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Automatic table of contents for RDA Toolkit workflows

Below is described a way to add tables of contents to RDA Toolkit workflows automatically, i.e. without manually adding anchors and creating a list. You can see an example of it action on this workflow (although of course I can’t guarantee that this workflow will always be around or look like this).

It uses some Javascript but requires no knowledge of it as it can be dropped in. It is 95% a script written by Stuart Langridge (@sil) with some minor amendments to get round some strange internal linking behaviour and to provide links to the top of the document throughout the workflow.

Instructions follow and some caveats are below.

  1. Open an RDA Toolkit workflow for editing
  2. Click on Source
  3. Insert the following snippet of HTML where you want the table of contents to appear:
    <div class="generate_from_h2" id="generated-toc"><a name="top"></a></div>
  4. If you have access to a local web server:
    1. Copy the Javascript file generate_toc_rda.js and put it somewhere sensible.
    2. At the very end of the workflow, put the following HTML snippet, changing the URL to where your copy of generate_toc_rda.js now lives:
      <script type="text/javascript" src="http://www.myserver.org/pathto/generate_toc_rda.js"></script>
  5. If you don’t have access to a local server:
    1. At the very end of the workflow, put the following HTML snippet:
      <script type="text/javascript">
    2. Copy the complete contents of the Javascript file generate_toc_rda.js and paste it on the next line. There will be a lot of it.
    3. On another line underneath, i.e. right at the end, put the following snippet of HTML:
      </script>
  6. Save the workflow.
  7. Click on the workflow in the Toolkit to refresh it.
  8. Buy Stuart some beer next time you see him, e.g. some gueuze, or give him some custom.

Caveats: it is not official and while the script was designed to work on any web page, these things always depend on the approach taken by the encompassing page to be logical and consistent over time, and this can be particularly unpredictable in a CMS, which the Toolkit basically is. I am also unsure of the publisher’s attitude towards dropping Javascript into workflows, although cannot see why there should necessarily be objections to this. Lastly, using this approach also means  removing any existing apparatus of table of contents or links to the top. It would be advisable to back up everything, including the source of generated tocs, although in the worst case, it would probably be possible to move the contents of a workflow to an external file, run the toc script on it, then re-import the HTML source.

Please do let me know if you try this and how you get on. I might be amenable to making changes to it, time and circumstances allowing. Stuart released the original toc script “under an X11 licence. What this boils down to is: do what you like with it. You can use the script in commercial environments, you can use it on your intranet, you can use it anywhere you like.” Sounds good to me too.

RDA as a closed standard

Resource Description and Access (RDA), the new bibliographic standard to replace AACR2, was released in 2010 on the web as a closed standard sitting behind a paywall. This really worries me. I strongly believe it should be an open standard.

What do I mean by closed?
By closed I basically mean that you have to pay or subscribe to access it. In many ways, this is not dissimilar to AARC2. For decades, libraries (and individuals) paid for various editions of AACR2, which has always been primarily a print product, as well as for various updates when it changed to looseleaf format. Recently it has also been available on the web via Cataloger’s Desktop. RDA is primarily a web product via the RDA Toolkit, although a concession was eventually made to release it in print as well.

An open standard would be one that, according to Wikipedia, “is publicly available” even if it “has various rights to use associated with it”. This would be one which any cataloguer, librarian, or crucially, non-librarian, could see and benefit from.  A practical definition for the purposes of this post would be a standard I could go and look at right now without subscription. I can if I wish apply the standard without hindrance, I can assess it with ease, and, ideally, build on the standard without restriction. RDA is not open, although to be fair, a part of RDA has been released openly, the element set and vocabularies.

Other open standards
Open (publicly available) standards are quite common. Some well known-examples:

The following are open although I’d have a lawyer to hand if you wanted to do anything with them:

Some closed ones for comparision:

These are of course more subjective lists than they look, but you get the idea. The closed list was actually bigger until upon examination I found that JPG, GIF, and even MS Office standards are publicly readable even if I’m not sure what more you could legally do with them. I’d be happy to add more to the closed list to balance things out a little.

Why is RDA not open?
Money. This is a delicate matter that I don’t want to delve into too much although it is obviously central to the openness of the standard. It’s also hard to talk about without appearing to make wild assertions, and I hope I haven’t been unfair. I’ve heard Alan Danskin of the JSC explaining that they’d thought about releasing RDA openly but that they had to cover costs. I’m not exactly sure what the costs of production were, although presumably included expenses and staff costs, and production of the product itself. The last is I think unfortunate as I would like to have seen a far simpler publication of RDA without all the bells and whistles, login barriers, and the need to learn a new interface as well as a new standard. Compare with the HTML4 standard which is a set of simple HTML documents with normal links. I don’t need to learn how to use that. Or, come to that, the MARC21 site. I wonder how much of the fee goes towards setting up and maintaining the RDA Toolkit platform.

