Coyle and Diane Hillmann remark in D-Lib Magazine, “considered themselves marginalized by AACR2.” In fact, “perhaps due to these disappointments,” writes Cory Nimer,

“…Some archivists appear to have once more concluded that the differences between archival and library practice are insuperable, and that the archival community should pursue its own course in developing descriptive and authority systems. At the same time, leaders in the library world have felt an increasing need to reach out to other communities to build metadata frameworks and descriptive standards that will encourage collaboration. One of the most significant efforts toward this goal has been in the development of Resource Description and Access” (228).

To reiterate: RDA, while seen as a radical progression, represents a beneficial move towards integrated cataloging methods for both libraries and archives. While RDA will certainly initially create more descriptive work for cataloguers, what is good for users should be—and is—the primary concern in this framework.

One of the most pertinent differences in RDA is its consideration and accommodation of resources that institutions house today—including non-text, unpublished, duplicate or alternative text materials. In this expanded view, moving image archives represent one of the many archival institutions that will be positively and significantly affected by RDA. Furthermore, RDA specifically revises the standards in which audiovisual material is described, thus largely impacting description and access for both archives and for researchers concerned with audiovisual collections: two of the most noteworthy elements of revision include the replacement of the General Material Designator (GMD) in AACR2, as well as the addition of clear relationship designators.


Advantages of RDA for the Moving Image Archive

Distinctly, RDA replaces GMD in AACR2 with more extensive requirements of description. GMD, in summary, is meant to express the form in which a non-print material is presented (refer to 1.1C), but is unspecific in its terminology and placement. This information, however, is accounted for by RDA with its replacement of GMD with content, carrier and media type, which allow the cataloger to explicitly express video format, broadcasts, regional encoding, aspect ratio, system requirements, subtitling, and other distinguishing details regarding moving image materials.

While similar data could certainly be recorded within the framework of AACR2, it problematically could not serve as an access point for the user. To explain: information concerning image or sound characteristics, including specifics on format, is limited to a non-descriptive, generalized note section (MARC 500) or to the title. Subsequently, this devaluation of information could negatively proliferate search returns and deter from a meaningful display of information (Oliver 50). Most disconcerting is that this information is optional within AACR2, creating a potential for confusion in varied materials with identical titles.

Another problem with GMD is its limited and outdated language. According to Library of Congress standards, GMD descriptors are identified as the following: electronic resource, filmstrip, graphic, microform, motion picture, slide, sound recording, transparency, and videorecording. Additionally, LC restricts this use to the title field. Each of these forms do not contain specificity in identification; for instance,“videorecording,” a term used by GMD, does not specify whether the item is a Bluray, VHS, DVD, Laserdisk, or otherwise—and such information may be strongly useful to a researcher. While individual institutions have opted to include such information in the title, librarian Lynne LeGrow writes, “My library uses $h[videorecording (DVD)] for DVDs. When searching for copy I have also seen just $h[videorecording] ; $h[DVD videorecording] ; $h[DVD] and $h[videodisc].” Because such descriptors are not controlled within AACR2, the decision to include carrier type presents an opportunity for further disorganization within the catalog, concurrently demoting access or ease of use.

Figure 2: A comparison of GMD and  Content/Carrier/Media Type (Schiff 11).
Figure 2: A comparison of GMD and
Content/Carrier/Media Type (Schiff 11).

RDA takes significant steps forward in ameliorating these hitches by accommodating for specific fields of entry in the carrier, media and content format, and by providing a much-needed update in terminology. Content—defined as a categorization reflecting the “fundamental form of communication in which the content is expressed and the human sense through which it is intended to be perceived,” also reflecting “the number of spatial dimensions” (—is placed at the expression level. The term two dimensional moving image accounts for motion pictures (including animation and live-action), film or video recordings and video games; three dimensional moving image refers to the same sources, expressed through 3D. Perhaps the lesser used content identifier for moving image archives is the cartographic moving image, or “cartographic content expressed through images intended to be perceived as moving, in two dimensions. Includes satellite images of the Earth or other celestial bodies in motion” ( Content is considered a core element—it must be included in the description of any material; it extends past audiovisual material to text, still images, computer programs, sounds, and performed music, among others. Thus, the advantage to clarifying content type in RDA versus AACR2 is, once again, its flexibility in promoting access to a desired, specific type of material—especially for moving image— as well as a consistency in communicating those objects (Oliver 50-51). Furthermore, compliance to this method helps define FRBR relationships and identities, since, as Chris Oliver explains, “a difference in content type signals a different expression” (51).

