The German National Library: translating and registering RDA elements and vocabularies

A prerequisite for the registering of our terms in the NSDL Registry and one of the greatest challenges for the German National Library at the moment is the translation of the RDA elements and vocabularies.  Since bibliographic description is executed with a highly specialised vocabulary, we are finding that the process of pinpointing the appropriate terms is interesting but also very involved. Although the existing German rules for bibliographic description (RAK) and the authority files for subject headings (Schlagwortnormdatei, or SWD) have plenty of vocabulary to offer as equivalents to Anglo-American cataloguing terminology, RDA does include concepts relatively new to bibliographic description.

Before resorting to “inventing” words, always a last resort, we launch comprehensive vocabulary mining efforts, in the process of which, beyond checking already existing translations (FRBR, MARC 21), we consult the expertise such institutions as art libraries and film institutes to get the most up-to-date descriptive terms available in the German language. If we deem a word previously used in a translation suboptimal, we may deviate from its use and in particular cases forgo the advantages of standardisation in the interest of our primary criteria: consistency, currency, usability, and precision. A quick and general Google search can also be helpful to learn how terms are being (in)formally circulated. In the case that we should find it necessary to create a new term in German, as we are experiencing with such an example as the type unmediated, we have to weigh up what sort of etymological root we would like to lean towards, Latin or Germanic.  If we translate it with unmediatisiert, it can ease communication around cataloguing between nations because of its morphological similarity to many European languages.  However, leaning on Germanic roots may sometimes be necessary in the interest of standardisation and aligning with existing descriptive language or with the strengths and realities of the German language. In that case, we may be better off choosing nicht mediatisiert or ohne Hilfsmittel zu benutzende Medien, which seems awkward but conforms to types of uses already in existence in the subject headings. The option of the “new-proposed” status in the Registry for the concepts therefore suits our needs perfectly, since for the reasons just mentioned and outlined in Diane’s blog entry about multiple languages and RDA, none of the translations we have entered are as of yet official.

Once our small team of librarians from the Office for Library Standards has followed these processes and developed a pool of equivalent German terms which we deem worthy of proposing initially for the Registry and subsequently for our official translation of RDA, we make them available to groups of colleagues specialised in bibliographic description or subject headings at the German National Library for comment in a Wiki and working meetings. Our experience with translation has shown us that the translations of descriptive bibliographic elements and vocabulary into German must be handled by librarians (professional translators can potentially pick up from there) and peer-reviewed through the above-mentioned process to ensure accuracy and acceptance in the library community.

Beyond motivating us to begin our RDA translations early, our participation in the Registry really has also given us an opportunity to dabble in the semantic web through the process of assigning URIs to our German translations of RDA element and value vocabulary.  As a test run, it therefore allows us to toy with the idea of linked data by setting descriptive bibliographic vocabulary up with its prerequisite domain. The lessons learned and questions raised through this experience put us in a better position for strategic planning regarding the nature of the presentation and sharing of bibliographic data in the future.

What has particularly attracted us about the Registry and its connection with the RDA tool is that, provided that we do decide to provide linked bibliographic data in the future as an institution, the Registry makes it possible to do so in our national language. This is a condition for its wide-spread usability and acceptance in the German-speaking library and internet community and therefore of primary importance to us, provided of course that the Committee for Library Standards takes the decision to introduce RDA as the official rules for description and access in Germany and Austria.

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