Sunday, May 06, 2007

DC and RDA - the beginning of a beautiful friendship?

An interesting announcement was made this past week that the DC and RDA communities will be working together to do the following:

  • development of an RDA Element Vocabulary
  • development of an RDA DC Application Profile based on FRBR and FRAD
  • disclosure of RDA Value Vocabularies using RDF/RDFS/SKOS

The news isn’t exactly taking the library community by storm, but the commentary I have seen has all been of the “this is a good thing, I’ll follow this with interest” theme. But something bothers me about this plan, and I’m having trouble deciding exactly what it is I find, well, wrong in some way.

There’s nothing in the announcement that indicates the development of RDA proper will be affected by this work; in fact, the indication in the announcement that funding will be sought for the activities outlined implies the work is a long way off, likely entirely too late to have any real effect on RDA. This seems to be to be entirely backwards – trying to harmonize DC principles with RDA after the fact. Didn’t the DC community learn its lesson about the pitfalls of this approach when developing the Abstract Model, only realizing long after developing a metadata element set that it would benefit from an underlying model?

This general approach failed miserably with the DC Libraries Application Profile. There, the application profile developers wanted to use some elements from MODS, but weren’t able to because MODS doesn’t conform to the DCMI Abstract Model. So basically what the DC community said here was that application profiles are great, they form the fundamental basis of DC extensibility, but, oh yeah, you can’t actually use elements from any other standards unless they conform to the Abstract Model, even though are no approved encodings for even DC itself more than two years after the Abstract Model was released. OK then. Way to foster collaboration between metadata communities.

Won’t the same problem arise with this RDA work? Yes, yes, RDA is a content standard and MODS is a structure standard, so this could make a difference, but won’t the same issues arise regardless? How in the world will the mess that is the set of RDA drafts right now possibly conform to the DCMI Abstract Model? Even if RDA was really consistently based on FRBR principles (which seems only a surface connection at best right now, with inconsistent use of FRBR terminology and some separation of content from carrier rules, but no real relationship), won’t a clash of conceptual models still occur? I’m the first to admit I have a very poor understanding of the DCMI Abstract Model, but given the history in the DC community of initiatives like this I’m not optimistic.

But maybe the DC community will change paths and realize flexibility and collaboration get more users than intellectual rigor. It’s sad in some respects, but true. It wouldn’t be the first time there’s been a major shift in the direction of the DCMI. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but I’ll certainly follow it with interest.