Friday, 8 June 2012

Review of Welsh/Batley “Practical cataloguing”

Practical Cataloguing: AACR, RDA and MARC21
Anne Welsh and Sue Batley
London: Facet, 2012.  ix, 217 p.  £44.95
ISBN: 978-1-85604-695-4
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The arrival of the Welsh and Batley book was eagerly awaited in the UK cataloguing community, so I dived in with great excitement.  It starts by discussing the history and theory of cataloguing, and the central tenet is outlined: FRBR and RDA are a natural progression in a long history of cataloguing rules. This thesis is emphasised throughout the rest of the book which unfolds as follows:
·         A chapter discussing FRBR-ised catalogues
·         An exposition on the main areas of bibliographic cataloguing, using AACR2 with comments on how RDA would differ
·         An extremely clear outline of the main principles of authority headings and authority control
·         A chapter covering RDA and FRBR, mostly from a historical viewpoint but finishing  with a small section on cataloguing management
·         A description of cataloguing a specific item.  This uses RDA – including numerous quotes from the RDA rules – as well as some comparisons to AACR2
·         The book then reverts back to using AACR2 for a chapter exploring the history and theory of MARC21
·         The final, shorter, chapters discuss the perceptions and implementation of RDA, and highlight the imminent “death” of MARC21
·         An appendix of ten examples of bibliographic records, using AACR2 (level 1 and level 2), RDA and MARC21, but the MARC21 coding only illustrates the AACR2 records

Overall, the book is well-written and provides life to what could be an unanimated subject.    Certain sections of the book are extremely admirable and their value is easy to see: for instance, the chapter on authority control is superbly written and offers a useful and up-to-date outline of an important area of “real-life” cataloguing.  Nevertheless, there are a number of significant issues in this book.  The organisation of material is unclear and the structure appears weak.  First, the text veers from theory to history to field-by-field description to management advice, mostly without any obvious reason or pattern.  Second, the rapid shifting between AACR2 and RDA focused chapters, while an admirable enactment of the hybrid environment that the authors are keen to emphasise, conceals any overall narrative arc to the text.

Another major question is the lack of any examples using MARC21 for RDA records: the examples in the MARC21 chapter and the Appendix only use AACR2 records to illustrate MARC21.  While it is understood that the authors wish to emphasise that RDA is independent of coding, RDA is mostly likely to be introduced into MARC21 catalogues in the first instance.  Therefore, it is a shame that the text does not provide any examples of RDA records in the format that most existing cataloguers are going to be trained and first use the new cataloguing rules.  There are other small quibbles such as the proof-reading of the examples (especially the duplicate physical description fields), a spurious argument about the “book-emphasis” of AACR2 (p. 19, where the explanation does not relate to the point being made) and the sometimes long-winded detours to cataloguing history which can interrupt the flow of the text (for instance in chapter 5). 

In conclusion, this book contains some worthy and occasionally excellent writings on cataloguing, even if the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts.  I fully recommend this book to those starting their cataloguing lives, as the usefulness of the contents will override other concerns; however, the lack of RDA/MARC21 information, the quantity of AACR2-specific material and structural issues will be more problematic to experienced cataloguers and those responsible for (re-)training them. Overall, this book is definitely worthy of excitement, but perhaps the excitement is a little muted. 

Deborah Lee

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