You are here

RDA Frequently Asked Questions

Table of contents


What is RDA?
What are the strategic aims of RDA?
What standards is RDA related to?

Who owns RDA?
Who develops and maintains RDA?
How is RDA maintained?
How do I find out about developments in RDA?
Why is the April 2017 Toolkit "frozen?"
What is the 3R Project?

How does RDA support linked data?
What is the RDA Registry?
What is RDA Reference?

How are translations of RDA managed?
How are policy statements in RDA managed?

How should RDA data be encoded and displayed?
How is RDA related to MARC 21?
How will RDA work with BIBFRAME?
How do I ask a question or raise an issue about RDA?
How can I get training in RDA?
Why is there a subscription fee to access RDA Toolkit?


What is RDA?

RDA: Resource Description & Access is a package of data elements, guidelines, and instructions for creating library and cultural heritage resource metadata that are well-formed according to international models for user-focused linked data applications.

RDA is published online in the RDA Toolkit. RDA Toolkit is an integrated, browser-based, online product that allows users to interact with a collection of cataloging-related documents and resources, including RDA. The original Toolkit is the standard used in current cataloguing. The beta Toolkit has been in development since 2017. Detailed information about the beta Toolkit and the switchover process is available in the beta Toolkit/3R Project FAQ.


What are the strategic aims of RDA?

RDA is being developed to meet the needs of:

  • International communities
  • Cultural heritage communities
  • Linked data communities

Metadata created according to RDA guidelines are intended to support the discovery and identification of resources in library and other cultural heritage collections.


What standards is RDA related to?

RDA is based on the IFLA Library Reference Model (LRM). When first published, RDA was based on the precursors to the LRM: FRBR, FRAD, and FRSAD.

RDA also uses linked data principles based on Resource Description Framework (RDF) and the Dublin Core Abstract Model (DCAM), following the Data Model Meeting at the British Library in 2007.

The RSC has communication protocols and liaisons with other library standards organizations, such as the IFLA Bibliographic Conceptual Models Review Group, IFLA ISBD Review Group and the Library of Congress Network Development and MARC Standards Office, so that decisions can be communicated and documents shared.

Return to Top of Page


Who owns RDA?

RDA is owned by the Copyright Holders of RDA:

  • American Library Association
  • Canadian Federation of Library Associations
  • Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals

The American Library Association publishes RDA on behalf of the Copyright Holders.


Who develops and maintains RDA?

The RDA Steering Committee (RSC) is responsible for the development and content of the RDA standard on behalf of the RDA Board. Revisions, consolidations, additions, and other changes may be made to RDA only with RSC approval.

The RSC and RDA Board have international representation supported by specialists as required.

The Chair of the RSC is a member of the RDA Board, and the Chair of the RDA Board is a member of the RSC.


How is RDA maintained?

Recommendations for changes to RDA may originate from:

  • RSC members
  • RDA regional representative bodies, via their regional representative
  • RDA users
    • via their regional representative body, and if approved, by their regional representative
    • via the Wider Community Engagement Officer, if they are not represented by a regional representative body
  • RSC task and finish working groups, via the RSC Chair

The RSC considers three different types of recommendations: proposals, discussion papers, and fast track changes. All RSC documents must be submitted in English.

More information on the formal processes for these recommendations are contained in two RSC Operations documents:


How do I find out about developments in RDA?

The RDA standard is regularly updated and revised.

The RDA Steering Committee (RSC) publishes regular announcements about RDA in the News and announcements section of the RSC website.

The RSC publishes formal proposals for the development of RDA, the outcomes of discussion, and resulting changes to RDA in the Documents section of the RSC website.

ALA Digital Reference publishes regular announcements about RDA Toolkit and RDA in the News & Information section of the RDA Toolkit website.

The Revision History section of the RDA Toolkit allows users to track changes made to the standard and to access earlier versions of the instructions. Revision History has two components: Release Notes and the Instruction Archive. The Toolkit will maintain a unique Revision History section for each language version of RDA.

The RDA Development Team makes posts on technical aspects of the RDA Vocabularies in the RDA Registry blog.


Why is the April 2017 Toolkit "frozen?"

The April 2017 release of RDA Toolkit was the final update to the English text of RDA on the original Toolkit site. Freezing the text established a stable base for the work undertaken by the RDA Toolkit Restructure and Redesign (3R Project), which included changes to RDA content to bring it into conformance with the IFLA LRM. See the beta Toolkit for the outcome of this effort. The "frozen" Toolkit will remain the official version of RDA until December 15, 2020, when the beta site will become the official version of RDA. The “frozen” but interactive version of the original Toolkit will remain available until sometime in 2022, to support orientation and training before cataloging agencies start using the new RDA Toolkit. More information about the switchover is available on the Toolkit blog.


What is the 3R Project?

The RDA Toolkit Restructure and Redesign (3R) Project brings together some necessary and desirable developments of the structure and content of RDA Toolkit, including implementation of a standard document model for content management, integration of RDA with the new IFLA Library Reference Model (LRM), and extended personalization features.

The 3R Project section of the RDA Toolkit blog contains updated information.

3R Project: Update from 2016 Frankfurt Meeting and Implementation of the LRM in RDA contain further information about aspects of the project.

Answers to frequently asked questions about the 3R Project may be found here.

Return to Top of Page


How does RDA support linked data?

The RDA entities, elements, and vocabulary encoding schemes are represented in Resource Description Framework (RDF), the syntax of open linked data and the Semantic Web, in the RDA Registry. Entity and element data are contained in RDF element sets. Vocabulary data are contained in RDF value vocabularies using Simple Knowledge Organization System (SKOS). The element sets and value vocabularies contain the data for RDA Reference and are collectively known as the RDA Vocabularies.