With my tin foil hat on, I also wonder how much the fee is needed to resume revenue to the co-publishers since AACR2 has been in unrevised abeyance. 

Why does it matter?
It matters because RDA (and with it all the high quality traditional cataloguing techniques) will not be widely used without being open. I think you can divide the potential RDA userbase as follows:

  1. Libraries with enough money to switch to RDA
  2. Libraries without enough money to switch to RDA
  3. Non-libraries dealing with metadata

Those in group 1 will buy RDA, but some libraries- Group 2- will not see the benefit for the costs of conversion and training, let alone the costs of subscription. For ‘traditional’ cataloguing to thrive, therefore, we need to involve Group 3. However, those in Group 3 will not be able to even have a look at RDA to see if it meets their needs. I think RDA will be lucky to retain the same user base as AARC2, let alone break into new areas and influence the way other metadata is carried out. Those in the metadata community who, I suspect, have already been put off by AACR2, are unlikely to even try looking at RDA if it involves forking out a subscription.

I recently sat in a room with about 15 or so people mostly involved in metadata for institutional repositories and the like. During some discussions they flagged up two problems they were having: establishing a consistent form of name, and a standard set of data elements. I asked myself, would I recommend RDA to them to help solve these problems? Even if I thought it met their needs, could they even have a look to see if it did? No. They will either come up with their own solution or look elsewhere for it, which is already what they have been doing. I can’t see us taking more people with us, just a proportion of the people already using AACR2.

Openness also matters because haven’t a closed standard doesn’t reflect terrribly well on librarianship in general. I have a friend in IT who Laughed Out Loud* when I said the new library metadata standard was behind a paywall. In the new world of openness where even Microsoft loosely adhere to web standards, traditionally closed governments are leading the charge to release more data, and the world has been transformed by the the open standards of the web, are we to follow The Times behind a paywall? Personally I feel libraries, librarians, and library data should be at the forefront of openness, not grudgingly following behind or not following at all.

What could be done?
This is the nub of the matter. I’m no marketing expert and maybe I’m naive and there is nothing that could be done. However, working on the assumption that all that needs to be done is to break even and pay the costs of production for RDA, I would suggest the following ideas for a start:

  • Make a flashy web product anyway and charge lots more for it. Many more well-off libraries would pay for a product like the Toolkit if it’s good enough.
  • There is a need for a more accessible version or versions of RDA, e.g. just for books or in a more convenient format like, say, the Chan books on LCSH or the green editions of AACR2. The co-publishers could fulfill this need which I imagine would be easily done by re-using the data they already have.
  • Explanatory books. There are a number of these on the market or on the way already. The co-publishers could publish an official companion.
  • Consultancy and training. There is going to be a big demand for this soon in any case.
  • Involve more organisations in the drafting and publishing of RDA to share the costs, e.g. publishers, LMS vendors, commercial metadata suppliers, other metadata initiatives. I think it would be a positive and pragmatic move to have these parties on board anyway. They would be more likely to use the high quality standard produced and we would be more likely to be using metadata that meets all our purposes.

See Also
I notice a post covering some of these issues by carolslib from a few days ago. From the Catalogs of Babes also has a similar post, RDA: why it won’t work, from a few weeks ago which much more succinctly makes some of the same points:

Many librarians are balking at the cost of implementing RDA, I think rightfully so, although not for the same reasons. I’m not bitching about it because it’s unaffordable for smaller libraries, or because it’s a subscription rather than a one-time printed book cost (although I think those are valid points). I’m bitching because putting a dollar amount on something, now matter how low it is, will stop people from using something, especially if there’s a free alternative. In this case, I see the free alternative as ‘ignoring rules altogether and/or making you your own standards.’ Requiring a price makes adhering to standards–a key value-added service of libraries and librarians–inaccessible. Which is pretty ironic, considering that libraries are supposed to be all about access. We’re all proactive about offering access to our patrons, but we can’t extend that same philosophy to ourselves, to help us do a better job??

[Updated 23 November 2012] Terry Reese asks Can we have open library standards, please? Free RDA/AACR2.

*** He literally LOL’d, although no ROFLing took place admittedly.