Newsletter Issue: 
Volume 37 no.3 September 2017

Richard N. Leigh, Column Editor 

RDA Essentials by Thomas Brenndorfer


This cataloging text is a concise guide to the basics of the Resource Description and Access content standard.  It is published by ALA Editions, with copyright held by ALA, the Canadian Library Association, and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.  Brenndorfer, a Canadian cataloger, followed the development of Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records and has delivered presentations on FRBR and RDA.  It will be most useful for library school students, but may also be a helpful reference tool for practicing catalogers.

This book is not intended to substitute for the complete RDA Toolkit, controlled vocabulary lists, and specialized instructions/best practices from cataloging organizations such as OLAC and the Music OCLC Users Group.  It makes no attempt to provide detailed information about cataloging music, religious works, and legal works.  Think of it as an AACR2-sized RDA handbook, instead of the Toolkit, which is RDA on steroids.

The work is divided into four sections: Elements, Guidelines, Constructing Access Points, and Other Additional Instructions.  One would expect the introduction to explain why the text is organized this way, but curiously, the text is scanty on this point.  The third paragraph in the introductory section “Conventions in RDA Essentials” hints to the Elements and Guidelines sections, but not the other two: “RDA Essentials presents the basic instructions used to record each RDA element.  Common guidelines often apply to groups of elements, and the chapters for these guidelines are found together in RDA Essentials” (p. xiv).  The reader is left to wonder why instructions about constructing access points are not incorporated in the first two sections, and what is “other additional instructions,” and why is it separated?  

This sets up the most obvious problem with the text: how should the reader use it?  One might initially think that one needs to consult each section to gain insight on a topic, instead of finding all the relevant information in one place.  That hinders a quick consult; still, after reading it, I have a better understanding of why the author organized it this way.  The cataloging student needs to gain an understanding of the fundamentals (elements) before understanding how to combine them and use other cataloging conventions (such as capitalization).  The text also is congruent with the current organization of RDA.  Aside from this lack in explaining the organization of the text, the introduction is excellent in every detail.  The reader should examine the introduction closely.

This is not necessarily a work that would be read in its entirety like a novel, but it can be read front to back, as I did for the purposes of writing this review.  A beginning cataloger would benefit from reading it this way.  An experienced cataloger may simply wish to consult topics of interest.  The RDA instruction is cited for each topic (e.g., RDA 19.1.1).  The index is well done and contains cross references.  Experienced catalogers (after reading the introduction) will want to use the index as their starting point in using this manual.

I found nine errors in the book that were editorial in nature; e.g., on page 142, the Language of Expression in the example should be “Russian” instead of “French.”  None of the errors are egregious conceptual mistakes, but as catalogers need every detail to be accurate, I hope the errors will be corrected in a future edition.  Other topics that might be addressed are the new user task (explore) in the new IFLA Library Reference Model discussion on page 123; a mention of public performance rights as the flip side of the coin in the “Restrictions on Use (RDA 4.5)” section on page 125; and revisions in the Identifying Persons chapter and its instructions regarding fictitious and legendary persons.

This text-in-hand incorporates instructional changes in RDA through the April 2015 update.  The work remains a valuable resource, but will need to be revised after the 2018 RDA redesign is released.  Mr. Brenndorfer will hopefully provide a second edition of this work in late 2018—in time for library school students to use as a textbook that fall and for the rest of us to keep on our bookshelves as a handy reference book.

Published in 2016 by: American Library Association, Chicago; Canadian Library Association, Ottawa; CILIP: Chartered Institute of Library and Informational Professionals, London (xvi, 376 p. ; 28 cm.)  ISBN 978-0-8389-1328-4 (U.S.); 978-1-78330-056-3 (U.K.); 978-0-88802-347-6 (Canada) ; softcover : $105.00.


Reviewed by:

Shelley L. Rogers

Senior Cataloger & Associate Professor

Irvine Sullivan Ingram Library University of West Georgia