Standards, catalog records and special collections: a few words about the RBSCS Metadata Working Group
For those in love with rare books and special collections, finding a good catalogue is always good news. No matter if it’s a latest generation database with links to high quality digital reproductions, a common online catalogue or a dusty printed bibliography half hidden in a shady shelf, if it’s good, it’s a treasure. And good (regardless of format, date, cataloguing rules, encoding format and usually even language) means that, thanks to it, the reader will easily identify and retrieve the document she or he is looking for. That’s why, in a profession in constant evolution, where traditional rare books librarian skills are rapidly being replaced by new ones and where heritage collections are getting more and more complex, the description of special collections is still important and why the creation of quality metadata for them is so critical in a library. In addition, because of the development of digitization and with regard to the exploitation of digitally accessible objects and collections, the optimization of metadata is more necessary than ever.
Among the tasks of IFLA’s Rare Books and Special Collections Section, metadata has always had its place. Together with its historical collaboration in bibliographic standards, in the last years the Section has also chaired events such as the conference “A common international standard for rare materials? Why? And how?, held in Lisbon in 2016, which was a highlight in the evolution of special collections cataloguing. Within the same spirit, it carried out a worldwide survey in 2018 about plans for cataloguing rare materials with RDA (acronym for Resource Description and Access). And, aware that we are at a time of great changes in the description of special collections, the committee members formed a working group devoted to metadata matters.
Recently, most of the group’s work has been dedicated to the collaboration with the ISBD (acronym for International Standard Bibliographic Description) Review Group in its content update. The well-known IFLA standard is currently undergoing a revision after which it will include unpublished resources, such as (but not only) manuscripts, for the first time. The RBSCS Metadata Working Group has been actively involved in the revision; contributing to the inclusion of unpublished resources and working on their definition and categorization. The Draft Updating Revision is now being reviewed.
The Group is also starting to work on future international guidelines on the core bibliographic elements needed for rare materials cataloguing. The results of the survey on the use of RDA for rare materials that was conducted in 2018 as well as the development of rare materials description standards have shown both the need for basic guidelines endorsed by an international organization such as IFLA and the fact that the fundamental elements needed for the description of rare materials are getting more vague in current description standards. The identification and development of core elements is therefore crucial.
In addition to this, the Metadata Working Group is also considering a new conference about rare materials description that could help answer questions such as the following: how is the increasing digitization changing the (traditionally very thorough) description of rare materials? What is the actual impact of RDA in special collections cataloguing practices? What will be the place of well-established rules such as DCRM and ISBD in the new landscape? And many more.
In the middle of an anomalous year with no World Library Information Congress, the Rare Books and Special Collections Section, which has always been happy to welcome many observers to their business meetings, wants to give a glimpse of its tasks through this blog. The Metadata Working Group is delighted to share its work with everyone interested and hopes that its current tasks will be helpful to the library community.