With AACR2, the LCRI and the OCLC standards, we have a fairly strictly delimited way of making bibliographic descriptions.   Although the three levels specified in AACR2 and the “level 2+” we expect of standard cataloging do allow for some variation, much of us consider what is in the bibliographic description as we know it to be somewhat sacrosanct.

A standard, even if de facto, that implies both a minimum and a maximum has made it fairly easy for catalogers to know what they must do and when to quit.  RDA incorporates the optionality present in more flexible frameworks like Dublin Core.  This scares us because we look at the totality of what RDA suggests as possible data and fear that possibility means necessity.

We expect RDA to be a replacement for AACR2 plus all the standards and practices that have been embedded in and around it.   And we expect there to be a day, just like January 2, 1981, when we will all just switch over to using RDA instead of AACR2.   But the switch to AACR2 didn’t happen in one day.  First there was AACR”1″ in 1967 and the decision to ignore it for many corporate names.  Then there was revised chapter 6 which got us using ISBD for books.  Then other revised chapters.  Finally, AACR2 was published in 1978 and three years of training for AACR2 ensued.  Still, we continued to practice “superimposition” of older rules for many headings.  You’ve gotta be an “old” cataloger like me to have “desuperimposition” roll trippingly off your tongue.  Of course, desuperimpostion brought in the age of “compatible headings.”  AACR2 was an incremental change instituted incrementally.

All these changes occurred in an environment that enabled card, COM, and online catalogs to coexist.  They all occurred in an environment when little was “born digital” and the ability to manipulate textual information was in its infancy.  In the last 5 years, the world changed.  And cataloging is going to change, too, whether we like it or not.

I call RDA an inadvertent red herring because we have spent much of our energy worrying about things like whether transcription of the statement of responsibility is required by it.  That’s a detail.  There’s a bigger picture we must grasp.