The RDA Registry also provides a set of elements and designators (unconstrained properties) that do not specify the RDA entities, for use in linked data applications that do not use the IFLA LRM conceptual model that is the basis of RDA.


What is the RDA Registry?

The RDA Registry contains linked data vocabularies that represent the RDA entities, elements, and controlled terminologies as RDA element sets and RDA value vocabularies in Resource Description Framework (RDF).


What is RDA Reference?

RDA Reference includes the labels, definitions, and scope notes of RDA entities, elements, and vocabulary encoding schemes for controlled data values.

RDA Reference data are continuously maintained and are published through GitHub in coordination with Toolkit releases. For further information, see RDA Reference: Data flow and maintenance.

Return to Top of Page


How are translations of RDA managed?

Although English is the original language of RDA, the RSC, the RDA Board, and the Copyright Holders have a firm commitment to further internationalization of the standard.

The Copyright Holders are prepared to work with interested parties to make new translations of RDA possible. There are two different approaches to translating RDA:

  • Full translation, comprising RDA Reference data and instructions, which is published both in the RDA Toolkit and the RDA Registry
  • Partial translation, comprising only RDA Reference data, which is published only in the RDA Registry.

As of January 2020, full translations of RDA are underway in:

  • Arabic
  • Catalan
  • Finnish
  • French
  • German
  • Hungarian
  • Italian
  • Norwegian
  • Spanish

Translations of RDA Reference data (partial translations) include:

  • Danish
  • Dutch
  • Estonian
  • Greek
  • Swedish

Translations of RDA comply with the Translation Policy for RDA and RDA Toolkit.

Inquiries about translating RDA should be directed to James Hennelly, Director, ALA Digital Reference.


How are policy statements in RDA managed?

Policy statements are community-based decisions about RDA options. They are published in the RDA Toolkit and are linked to RDA guidance and instructions through the preview pane. Most policy statements come from national libraries, professional bodies and/or specialist communities that have a legal obligation to make their policies freely available to the public, and the Toolkit supports that obligation through documents on the separate Policies tab. Policy statements may be made available outside of the Toolkit’s paywall, at the agency’s discretion.

Inquiries about policy statements should be directed to James Hennelly, Director, ALA Digital Reference.

Return to Top of Page


How should RDA data be encoded and displayed?

RDA data should be encoded using any format that preserves the integrity of the RDA entities and elements.

RDA supports various database implementation scenarios. See the specific Guidance chapter in the beta Toolkit.

The RDA Registry provides vocabularies for encoding RDA data as linked data for the Semantic Web.

The use of RDA data in specific applications, including displays, is out of scope for RDA. RDA data is intended to meet the needs of a wide range of applications and user communities.


How is RDA related to MARC 21?

The MARC 21 format is in common use for encoding RDA data.

The RDA Steering Committee has a liaison protocol with the Library of Congress Network Development and MARC Standards Office, which maintains the MARC 21 standard.

The RDA Toolkit provides mappings between RDA elements and MARC 21 Authority and Bibliographic encodings which are found in the Element Reference section of each element page.

Full Record Examples of RDA Cataloging include RDA data encoded in MARC 21.

RDA is also encoded in the UNIMARC format, as well as non-MARC formats.

The RSC is planning for a broad mapping solution so that maps between other standards (including encoding standards) and RDA can be easily made and maintained.


How will RDA work with BIBFRAME?

Leaders in these communities began a conversation at the 2019 ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. about the relationship and interoperability between RDA and BIBFRAME.


How do I ask a question or raise an issue about RDA?

There are a number of email discussion lists worldwide where questions about RDA are answered by members of the community. Foremost among them is the unmoderated RDA-L email list. Due to time constraints, the RSC does not provide official responses on any of the lists.

The official communication link with the RSC is through your regional representative or the Wider Community Engagement Officer if you do not have a regional representative.

A feedback form is provided on the RDA Toolkit blog and is also accessible via a menu item in the top right corner of every page in the beta Toolkit for comments.

Inquiries about Customer Service and Technical Support for RDA Toolkit, including pricing and subscriptions, renewals, translations, and permissions, should be emailed to rdatoolkit@ala.org.

Inquiries about the RDA Registry and linked data applications should be emailed to the contacts listed on the Registry home page.


How can I get training in RDA?

A free trial of RDA Toolkit is available.

Full record examples of RDA cataloguing are available using pure RDA elements, MARC 21 encoding, and RDA linked data. Other training resources may be found on the Toolkit website.

RIMMF (RDA in Many Metadata Formats) is a freely available tool for creating RDA data that can be exported in various encodings. It can be used for RDA linked data training and small-scale applications.

RDA training is available online in a variety of ways from regional, national, or specialist experts. Basic instruction workshops, updates, and refreshers are held via webinar or in-person from various professional organizations and are often publicized through RDA-L.

The RSC website includes links to presentations on RDA made by members of the RDA Steering Committee. There are also presentations on the RDA YouTube channel.

In addition, there are many printed volumes on various aspects of RDA, including Introducing RDA: A Guide to the Basics and RDA Essentials. Other titles may be found in the ALA Store.


Why is there a subscription fee to access RDA Toolkit?

The subscription fee covers development and production costs of RDA Toolkit.

The costs of time spent by RDA Board and RDA Steering Committee members are absorbed by their employers and not passed on to subscribers.

The RDA Vocabularies containing RDA Reference data, in the RDA Registry for linked data applications, are freely available under an open license.

For more information on RDA Toolkit, including subscriptions and systems requirements, visit their FAQ. For questions not addressed there, email rdatoolkit@ala.org.

Return to Top of Page

Updated 30 January 2020