There's nothing like inter-continental travel to provide you with those sleepless nights that are ideal for a re-reading of the FRBR document. I am not a cataloger, so I assume that I am missing some or much of the importance of the FRBR analysis in relation to how catalogers view their activity. My reading of FRBR is that it is a rather unrevolutionary macro analysis of what cataloging already is. As a theoretical framework, it gives the cataloging community a new way to talk about what they do and why they do it. From what I've understood of the RDA work, FRBR has brought clarity to that discussion, and that's a Good Thing.
Then I hear about people FRBR-izing their catalogs, and I have to say that I can find nothing in the FRBR analysis that would support or encourage that activity. FRBR is not about catalogs, it's not even about creating cataloging records, and it definitely does not advocate the clustering of works for user displays. I'm not sure where FRBR-izing came from, but it definitely didn't come from FRBR. FRBR defines something called the Work, but does not tell you what to do with it. In addition, the Work is not a new idea (see section 25.2 of AACR2 where it describes the use of Uniform Titles).
I think that those of us in the systems design arena have confused FRBR, or perhaps co-opted it, to solve two pressing problems of our own: 1) the need to provide a better user interface to the minority of prolific works, that is, the Shakespeare's and the oft-translated works; 2) and the need to manage works that appear in many physical formats, such as a printed journal and the microform copy of that journal, or an article that is available in both HTML and PDF. We can find elements of FRBR that help us communicate about these issues; we can talk about Works (in the FRBR sense) and Manifestations. But solving these problems is not a FRBR-ization of the catalog.
The first problem, that of prolific works, had at least a partial a solution in the card catalog: the Uniform Title. It was that title that brought together all of the Hamlets, or all of the tranlsations of Mann's "Zauberberg." While RDA may in the future define work somewhat differently from AACR2 and may expand the breadth of the groupings of bibliographic records, this isn't a new concept. Interestingly, I find that Uniform Titles are often not assigned in catalog records, which limits their usefulness. So here we are hailing FRBR when we aren't making use of a mechanism (UTs) we already have. In any case, we are finally trying to cluster works in a way that should have already been part of our online catalog. Although the definition of Work may have changed, the idea of grouping by work is not new.
The next problem is one I hoped would be addressed in RDA but it appears that it isn't (well, I can't find it in the drafts): should we catalog different physical formats as separate items, or could we have a hierarchical view of our catalog entry that would allow different physical formats to be listed as a single item? Physical formats are important because the format can determine the user's ability to make use of the item. This is conceptually a cataloging question, but it's also a systems design issue, which is one of the reasons why I would like to see some work between the RDA committees and a group of systems designers. From this latter point of view, my preference would be to create a multi-level record that allows for manifestation and copy-level information to be carried with (or linked to) the bibliographic data. The MARC21 Holdings Format gives us one model for a solution, but in my experience it needs a make-over (and another level of hierarchy) in order to play this role.
I'd like to see discussion of both of these issues and their possible solutions. It is clear to me that post-processing of current catalog records is not sufficient to create the kind of user services that we want to provide. We are going to have to talk about what we want our data to look like in order to serve users of our catalogs.