Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More Puzzling over FRBR

FRBR came up often in our discussions at DC2008. In particular, there were many attempts to clarify what FRBR means in a technical environment. Since FRBR is about entities and relationships, it seems to be perfectly positioned as the first step in the transformation of library data to the semantic web.

After each such event where ideas about FRBR are thrown around, I go back to FRBR and try to understand it. Each time it's as if I'm reading and thinking about an entirely different model. So here's this week's entry into the multiple personalities of FRBR.

During this reading I focused on the relationships between the entities, such as the relationship between expression and work, and the various work/work, expression/expression (etc.) relationships. What struck me immediately is that there is a fair amount of detail in the explication of the relationships between different Group 1 entities (work/work, etc.). These turn out to be the richest set of relationships in FRBR. At the same time, the relationships between Work-Expression-Manifestation-Item are covered by a single sentence each:

Work: a distinct intellectual or artistic creation

Expression: the intellectual or artistic realization of a work

Manifestation: physical embodiment of an expression of a work

Item: exemplar of a manifestation

Only one example is given for each. Compare that to table 5.1 on page 63 of the FRBR document, which gives these relationships between works:








It seems much easier to see the real world applicability of these relationships than "intellectual...realization of a work." The sum of the lists of the relationships inherent in the Group 1 entities embodies much of the network of bibliographic interactions that will interest us in the semantic web. In fact, these relationships are probably closer to the needs of users than those of WEMI. I would like to explore these relationships further to understand what they reveal in terms of the development of a navigable route through the bibliographic world.

Meanwhile, I have some comments on those relationships. To begin with, I find it very interesting that there is no priviledged "first expression" of a work. Admittedly the first expression may not be known, but in fact the expressions are all equal and all have the same relationship with the work. This means that you can indicate that one expression is a translation of the other, and the translation then has the same relationship to the work as does the expression in the original language (which may - or may not - be the original expression). This seems to defy the concept of the uniform title or work title, which represents the original language of expression, and therefore says something about the "originality" of the first expression.

Another thing is that the list of relationships I give above are also valid between expressions. This is adds to the obscurity of the difference between works and expressions. There are, however, times when it makes sense to me: you could have a film version of Romeo and Juliet that is based on a particular expression of Shakespeare's work. The "workness" of the film also has some relationship with the "workness" of the play (adaptation? transformation?). Yet in general I have trouble with work-work relationships since there really is no work without an expression, therefore it's hard to say that work A adapts work B. I suspect this is just the general uneasiness with the abstractness of the work, but it seems amplified when you try to add relationships to this very fuzzy concept. The relationships between expressions make more sense to me.

Something else that occurs to me is that the transformative relationships make sense between expressions (translation, adaptation) and the intellectual relationships make sense between works (imitation, successor, others?). That an imitation is based on a particular expression (whatever the imitator had in hand) is almost a secondary relationship. What this means is that the work-work relationships and the expression-work or expression-expression relationships with the same name may not be identical. In fact, they couldn't possibly be identical because they refer to different types of entities. So although they have the same names, I would argue that they are not the same relationships, in the same way that the work title and the manifestation title are distinct even though they are both called 'title'.

I end this lengthy, rambling brain dump with the thought that we might be able to create a rich network of expressions, linked handily to their respective works, that would be very useful for those seeking information. And that the network of expressions could help us identify the appropriate work for each expression, because once an expression is found to be a translation of another, then they must logically be expressions of the same work.

Forgive me if this is all a re-hash of the obvious. For some reason, nothing in FRBR comes to me easily.


Melissa said...

Nothing in FRBR comes easily to me, either, and every time I read it or read about it, I get new questions raised. Glad I'm not the only one. For instance, just reading your post, I suddenly thought "if the movie of Romeo and Juliet is not an expression of the work Romeo and Juliet, then what relationship could possibly be illustrated in a record between them? AGHHHH! (brain melt)"

Owen said...

I wonder if there is anyone who isn't left unclear by FRBR!

The idea that two films of Romeo and Juliet are not part of the same 'work' leaves me baffled. I think the problem is that the idea of a 'work' is so abstract that when you come to a real-world implementation, you lose your bottle (chicken out) and start making this kind of practical decision.

Then, because you know that it is reasonable for users to expect to search for 'Romeo and Juliet' and find all the films, you start inventing work-to-work relationships so you can do this.

I can see the problem - if you aren't going to have endless (and probably unresolvable) arguments about when something is a new work, you've got to draw the line somewhere - after all, I have it on good authority (Wikipedia) that Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet borrows heavily from at least two earlier works, and the plot is based on an 'Italian Tale'.

However, alongside this FRBR treats musical arrangement and performance as 'expressions' rather than works - so arranging or performing a work as a musician somehow requires less intellectual/artistic creation than making a film - something I'd really dispute.

The question that I keep asking myself is 'should FRBR be at the heart of a framework for describing resources'. I do believe it is an extremely useful conceptual model when thinking about presenting resources to library users, but I'm not sure this is the same thing.

I've tried to explore some of this in http://www.meanboyfriend.com/overdue_ideas/2008/11/frbring-rda.html although I'm not sure I've expressed it very clearly.