Style

One of the ‘Principles’ of RDA is ‘Uniformity’ (RDA 0.4.3.8). RDA’s Introduction provides a self-referential definition, but we don’t really need it – the idea is easy to understand. Uniformity has always been an aim of cataloguing practice – we try to make our bibliographical records internally consistent and replicate the same principles of description across them. MARC hampers the former aim, but AACR2, by deferring to the Chicago Manual of Style and Webster’s New International Dictionary, led to a long-desired terminological grounding and stylistic universality.

RDA, notoriously, defers to the cataloguer’s judgment and the convenience of the user. It recognizes the fact of local policy definitions, and it authorizes them: ‘If the agency creating the data has established in-house guidelines for capitalization, punctuation, numerals, symbols, abbreviations, etc., or has designated a published style manual, etc…. as its preferred guide, use those guidelines or that style manual in the place of the instructions given under 1.7.2 – 1.7.9 and in the appendices.’ RDA offers itself as a style guide while simultaneously inciting cataloguers to defy it.

In other words, anything goes. Local policies should only be necessary to resolve ambiguities. LCRIs did that for AACR2. But attempts to cleanse the catalogue of grammatical ugliness, the stylistic preferences of other nations, abbreviations unfamiliar to the man on the Clapham Omnibus, or personal peeves, are all roads to hell. The conceit of cataloguers, cataloguing divisions, and the scribes of RDA to know more about style than the writers of the world’s most definitive style guide is astounding. And it is the enemy of uniformity.