I’ve been spending a lot of time working with the RDA specifications over the last few months due to the development of the RDA Helper and it still pains me every time I go to the RDA Toolkit that this specification isn’t open. It’s hidden away behind pay walls from the prying eyes of non-librarians and freeloaders unable (or unwilling) to purchase a subscription to read a standards document.
I know that I’ve noted this before, but I simply don’t get it. As a profession, librarians continue to push for open access and open data. We point out injustices (real and imagined) in how publishers sell and package journal content. We encourage and support faculty at our institutions to push for free and open access to their research and data. We do all of that because we say that librarians believe in the free exchange of information, the power of open access to encourage research and discovery. And then as a profession we create RDA as a new descriptive standard…and we hide it behind a subscription pay wall.
Each year, I find myself needing to consult a half dozen or so ISO standards documents and each year, I find myself paying a few hundred dollars per document just for the privilege of reading these standards documents. As a developer, it’s something that I’ve come to grudgingly accept outside of the library community. But inside the library community we should be able to do better…but honestly, we aren’t. Say what you want, RDA is a closed standard. Yes, the RDA vocabularies are open (if you can find them), but as a developer, they are essentially useless without the standards documents that give them meaning. As I worked on the RDA Helper over the past 4 months, it became abundantly clear that were it not for the institutional access I was able to take advantage of through my position at Oregon State University, I wouldn’t have been able to read the specification or build this tool. And that really bothers me and I think it should bother you too.
As a developer, this irks me. As a librarian working with faculty to embrace open access, this offends me. Librarians like to think of themselves as researchers (because we are) and things like RDA, our bibliographic records – these are part of our research output and data. And yet as a profession, we continually tell other communities through our actions that we value our research more than we value others as we refuse to follow the same open access principles that we preach.
So let’s free RDA and take down the pay wall. Let’s make a commitment that library standards will be open standards available to anyone. Let’s be better than we are right now.