The revision of the library cataloging rules that is underway is being called "Resource Description and Access" or RDA. Although it is undoubtedly an unpopular view point, I would like to suggest that description and access are two very different functions and that they should not be covered by a single set of rules, nor should they necessarily be performed by a single metadata record.
The pairing of description and access is functionality based on card catalog technology. A main purpose of the 19th and 20th century card catalog was access. Indeed, great discussion took place in the late 19th century about the provision of a public access point for library users: access through authors, titles, and subjects. The descriptive element, the main body of the card, was essentially a bibliographic surrogate helping users make their decision on whether to go over to the shelf to look for the book. Before easy reproduction of cards, that is, before LoC began selling card sets early in the 20th century, access cards did not carry the full description of the book. Instead, all catalog cards except the main entry card had a brief entry that would allow the user to find the main entry card which had the full description.
The combination of description and access is a habit that has carried over from the card catalog and has left a legacy that to many of us is so natural that we have trouble seeing it for what it is. For example, it is because of this combination that we create artificial "headings" that cause us to display author names in the famed "last name first" order. The heading is designed for access in a system where the means of finding items is through a linear alphabetical order, which even in library systems is no longer the predominant finding method. These headings set library systems apart from popular information systems such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Books. As a matter of fact, you can find examples of library catalogs that attempt a popular display by displaying the title and statement of responsibility as the main display, hiding the now odd-looking headings. What these headings say to anyone who is tech-savvy is that libraries are hindered by an obsolete technology. Libraries still create these contorted headings when markup of data can make display and ordering of data flexible and user friendly.
Not only does our use of arcane headings set libraries apart from more popular information resources, our concepts of "description" and "access" are not serving our users. The description provided by libraries might serve to identify the work bibliographically (something that matters to libraries for collection development purposes but is not of great interest to library users), however it doesn't describe the work to users in a way that can help them make a selection. We need at least reviews, thumbnails of images, sample chapters, and even local commentary ("Required reading for Professor Smith's class in European History"). And as for access, we know that the library-assigned subject headings are woefully inadequate discovery tools.
RDA claims that its purpose in the area of description "should enable the user to: a) identify the resource described...." Yet today we are in dire need of machine-to-machine identification, which RDA does not address. Increasingly our catalogs are interacting with other sources of discovery, such as web sites, search engines, and courseware. "Identification" that must be interpreted by a human being is going to be less and less useful as we go forward into an increasingly digital and networked information environment.
We are also greatly in need of an ability to share our data with systems that are not based on library cataloging. Each rule that varies from what would be common practice moves libraries further from the information world that our users occupy in their daily life. It is somewhat ironic that many pages of rules instruct catalogers on the choice of the "title proper," which is then marred by the addition of the statement of responsibility, a bit of library arcana that no one else considers to be part of the title of the work. And who else would create a title heading "I [heart symbol] New York"?
All this to say that the next generation library catalog cannot succeed if it is to be based on a set of rules that still carry artifacts from the days of the physical card catalog. It's time to get over the concepts of description and access that were developed in the 19th century. Let's move on, for goodness sake.