Friday, March 06, 2009

Un-uniform titles

The Open Library will soon be revealing its first attempt to bring together all of the many published books that represent the same work. It's been a fascinating exercise; sometimes very satisfying and other times terribly frustrating. If I hadn't already been convinced that we will need to change our data practices if we want to implement FRBR, this experience would have convinced me.

One of the problems that we ran into was one that Thom Hickey at OCLC had already reported in his blog post: that uniform titles (MARC 240) are both necessary for the identification of works, and a hindrance. The uniform title, which is being called the 'work title' in RDA (see Chapter 6) actually serves two (possibly three) different functions, and unfortunately this is not being fixed in RDA.

The first function of the work title is to bring together the different expressions of a work. This is mostly obvious for works that have been issued with different titles (the various Hamlets over time) and for works that have been translated (which also includes Hamlet). In this case, the work gets a 'work title' that is unifying, and this work title helps create work views in bibliographic databases.
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616
The tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark, as is now acted by Her majesties Servants.

Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616
The tragicall historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke.

Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616
William Shakespeare's Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.
The second function performed by the uniform title field is to give works a collective title. These are titles like 'Essays' or 'Works.' This is a title given to a grouping of works, not a single work. It's kind of a superset of works, and the same work title can be given to a different selection of an author's works. This uniform title does not help gather and display the FRBR work level, and in particular it isn't useful for user displays because the grouping title is so broad and vague. It probably would be useful as a genre for retrieval, but it's not great as an organization for works. In particular, you wouldn't want to present these to users as the same work:
Bacon, Francis, 1561-1626.
The essayes or counsels, ciuill and morall, of Francis Lo. Verulam, Viscount St. Alban

Bacon, Francis, 1561-1626.
The essaies of Sr Francis Bacon knight, the Kings Atturney Generall. His Religious meditations. Places of perswasion and disswasion. Seene and allowed
These are of the genre essays, and a genre data element is commonly used as a facet in systems that have that functionality. But the genre should not be confused with the work title, as it is here.

The function that may or may not be a third function relates to the additions to the uniform title, which really should be handled elsewhere in the record. Thus:
Hamlet. French
Hamlet. German
Hamlet. Italian
Languages and dates get all mixed in with the title of the work when the title is a 'heading' in the bibliographic record. Like the use of the uniform title for genre, systems today can provide this kind of organization, if it is desired, from data in the record, and can use it for a variety of purposes such as selection or grouping. There is absolutely no need to tack this data onto the work title now that records are no longer being placed in linear catalogs.

Note that I'm aware that I haven't expounded on the uses of uniform titles in music cataloging. The uniform titles in music cataloging are fascinating constructs for the arrangement of musical pieces, but they are not work titles. I haven't had any experience trying to create work views of music, however I'm sure that's a very interesting problem; one that I hope someone else will solve and share with the rest of us.

We need a work title if we are to follow the bibliographic concepts in FRBR. One of the big problems with the data we create today is that so many data elements are performing multiple functions that may be clear to humans but aren't coded in such a way to be clear for machine processing. That this same mistake is being made in RDA, which is supposed to be based on FRBR, shows that we still aren't designing our data for machine processing. In this day and age, that is pretty sad.


bibwild said...

Spot on.

There are actually TWO things that uniform titles try to do that we badly need if we are to move forward:

1) A work title.

2) A machine-readable means of unambiguously collocating (bringing together; making a set of) different versions of the same work. (I use the non-FRBR 'versions' intentionally to make it clear that even if you _don't_ like FRBR... do you think this is something our catalog must do?)

You touch on both of these here. Uniform title sort of kind of does both of these, in a way that was 'good enough' for the card (or bound) catalog, but is NOT sufficient for the online catalog or the future.

If this argument is not persuasive to the cataloging 'old guard' who think what we have is perfectly sufficient... then I just don't know.

Mary Mastraccio said...

Well said. It addresses the issues that everyone is concerned about. Has this been presented to the groups involved in development and change? Bibwild said he hopes this persuades the "cataloging 'old guard' who think what we have is perfectly sufficient". Actually, I don't know anyone who things what we have is perfectly sufficient. I think a reasoned argument and solution is all they are looking for.

Daniel P. said...

RDA gives the option to “record the elements [such as Form of work, Date of work, Language of expression] either as additions to the access point representing the work, as separate elements, or as both.” (RDA 0.6.3) It is true that these elements might be used as additions to uniform titles (now called "preferred titles" in RDA) but they can also be recorded somewhere else in the record, independently from the title, as Karen advocates. It is therefore incorrect to say that this problem affecting AACR2 uniform titles hasn’t been fixed in RDA. This is a possibility that might only get realized in a scenario 1 implementation of RDA, though, when the successor to MARC21 will hopefully enable searching records for all entities in catalogues.

Thom said...

Another use of uniform titles is to differentiate things that would otherwise be brought together.

For music, Jenn Riley is one of the experts (Variations/FRBR).


Anonymous said...

It keeps coming back to the conceptual *data* model. Not the "conceptual model" in the IFLA spec, but one that follows modern data modeling practice. See the Works by Graeme Simsion and David Hay for proffesional-grade approaches.