Government of Canada Publications: On your MARCs… Get set… Go!

A new MARC21 bibliographic record service from Library and Archives Canada for Canadian libraries

Every year, the Government of Canada publishes numerous publications, including research reports, conference proceedings, and much more. Many of these publications are available through the Depository Services Program (DSP) managed by Public Services and Procurement Canada. Since 1927, the DSP has gathered and distributed government publications every year to Canadian libraries. With the transition from print material to electronic publications, the DSP has now evolved into a centralized, online weekly distribution service that provides access to electronic government publications.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a legislated mandate to be “the permanent repository of publications for the Government of Canada” (Library and Archives Canada Act, S.C. 2004, c. 11). Thousands of government publications are acquired through various means—such as the DSP, donations, and gifts—and in various formats.

With the increasing volume of electronic content being published by the Government of Canada, the need for timely, efficient and accurate cataloguing of government publications becomes even more necessary to ensure access and discoverability not only for LAC and its users, but also for all Canadian libraries and their users.

A black-and-white photograph of young woman giving a pile of books to a seaman. They are both standing on the deck of a boat with the harbor in the background.

Leading Wren Ruth Church, Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) delivering a supply of library books to Able Seaman Bill Swetman of HMCS PETROLIA, Londonderry, Northern Ireland, November 1944. (MIKAN 3519918)

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Revolutionizing cataloguing – implementing RDA!

There’s been a revolution in cataloguing! Since 2010, RDA (Resource Description and Access) has been the new international standard for description. It was developed over many years through the cooperation of institutions such as Library and Archives Canada (LAC), the Library of Congress, the British National Library, the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, and other national and international committees (LAC employees sit on the Canadian Committee on Cataloguing, for example). Implementation of RDA began at LAC in late 2012 and is still ongoing, involving the entire cataloguing section. This has included hundreds of hours of training sessions, meetings, individual research and reading, and informal team discussions and consultations as we have to rethink a lot of our policies and practices to adapt to the new philosophies and rules for description represented in RDA.

So, what’s so different about RDA?

There have always been standards and rules for description of course. But the rules we were using were developed before the advent of the multitude of formats that are now collected by and available in modern libraries. This has forced cataloguers to try to treat everything like a printed book. You can imagine how frustrating that was at times! On top of that, the old rules were designed to help cataloguers fit all the essential information on a 3” by 5” card that was filed in a card catalogue drawer. This meant abbreviating words, omitting non-essential information, and making decisions based on the placement of information on the physical card. Now with online catalogues, linked data, and international databases available with the click of a mouse, we need to rethink how we do things. Some of this involves physically changing how the information is presented in the catalogue record (for example, RDA eliminates abbreviations unless they appear on the item itself). Other changes focus on thinking differently about the relationships between the content, the physical item (what we call the “carrier”), and the people involved in creating both.

What hasn’t changed?

As always, our goal is to create a bibliographic record for an item that accurately and thoroughly describes both the physical item and the content it holds, and allows users of our catalogue the best possible access to the item and our collection. The employees in the cataloguing section are committed to creating useful, accurate, credible metadata that is used by libraries across the country, and in international databases. RDA may be changing the “how” of cataloguing, but not the “why!”

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