RDA new cataloguing rules

Why new rules, and what has it got to do with me?

Resource Description and Access (RDA) is the cataloguing standard being introduced to replace Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, second edition (AACR2). National Library of Australia has announced that it will implement RDA in early 2013 (Australian Committee on Cataloguing n.d.). RDA will initially impact on cataloguers, and in the longer term will shape how end users of catalogues and discovery systems find the information they require. Therefore it is important for all people working in the library and information industry to have some understanding of the purpose of RDA and its implications for the library catalogue.

Cataloguing standards

Catalogues have been a core part of a library’s activity for centuries, assisting individuals to locate information to suit their needs. Over this time, catalogues have been developed, updated, revised and recreated to meet customer needs. Standards were created to ensure consistency within and across catalogues, again with the intention of making information discovery easier for users. Most library staff understand the basics of the cataloguing standards: they are able to recognise the elements of a record and use the author, subject and title access points to conduct searches. So while they may not know the rules that dictate the layout of a catalogue record, or understand the nuances of classification standard subdivisions, library staff are able to interpret the end result for their users.

AACR2 is the current standard for creating bibliographic descriptions and added entries. AACR has been around since 1967, and underwent a major revision in 1978 (Welsh & Bately 2012, p.5). Since then there have been updates, but no major revisions. These rules were developed with card catalogues in mind, where search results were organised on cards filed behind standard, consistent headings; keyword searching had not yet appeared. The item being catalogued was physically present, and all the catalogue data needed to fit onto 3 x 5 inch cards.

Need for change

Along came computers, keyword searching and innovative and interactive ways to display search. The range of resource formats being catalogued broadened to include electronic and digital technologies, with cataloguing of items for which there is no physical presence other than a link to a computer file. Items or works were available to patrons in a number of formats: eg print, digital, audio, large print and braille. Planning for AACR revision 3 began in 2004 (Hart 2010, p. 2), and quickly it became evident to the Joint Steering Committee that a revision was not enough and transformation was required. Planning for RDA began in 2005, with the purpose statement: ‘RDA – Resource Description and Access will be a new standard for resource description and access, designed for the digital world.’ (Joint steering Committee for the Development of RDA 2007). To achieve this, RDA built on conceptual models for resource discovery developed in the 1990s and 2000s by IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions). RDA was released to the library community in 2010 for testing and feedback. RDA is presented in the form of an online resource called RDA Toolkit, with free trials available (RDA toolkit 2010).

Putting the user first

RDA has been developed with a clear focus on helping users find, identify, select and obtain the information required. This conforms with IFLA’s International Statement of Cataloguing Principles (2009 update) which states that the highest principle of a catalogue is the convenience of the user (Welsh & Bately 2012, p. 4).

Records will become more understandable to the user, through a simplification of the rules in RDA. There are new conventions such as:

  • no more Latin abbreviation like et al. (SCIS standards do not use this already)
  • fewer abbreviations
  • allowance for local cataloguing standards to meet the needs of the community
  • specific format descriptors for non-book and electronic resources
  • record information as it is presented on the item
  • record all authors and contributors.

While these changes are helpful, the real power of RDA is derived from the implementation of the new conceptual models for catalogues:

  • Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records focuses on what the user needs to find, identify, select and obtain.
  • Functional Requirements for Authority Data focuses on what the user needs to find, identify, contextualise and justify.

Once library management systems embrace these concepts and fully implement RDA, catalogues will truly be there for the convenience of the user.

Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR)

FRBR (sometimes pronounced fer-ber) is the ‘fairy godmother’ of RDA (Welsh and Bately p. xv). FRBR enables search results to be displayed in a simpler, clustered format making it easier for the user to locate the item required. This can be best explained using an example. Currently library management systems are based on catalogue records for individual items; that is, there is a separate record for each format of a work. A search for The Hobbit will list a number of format versions of the work, which must be scrolled through. Using a ‘FRBRised’ catalogue, all work titled The Hobbit will be clustered under one heading which can be expanded into formats (eg audio, print, ebook) and then further into editions and holdings. NLA’s Trove discovery screen is, what the NLA call, FRBR-like (National Library of Australia n.d.). A search for The Hobbit in Trove will initially bring one result, with the option to view all formats and editions.

A library management system that embeds RDA, along with FRBR and FRAD, can provide a very rewarding search experience for the user.

What now?

NLA will be implementing RDA in Libraries Australia in the first half of 2013. It is recommended that library and information staff inform themselves about these
exciting developments in catalogues, and remain aware of changes. The ACOC website is a great place to start:


Australian Committee on Cataloguing n.d., Implementation of RDA, Retrieved 31 August 2012 from

Hart, A. 2012, The RDA primer: a guide for the occasional cataloguer, Linworth, Santa Barbara, California

Joint steering Committee for the Development of RDA 2007 Strategic plan for RDA 2005–2009, Retrieved 3 September 2011 from

National Library of Australia n.d., Trove: guidelines for splitting and merging works. Retrieved 31 August 2012 from

RDA toolkit 2010, Take the RDA toolkit for a spin, Retrieved 31 August 2012 from

Welsh, A. & Bately, S. 2012, Practical cataloguing: AACR, RDA and MARC21, Facet, London

Box Hill Institute is running a series of three-hour workshops on RDA.
RDA overview and Understanding FRBR, are suited to all library staff. Specific sessions for cataloguers will also be offered: Using RDA toolkit, RDA/AACR2 comparisons, MARC21 and RDA. Email your expression of interest to Debra Hardy at

Renate Beilharz

Renate Beilharz 

Library and Information Studies
Box Hill Institute

SCIS will be analysing RDA in relation to its standards over the six months, with a view to implementation as per the Libraries Australia timeline. Follow the SCIS blog ( and 'What's new', on SCIS webpages, to keep up to date with news of implementations.