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Incorporating RDA practices into WorldCat

A discussion paper


This discussion paper assumes that the library community moves forward with the implementation of RDA: Resource Description and Access, an implementation that is currently envisioned to take place no earlier than January 1, 2013. It proposes a number of policies that may be put in place and actions that may be undertaken as part of incorporating RDA practices more fully into WorldCat. It also attempts to balance the dual roles of WorldCat as a catalog and as a repository of bibliographic data.

Initially, these proposed policies and actions are primarily focused on English-language-of-cataloging records that are created and maintained online by OCLC member libraries. As translations of RDA become available and as national libraries beyond the Anglo-American community make their policy decisions public, OCLC will expand these policy statements and action plans.

The paper is being made available for OCLC member libraries to comment on these potential policies and actions. Please send comments to by 15 April 2012.


Following the formal adoption of RDA: Resource Description and Access by the three national libraries in the United States, many libraries will begin creating only RDA records. This raises the question as to how to best deal with all the existing or legacy records found in WorldCat created under older rules.

Legacy records need to be made as functional as possible in the future RDA environment to benefit the greatest number of catalogers and catalog end users as possible. This paper outlines a proposed policy to accomplish that goal.


In the transition from Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR) to Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, 2nd edition (AACR2) in January 1981 these same kinds of issues also existed. At that time, many catalogs were card based, changes were very costly and difficult to make. As a result changes were essentially limited to updating headings. Recataloging was possible but not necessarily encouraged.

Over time, practice has become more liberal with regard to including data constructed according to AACR2 in pre-AACR2 records. For example, it has become routine when cataloging microforms to clone a print version record then add a reproduction note with its bibliographic details formulated according to AACR2 while the cloned record itself is not changed to AACR2.

Economy and Efficiency

Some catalogers have asked if it would be easier or preferable to retain all data “as is” in pre-RDA records. That would also include correcting or updating records in accord with the rules under which those items were cataloged. To do so requires that catalogers and OCLC staff must retain detailed knowledge of older rules and previous practices in order to apply them to pre-RDA records when additions and changes are needed. As new staff members begin work in cataloging, they would need to be trained in both current and older rules. It would be more efficient if staff focused instead on learning a single standard, RDA.

OCLC uses macros and other software to maintain bibliographic records found in WorldCat. To retain data intact in records cataloged under older rules, programs require additional logic and more code to treat various records differently. For example, in 300 $a, a program would need to correct p. to pages in an RDA record, but correct pages to p. in an AACR2 record. There seems to be little benefit to adjusting the same kind of data to two different forms.

OCLC’s Duplicate Detection and Resolution Program already considers many variations in which the same information can be expressed in bibliographic records. However, record matching is more effective whenever bibliographic data in records being compared is expressed in the same way. Uniformity of the data facilitates automated processing.

The end user of the catalog typically does not know and does not care about which cataloging rules were used in the creation of bibliographic records. The end user needs to be presented with data that can be easily read and correctly interpreted. To that end, use of spelled out forms in RDA removes ambiguities or confusion created by the use of abbreviations. Similarly, the use of English language terms in RDA in place of Latin terms used in older rules removes ambiguities. For example, [ Place of publication not identified] is clearer to end users than [ S.l.] or [ N.p.].

Proposed Future Cataloging Policy for Member Contribution to WorldCat after RDA Implementation

  • Catalogers are not required to update or upgrade existing records to RDA.
  • Catalogers may re-catalog items according to RDA if it is considered useful. Such recataloging should only be done with access to the item. All descriptive fields would need to be reconsidered and revised to conform to RDA instructions. The revised record would then be changed to Desc (Leader/18) coded as c or i as appropriate with 040 $e rda added.
  • Catalogers may update individual fields in pre-RDA records to reflect RDA practices if it is considered useful. Fields involving the transcription of data require access to the item in order to change transcribed data. The partially changed record would retain the indication of the rules under which it was initially cataloged, i.e., no changes would be made to the coding of Desc (Leader/18) and 040 $e would not be added or changed.
  • Catalogers should use access points as established in the authority file, whether those forms are coded as RDA or AACR2.

Changing Pre-RDA Records

Specific changes include:

Content, Media, and Carrier Types

Fields 336, 337, and 338 allow for the recording of content, media, and carrier types using controlled terminology. It can be used to trigger the display of icons or labels using the same or alternate terms. If that data is to be useful in catalogs it needs to be on all records, not just new records created under RDA. OCLC will develop programming to add these fields wherever possible. However, catalogers may also add these fields whenever it is considered useful.

General Material Designations

Field 245 $h would no longer be input under RDA, and catalogers making use of copy cannot depend on it appearing in records. Some libraries have been very creative with the terminology used in 245 $h, and OCLC staff currently spend time identifying and correcting invalid GMDs. Rather than continue correcting GMDs the usefulness of which will quickly diminish, it would be better to eliminate them completely when replacing them with data in 336, 337, and 338 fields. Catalogers may also remove General Material Designations whenever they supply fields 336, 337, and 338.

Access Points

Additional access points called for under RDA instructions may be added to older records. Additional access points do not have to be represented in any existing notes or statements of responsibility.

Statements of Responsibility

Catalogers may also revise statements of responsibility in older records to record additional names optionally called for under RDA instructions.

Abbreviations in the Language of the Cataloging Agency

Abbreviations of non-transcribed elements may be converted to spelled-out forms. In field 300 in English language based cataloging, for example, end users would be better served by seeing illustrations versus ill. or illus., portraits versus ports., volumes versus v., etc.

Latin Abbreviations

Latin abbreviations may be converted to their spelled-out non-Latin language forms. For example in English language based cataloging, end users would be better served by seeing [ and others] versus … [ et al.], [ publisher not identified] versus [ s.n.], approximately versus ca., etc.


Practice regarding the input of brackets changes under RDA so that individual elements are separately bracketed rather than combined with adjacent bracketed elements, e.g., 260 [S.l. : $b s.n., $c 1960?] would be formulated as 260 [Place of publication not identified] : $b [publisher not identified], $c [1960?] instead. RDA practice for input of brackets may be used when working with non-RDA records.

Parallel Records

RDA-based changes may be made to records cataloged in English as well as in other languages of cataloging as coded in 040 $b, as long as the language of cataloging is retained and respected.

Future OCLC Changes

OCLC envisions potentially making some widespread changes to existing records in WorldCat including a number of those outlined above. Such efforts would be oriented toward reducing the need for catalogers to make similar changes as well as making the records more useful in the RDA environment. This activity would supplement other data quality efforts such as authority control, duplicate detection, etc.

Retaining Changes to Existing Records

Once an individual element in an older record has been changed to reflect RDA practice, it should not be changed back to a pre-RDA form even though the record is still coded AACR2 or earlier rules. When performing copy cataloging, catalogers may locally edit these elements to reflect earlier rules but the master record should not be changed.


OCLC welcomes your comments on these potential policies and actions. In addition, your thoughts on any other possible policies in regard to bibliographic records and RDA are also welcome. Please send comments to by 15 April 2012. Policy decisions in regard to RDA for OCLC, based on member input, will be announced at least 3 months prior to RDA implementation.