Carrier type, another core element, helps to continue FRBRized relationship, since a differentiation in carrier indicates a different manifestation. According to RDA, carrier type “reflects the format of the storage medium and housing of a carrier in combination with the type of intermediation device required to view, play, run, etc., the content of a resource.” Necessary information may be obtained from observation of the object itself, or from what contains the element (i.e. the DVD, or the DVD case); RDA also allows for additional information to be obtained from alternative sources if needed. In a most improved fashion, RDA accommodates for new progressions in audio and visual elements of moving images. For instance, section 3.16 (Sound Characteristics) adds “surround” to the list of descriptions for configuration of playback—previously consisting only of mono, stereo, and quad—and eliminates “sound” as the primary descriptor in these cases to avoid confusion, instead replacing it with “audio.” If considered important for identification or selection, components of carrier type are required, even if the descriptions come standard to the object: this means that material may be searched by presentation format ( Cinerama, IMAX, multiscreen, Panavision, standard silent aperture, standard sound aperture, stereoscopic, or 3D for instance) or by projection speed (indicated in fps—frames per second). Importantly, RDA allows for wiggle room here as well, indicating that if the suggested terms are not “sufficiently specific,” a cataloger may “use a term designating the presentation format as concisely as possible.” As a major improvement from AACR2, RDA uniquely adjusts instructions for video ( Beta, Betacam, 8 mm, U-matic, VHS, for example), broadcast ( HDTV, NTSC, PAL, or SECAM), and encoding ( Blu-Ray, DVD video, and MPEG-4, for example) formats.

RDA’s carrier description standards (Section 3) also contain the following useful options for access points: media type (i.e. projected, video, audio, computer), equipment/system requirements (necessary elements for playback), and dimension details (for instance, film length: 4241.7 m).

As an introduction to “a brave new world of cataloging,” Dr. Jud Copeland examines the impact of the FRBR structure on RDA: the new descriptive standard “centers more heavily on the scope of representation,” which “enables the catalog to accommodate the interpretation and/or depiction of relationships between resources more readily within a dynamic library environment” in efforts of securing its intentions towards a digital environment (17-18). As previously mentioned, a model secured around a W-E-M-I scheme allows potential multiple access points for the user by placing the material in relation to the authority work.

This is particularly significant for archives containing audiovisual collections. Catalog rules were originally designed for a linear presentation (Coyle 2) of non-proliferated materials. But as technology has progressed, information institutions have been confronted with the “multiple versions problem,” finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish one format from another within the catalog (Coyle 3)—and this problem hits hard with moving image archives. Andrea Leigh explains:

“…it is not uncommon that a single exemplar of a work be released in numerous versions (or expressions)—e.g., the original release version, the director’s cut, the airline version, and so on—and exist as multiple manifestations—e.g., 35mm film, VHS, DVD, and so on” (42).

At last, RDA presents a practical solution. Leigh continues her discussion, presenting that through a FRBRized content description, “materials that share the same ideational content will be grouped together regardless of physical format,” which in end may “alleviate the frustration end users may have when selecting works that have proliferated” (34). In doing so, duplicate records within present catalogs may be eliminated, data may be re-used for similar titles, and users may more readily explore related sources.

Leigh is astute to point out that a W-E-M-I structure can aid user access and research while still allowing archives to prioritize their workflow by using descriptions at a collection level, which may “stand in temporarily for item level records until an archive has the resources to create them” while still “serving as an overview after itemized records are completed” (37). She reminds the reader that some materials in specific (i.e. home movies or outtakes) are “best described at the collection level, as researchers can better study individual items when each is examined as emerging from the larger context of the whole” (37), and furthermore may strengthen provenance by including significant parties (for instance, creators or corporate entities) as access points. This innovative approach infers working from the top, downwards—creating the framework for a web—rather than beginning at the item level and attempting to create connections from individual materials: a practice which certainly supports “more product, less process.”

