RDA, LRM, and Agents in Wonderland

Illustration by John Tenniel

RDA Toolkit, the paid online portal to the Resource Description & Access standard, is undergoing its first major redesign and enhancement since the website debuted in 2010.  The RDA Toolkit Restructure and Redesign (3R) Project was first announced in October 2016, with rollout of the revamped site originally slated for April 2018.  But as can happen, “unexpected obstacles” have pushed the target date back to June 13, 2018, at the time of this post.

Beyond retooling the look and feel of the site, the 3R project is also expected to incorporate elements of IFLA’s Library Reference Model (LRM) into RDA standards.  One proposed LRM change gleefully anticipated by catalogers at my public library concerns the treatment of fictional characters.  Since 2013, RDA has permitted the names of fictitious and legendary characters to be used as “creator” access points in bibliographic records, a practice patently discouraged under AACR2 “main entry” guidelines.  In addition, under current RDA guidelines new and existing fictitious characters are established (or can be converted) in the name authority file in the same manner as real persons, using MARC 100 field rather than 150 with no special qualifier, to facilitate use of their names as descriptive access points.

While a welcome change in certain cases—think Geronimo Stilton—this has also resulted in lots of inconsistent copy cataloging and massive amounts of bibliographic and authority file maintenance to change entries.  One recent, dubious example was a change to author tracings for the popular “Dear Dumb Diary” series:

100  Benton, Jim [real guy]
650  Kelly, Jamie (Fictitious character)

was changed to:

100  Kelly, Jamie
700  Benton, Jim [despite the fact that Benton is still named prominently in the works]

In a nutshell, our best understanding in LRM-speak is that, come 2018, only “agents” may be authorized as creators, and only real human beings/persons can be agents.  (This relates to concepts such as “nomen,” “res,” and other Latin terms I swear we were trying to stop using…. )  There’s also speculation that authority records modified under RDA may need to be updated yet again, to ensure that a fictitious character is clearly identified as such somewhere in the authority record if they’re not a real human being.  Job security!

Meanwhile, we’ll continue to look forward to unwrapping the shiny new RDA Toolkit promised in 2018, and trying to figure out whether Bain or Fletcher really authored the “Murder, She Wrote” books.  Happy solstice!

– Michael Christian-Budd

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