Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Importance of FRBR Expression

Most of the talk about "FRBR-ization" (a terrible mis-nomer, but now common terminology) is about creating clusters of records that represent the same work. In fact, I'm of the opinion that the work level is of interest only to a few (for example, literary critics) -- what most users would like to see is the expression level. The expression is also the level that is needed for the various efforts to associate copyright information with bibliographic data.

In many cases, the work and expression are one and the same because the item has only been issued in one expression. For those, the distinction isn't of consequence.

Where there is more than one expression for the work, those expressions tend to take particular forms, at least for books: new editions, mainly for non-fiction; and translations. In both of these cases, I maintain that the expression level is what users want, not the work. (Non-book experts: does this carry through to other formats?)

My usual example of a translated work is Thomas Mann's Der Zauberberg. According to the cataloging rules, the work's title is Der Zauberberg, while expressions in our libraries may have the title in the language of the translation, e.g. The magic mountain. A FRBR-based work display would be something like:

Mann, Thomas
Der Zauberberg. 1924

This would be the work entry into The magic mountain for users in English-language catalogs, and I assume that many of those users would not recognize the German language title, nor want to go through this level to reach the translated version that they seek.

WorldCat has finessed this by keeping the translations separate -- in other words, WorldCat responds to a search with FRBR expression-level records. And I think this is more user-friendly than the work-level record would be.

The other case, that of editions, also argues for the importance of the FRBR expression-level, but the user needs may be different. In this case, the work level will be recognizable to the user, but the information about which is the latest edition/expression needs to be very clear so that the user does not mistakenly select an item that has been replaced or updated by a later edition. Using the Dewey decimal classification and relative index as our example of a work with many editions, WorldCat shows a single edition on its 'work' page, and I assumed that it was the latest, listed as "Ed. 20," "1989." In fact this isn't the latest edition -- there is a 22nd edition from 2003. Users would only find this by going to what seems to be the expression level where all editions are listed.

This shows how hard it is to create a single grouping for all records that serve the users' needs.

Meanwhile, I have another project that will be attempting to connect copyright information to bibliographic items, including linking to entries in the renewal database. Oddly enough, RDA lists the "copyright notice" element as being at the manifestation level, which seems wrong to me. Copyright is determined on the expression, at least for the two cases I have mentioned so far: each translation receives its own copyright, as does each distinct edition. That these may be republished in a variety of manifestations (hard back, paperback, large print, etc.) does not change their copyright status.

We cannot, however, link copyright information to works. There is no copyright in Der Zauberberg or in the Decimal Classification as a work; copyright will instead be on each expression. So for the purposes of linking to copyright information, it seems that we would ideally have a way to group items by expression. If not, then the only proper link would be on the manifestation, even though that means some repetition. What will make all of this difficult is that we won't often have a date that we can associate with the expression, only with the manifestation, and that isn't necessarily the copyright date. (Except when it is, of course. You librarians reading this know what I mean.)

It still baffles me that we don't include a transcription of the copyright statement on the book or item when we create library bibliographic data, considering how useful that could be. Yet, when I proposed the copyright statement field for the MARC record there was great opposition. Some things I just don't get.


Casey A. Mullin said...

(A chime from a non-book "expert"):
I will second your observation that the expression is the primary bibliographic entity which users seek. In Variations2 (our "FRBR-like" music retrieval tool), the expression (we call it Instantiation) is the end-point of all searches. From there, the user clicks through to the digitized score or audio (the "item", if you will). But the attributes and primary relationships of the expression (in conjunction with the work) is what users seek, at least in known-item searches. (e.g. Beethoven's 5th performed by the New York Philharmonic and conducted by Leonard Bernstein).

As for recording copyright statements, we do that in our system! In fact, we maintain copyright declaration metadata at both the Container (Manifestation) and Instantiation (Expression) level, since they can often differ on sound recordings. Recording companies signify this by (C) and (P) dates, respectively.

Anonymous said...

There a lot to think about here.

In the moving image cataloging community, there's been a lot of talk about the need for better access to work-level information (as well as what might be called original/primary expression info). Fore example, lots of libraries get people wanting originally French language films and we have no standard way of providing access to materials in this way. The use of the original language title can be a barrier, but it could theoretically be handled other ways (e.g., the way IMDB files under the original title, but displays alternate on the hit list page for easier selection or if titles were identified by language, users could choose a display language)

I guess I am thinking that users of moving images would be best served by records that are more at the level of IMDB/Internet Movie Guide (basically the work level) with selection options/limiters. Lynne Bisko and I (hopefully) will have an article in next Code4Lib Journal that talks some about what this might look like.

I do tend to think of expression more in terms of the FRBR select task. Certainly, only certain expressions are useful to a given user, but on the other hand, I often find the WorldCat display annoying when it separates out things that are for my purposes equivalent just because of some small difference like a change in publisher.

A couple other odd thoughts...

I was once on a list where people were complaining about the fact that Amazon often preferred to display older editions (presumably b/c they had sold more) even when a newer edition existed. It does seem like what is needed for fiction and non-fiction might vary here.

Locally, we often do make a note about the original copyright date and sometimes holder on the title frames of videos as it is often the only way to get at the original date and production company and I think recording that info more systematically would be useful. On the other hand (at least for me, but I don't know much about copyright), it's not necessarily clear who has the copyright to a video in hand. The package copyright holder or the original one???