Despite such constructive progressions, RDA has its fair share of vulnerabilities. For instance, the fact that RDA provides, in many cases, multiple alternatives for description (for instance, what to do when identifying information doesn’t appear on the resource, 2.2.4) can be both helpful as well as unsettling. RDA descriptions may fuel textual variations—a significant problem if such information is to be exchanged between institutions within the near future. In essence, “the FRBR model has given RDA a coherent theoretical structure; however, in the future…deficiencies may emerge. RDA was not defined as an isolated content standard” (Picco 638, emphasis mine). For this reason, it is compulsory to enlist the assistance of an established set of rules.

Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS) emerged—much like APPM—as an effort to flesh out skeletal description standards within AACR2; yet DACS was seen as revolutionary, given its nontraditional departures from several AACR2 standards, and the first concerted effort in addressing significant issues within AACR2 (Whittaker 99-100). But despite the differences between RDA and AACR2, both contain descriptive ambiguities and require assistance in simplifying their metadata. As Beth Whittaker suggests in reference to RDA, “DACS can provide a common ground for archivists, catalogers, and other personnel to look for efficiencies and improvements in the process, an area that some in the profession have identified as a pressing need.”

Power Two: DACS to the Rescue!

DACS was, in fact, used as a founding principle and conceptual model for RDA; for instance, interoperable metadata, output neutrality, elimination of abbreviations, broadened scope, and focus on relationships in RDA are clearly visions inspired by DACS (Whitaker 100). Complete integration between RDA and DACS, however, was not attempted; this was perhaps conducted to promote flexibility (seen as a strength by the Joint Steering Committee), but when standardization and exchange of information in a digital atmosphere are significant end goals, a more detailed approach is required.

As Erik Mitchell muses, “perhaps Wacker et al. [from “Testing resource description and access with Non-MARC metadata standards” in Cataloging Classification Quarterly], put it best when observing that a cataloger who compared RDA and DACS, while impressed with the growing similarity between the two, did not feel compelled to move away from the DACS standard for archival description” (80). By subscribing to an intentional and continued use of DACS alongside RDA, a cataloguer opts for standardization and disbursement of reliable information. This is particularly evident when adopting DACS’ approach to unidentified moving images and single-level added descriptions.

It is not uncommon for moving images to arrive at an archive without identification: the Library of Congress, for instance, houses upwards of 1,000 unidentified films (Stone 1). For cases in which necessary information is not available from the object’s container or labeled on/embedded in the film, the archivist is instructed to inspect its visual contents, searching for title frames or screens. In the case that this is not available, RDA ( instructs the cataloguer to use as the preferred source of information another source forming part of the resource itself, giving preference to sources in which the information is formally presented. This information is transferred to a devised title, which RDA ( explains is a) the nature of the resource, b) the subject of the resource, or c) a combination of both.

As a theoretical example: the Granholm Archive has just acquired a collection of home movies with no identifying titles or labels. However, upon inspection, the archivist finds that the films are Ryan Gosling’s family’s home movies, filmed on a vacation to Disneyland. Per RDA’s rules, the cataloger may elect to use one of the following titles:

  • Home movies
  • Disneyland
  • Home movies of Disneyland
  • Ryan Gosling home movies of Disneyland

Conceptually, it seems obvious that selecting one title over another may eliminate a key term or attribute for the contained work, possibly shielding the resource from potential access.

However, the Granholm Archive’s cataloger wisely chooses to consult DACS 2.3 on Title Elements, which requires a collector/creator name and nature of the materials, and options the use of the archival unit’s topic. Given these rules, the first three devised titles of RDA are eliminated; thus, the proper title—which discernably aids access most efficiently—is Ryan Gosling home movies of Disneyland. A similar process of refinement can be conducted for a film’s creator relationships, dates, related materials, scope/content, and governing access—among others. Advantageously, a narrowed Untitled3selection of access points increases the likelihood of valuable, precise search results.

DACS presents another benefit to moving image archives though its comprehensive standards on collection-level description (known as “single-level added description” in DACS). As noted on page 10, collection-level cataloging allows moving image archives to prioritize workflow without sacrificing access to the user. Michael Rush, et al., describes the UCLA Film and Television Archive’s experience using DACS: when faced with a collection containing both the home movies and commercial films of Harold Lloyd, the staff opted to catalog the commercial films Untitled4at an item-level, but describe the hundreds of home movies “based on the principle of provenance following guidelines established in DACS,” in turn creating one catalog record (224). While RDA allows for collection-level cataloging, DACS specifies what elements are required, and furthermore, provides assistance in determining what the optimum description may contain.


