I was poking around in the Futurelib wiki (much neglected of late, but I have recently gathered there all of my posts on Martha Yee's article on library cataloging and RDF), and came across an interesting comment by Kristin Antelman from over 2 years ago:
RDA recognizes both a Work title and a Manifestation title (called title proper). I've been known to argue that these are distinct data elements: the Manifestation title is transcribed from the piece and is part of the surrogate for the manifestation; the Work title (which we used to call "Uniform title") acts as a unifier for all of the Expressions and Manifestations of the Work. Kristin's comment got me thinking about this again, and I agree with her: there is no title for the Work. The Uniform title served as an identifier for the Work in the days when we used things like titles to identify things. But FRBR and RDA recognize that entities will have identifiers that are separate from the display forms of names and titles that we have used in the past.
I realize this is a point of absolutely no controversy in the FRBR community, but I have never been happy with the title attribute in association with the abstract entities, work and expression. It seems contrary to the spirit of an abstract entity, not to mention creating practical problems (e.g., for serials). There obviously could be many titles associated a work in its manifestations. Libraries may want to select one over another for the "work," or display, title. Works and expressions only need identifier attributes: for the work, author and subject.
This "no title" solution actually helps out with one of the sticky problems in creating Work displays, particularly in a multi-lingual catalog. When you follow the concept of uniform titles, the Work title should be the title of the original. This means that we would be showing our users Война и мир as the title for the Work that most of them will know as War and Peace. We could show them the English language title, but what if your catalog users are global? What if some of them will only understand the title if you display it in French or Turkish or Chinese? If a Work has an identifier (which is only useful for machine processing, not for display to humans), then you can let users choose what language they prefer in Work displays. (Obviously having some default for the case where the user's preferred language isn't available.)
So I like the idea of not assigning a title to the work, but I must admit that I'm increasingly seeing the Work not as a thing but as a set; a set made up of things that claim to be Manifestations of the work. Each resource that claims to be a Manifestation of that Work (using the Work identifier) is then part of the Work set, and it is the set that defines the Work.
The Work set is not fixed - new items can add themselves to the set at any time. Thus, the Work is defined from the bottom up, from the contents of the set. The members of the set have titles and have subjects, and that means that the Work also has those titles and subjects.
This "solution" requires us still to make decisions about what we display to represent the Work. Do we show subject headings as related to the Work? What about reviews and excerpts? If you want to add a cover to the display, how do you select from among the various covers you may have?
A great advantage of this solution is that you can make different display decisions at different times, or in different contexts. A public library can point users directly to the shelf location from the Work display; a rare book archive can include key information about available editions; a social networking site can list the users who own versions of the Work. The concept of Work becomes somewhat fluid and malleable, which in my mind is closer to reality than a fixed thing that has only certain attributes.