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My book, Cataloging and Managing Film and Video Collections, was published by the American Library Association a couple of weeks ago. The press release can be found here.

At its heart, the book is a practical guide to cataloguing DVDs and Blu-ray Discs using MARC 21 and RDA, though many of the principles are applicable to AACR2 cataloguing too. Descriptive practices are also offered for video-cassettes, photochemical film, and streaming video.

Additionally, the publication offers advice on collection development, classification, conservation, and legal issues. It also aims to provide librarians with a primer on film itself, and contains a history of film and its formats, as well as information about the practical, intellectual, artistic and dramatic features of contemporary film production.

Copies can be purchased through the ALA Store, or any of the usual outlets, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

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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.

Beginnings

AACR2 begins: ‘These rules are designed for use in the construction of catalogues and other lists in general libraries of all sizes.’ RDA offers: ‘RDA provides a set of guidelines and instructions on recording data to support resource discovery.’

The differences are instructive. AACR2 offers straightforward advice to librarians on constructing catalogues through the application of rules. Discretion is implicit in the word ‘rules’, which in common parlance are both broken and bent. But it also appeals to the enduring, imperishable, and magistral. Capitalized and collated with Saints and Popes the first rules defined the body of regulations observed by religious orders.

RDA is both more and less prescriptive, offering normative instruction – if you don’t follow instructions, things don’t work – and figurative lines to guide librarians. Its vocabulary is contemporary. As a linguistic device ‘resource discovery’ feels both unsatisfyingly vague and, in its sudden rise to prominence, destined for occlusion by a new memetic coinage. ‘Data’ is the oddest choice of all. Data are comprised of large numbers of small units of information, usually numeric, typically scientific. As a plural noun overwhelmingly used as a singular it is a word of uncommon dispute. Data are not naturally the stuff of bibliographical description.