and Why Should I Care?
Juniversity of Arkansas, Little Rock
I first heard about FRBR at last summer's ALA meeting. I must confess that at first, all I could think of was Edna Ferber, because it is pronounced like her last name. But the more it was discussed, the more I realized that FRBR is important because it is likely to affect our cataloging practices for the foreseeable future. That was reinforced during MARBI meetings this January, as FRBR was part of almost every discussion. In this column I will try to give you just a small taste of what it is.
The initials stand for Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records,1 the title of a report published by IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) in 1998. It created a "conceptual model" for looking at bibliographic records in relation to users' needs and expectations.2 The two objectives of the study are described in the document itself. "The first is to provide a clearly defined, structured framework for relating the data that are recorded in bibliographic records to the needs of the users of those records. The second objective is to recommend a basic level of functionality for records created by national bibliographic agencies."3
The body of the report analyzes bibliographic information in terms of entities, the attributes of these entities, and the relationships between entities. In this short column, I will only give you very basic, nutshell definitions of the four entities that seem to generate the most discussion: work, expression, manifestation, and item.
A work is "a distinct intellectual or artistic creation".4 We can use John Grisham's The Firm as an example of a work. The film version of The Firm would be a separate work, because it involved a great deal of distinct creative effort.
An expression is "the intellectual or artistic realization of a work".5 The Firm has been translated into a variety of languages and has been recorded for listening. Each of these is considered a separate expression, related to each other through the work.
A manifestation is "the physical embodiment of an expression of a work".6 Our English text version of The Firm has been published in the original hardback, in paperback, and in large-print editions. Each of these is a manifestation.
An item is "a single exemplar of a manifestation".7 This entity is the easiest for us to comprehend because it is concrete. It is the piece you have in your hand. We might need to record information about an item if, for example, our copy of The Firm was signed by the author.
My brief descriptions of these entities are grossly simplified. The concepts of work and expression are particularly hard to pin down. But our current bibliographic records can be broken down into the data elements that describe each of these entities. The Library of Congress commissioned a detailed analysis of MARC and its relationship to FRBR and AACR.8 This analysis includes detailed mapping of MARC fields and subfields to and from FRBR and AACR. It is being used by groups such as MARBI to examine what they do and to inform their decisions.
On another level, FRBR is being used as a new way to look at existing databases by "FRBRizing" them. As one of a number of related projects, OCLC has drawn from their huge database a group of records for fiction which they are using to study FRBR's possibilities. VTLS, an automation vendor, created a FRBRized catalog which they demonstrated at ALA. In this catalog, data in bibliographic records is separated into work records, expression records, manifestation records and item records. To use the catalog, a patron begins at the work level and bores down to the item that they really want. This demonstration catalog is available at http://www.vtls.com/frbr.
I hope this wetted your appetite for an upcoming program at AALL. There you will have an opportunity to hear about FRBR from the experts: Glenn Patton (OCLC), Barbara Tillett (Library of Congress), and Vinod Chachra (VTLS). Tillett was a member of the study group that produced the original report; she and Patton are members of the current IFLA Working Group on FRBR; and Chachra will demonstrate VTLS's FRBRized catalog. It will be a great opportunity to learn about FRBR.9 Catalogers are often accused of being overly concerned with detail while missing the broader picture. FRBR provides an intellectual framework for looking at catalogs theoretically, keeping the needs of the user in mind. Its complex model may be the tool that we will use to keep our work relevant in the future.
1 Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records: Final Report / IFLA Study Group on the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records. - Müünchen: K. G. Saur, 1998. - (UBCIM Publications. New Series; 19). (http://www.ifla.org/VII/s13/frbr/frbr.htm)
2 FRBR, p. 3.
3 FRBR, p. 7.
4 FRBR, p. 16
5 FRBR, p. 18.
6 FRBR, p. 20.
7 FRBR, p. 23.
8 Functional Analysis of the MARC 21 Bibliographic and Holdings Formats / Tom Delsey for the Library of Congress network Development and MARC Standards Office. January 4, 2002. (http://www.loc.gov/marc/marc-functional-analysis/source/analysis.pdf)
9 If you cannot wait until July to learn more, IFLA has a FRBR Website (http://www.ifla.org/VII/s13/wgfrbr/wgfrbr.htm).