The Combined Powers: Looking to the Future

As indicated, coupling RDA and DACS presents catalogers with a precise—yet still flexible—standard for content description. However, given that RDA is still in its initial stages of implementation, compromises between the two for best practice will be inevitable, especially in concern to the juncture between archival and library description. Cody Nimer, BYU’s Manuscripts Cataloger, acknowledges the probable chasm: “For archivists, RDA provides greater opportunities for recording characteristics and attributes of archival materials and creators. For librarians, DACS provides more detailed instructions (and examples) for describing archival materials.” In end, continued collaboration between the two communities (and two standards) will be required if RDA is intended to be a valid replacement to AACR2.

It is clear, however, that the two sources successfully advocate for a post-MARC catalog: as highlighted in several case studies, “testers who applied RDA in non-MARC environments, RDA’s inclusion of family names, removal of encoding rules (e.g., use of square brackets) and elimination of abbreviations brought RDA and DACS standards into closer alignment” (Mitchell 75). This given, advancement into XML represents tremendous opportunities in ease of use to the cataloger and user alike. “Will RDA kill MARC?” asked Kelly McGrath in a MARC Formats Group presentation; she responded, “I don’t know, but I hope it will.” In consideration of necessary progressions presented in RDA, and the present limitations of MARC, RDA may “finally tip the balance in favor of changing data formats despite the inevitable pain and cost” (McGrath).

Even with the immense improvements from AACR2 to RDA, catalogers must make a concerted effort in mindfully anticipating how their practices and descriptions will affect future use and access. Furthermore, they must be open to borrowing from and integrating additional descriptive standards, especially if it will aid further standardization and normalize information exchange. As Beth Whitaker reminds us: “any effort to revise descriptive standards must balance the historical value and proven results of our rules with the promise of the future. DACS succeeds in doing this for archival materials, while still retaining a refreshing simplicity and brevity. We might hope descriptive standards for library materials could achieve the same.”



Works Cited

Copeland, Jud. “RDA and FRBR: A Brave New World in Cataloging.” Arkansas Libraries (2010): 1-19. Print.

Coyle, Karen, and Diane Hillmann. “Resource Description and Access (RDA).” D-Lib Magazine 13.1/2 (2007): n. pag. Print.

Describing Archives: A Content Standard. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2008. Print.

LeGrow, Lynne. “How RDA Will Affect GMD.” A Portal to My Cataloguing Aids Website. N.p., 15 July 2009. Web. 23 Mar. 2013.

Leigh, Andrea. “Context! Context! Context! Describing Moving Images at the Collection Level.” The Moving Image 6.1 (2006): 33-65. Print.

McGrath, Kelley. “Will RDA Kill MARC?” MARC Formats Interest Group. ALA Midwinter 2011. Lecture.

Mitchell, Erik. “Is RDA Ready?: An Analysis of Case Studies on RDA Testing.” Technical Service Quarterly 30.1 (2013): 70-82. Print.

Nimer, Cory. “RDA and Archives.” Journal of Archival Organization 8.3 (2010): 227-43. Print.

Picco, Paola, and Virginia Ortiz Repiso. “The Contribution of FRBR to the Identification of Bibliographic Relationships: The New RDA-Based Ways of Representing Relationship in Catalogs.” Cataloging and Classification Quarterly 50.5-7 (2012): 622-40. Print.

Rush, Michael, Lynn Holdzkom, Prudence Backman, Daniel A. Santamaria, and Andrea Leigh. “Applying DACS to Finding Aids: Case Studies from Three Diverse Repositories.” The American Archivist 71 (2008): 210-27. Print.

Schiff, Adam. “Changes from AACR2 to RDA: A Comparison of Examples.” 2010 BC Library Conference. Penticton. Lecture.

Stone, Rob. Best of Mostly Lost. N.p.: n.p., n.d. DOC.

Whittaker, Beth M. “DACS and RDA: Insights and Questions from the New Archival Description Standard.” Library Resources and Technical Services 51 (2007): 98-105. Print.