Monday, February 24, 2014

The FRBR Groups

FRBR has three groups of entities, numbered 1-3. Each group, however, has its own set of characteristics that are very different from each other, so different that they really are different kinds of groups. These differences make it hard to speak of them in one breath.

One of the key things to know about the groups is that they aren't classes in the data modeling sense. Why they are therefore grouped at all is not clear, except perhaps it was a convenient way to speak of them. The IFLA FRBR Review Group maintains that the groups do not represent classes and that the ten (or eleven, with family) entities represent the highest organizational level recognized by FRBR. Unfortunately the treatment of them as groups throughout the document tends to contradict this statement. This just adds to the confusion about the meaning and nature of the groups.

Group 2

I'm going to take Group 2 first because it is the simplest. Group 2 is a group of "agents" or "actors" that perform actions in the bibliographic environment. The original entities of the group were person and corporate body, but family has been added through the work that was done on the Functional Requirements for Authority Data (FRAD). In most kinds of data modeling the members of Group 2 would be members of a class, and the class would have certain characteristics that define the kinds of things that could be members and their shared characteristics. For example, one could say that all members are people or groups of people, that they generally have names, they perform certain actions, etc. These characteristics would therefore not need to be defined separately for each member of the class, and definitions of members would only include characteristics unique to that class. Because no classes exist in FRBR, each Group 2 entity is described separately through its own attributes, although there is a fair amount of overlap between them.

Note that each of the Group 2 entities stands alone with no dependencies on any other entities. (This matters when we get to Group 1).

Group 3

Group 3 is an odd grouping because it has a rather miscellaneous nature. The entities that are described as Group 3 are ones that are needed for subject description in bibliographic data: subject; object; place; event. Not much is said about them because FRBR, not unlike cataloging rules (AACR, ISBD), does not really address subject assignment. It isn't clear to me where these particular entities come from because they are not equal to the "facets" of LCSH (form, chronological and geographic). It would be interesting to know how this particular set came about, since the FRBR Study Group was looking beyond North American practice.

What makes Group 3 odd, though, is not its composition but that it is only a partial listing of the subject elements; the full set also includes all of the members of groups 1 and 2. So the actual meaning of group 3 is: all of the subject entities that are not in other groups.

It remains to be seen what will happen to these entities when FRBR and the Functional Requirements for Subject Authority Data (FRSAD) are merged. FRSAD takes a 30,000 foot view of subjects, and essentially concludes that if you can call it a subject and give it an identity and a name, it's a subject. This aspect of the original FRBR study, which was specifically directed at the charge of defining the elements of a core bibliographic record, could change as the model becomes more generalized, which seems to be what is happening.

Group 1

All that I will say about Group 1 here is that it is a group that represents one thing divided into four levels of abstraction. Group 1 deserves its own post, rather than making this one overly long. That post will be next.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

FRBR goals: entities, relations, and a core level record

The FRBR study was motivated by a 1990 international seminar on cataloging held in Stockholm. The charge to the study group was approved by the IFLA Standing Committee of the Section of Cataloguing in 1992. That document, called the Terms of Reference for a Study of the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, stated:
Today the expectations and constraints facing bibliographic control are more pressing than ever. All libraries, including national bibliographic agencies, are operating under increasing budgetary constraints and increasing pressures to reduce cataloging costs through minimal level cataloging. [1]
Or, as Olivia Madison, the chair of the FRBR Study Group from 1991-1993 and 1995-1997, put it:
The Stockholm Seminar addressed the general question: "Can cataloging be considerably simplified?" [2]
The Standing Committee decided that consultants with particular skills in the area of cataloging were needed in order to approach the task, and three (later four) consultants were engaged. The primary charge to the consultants was:
1. Determine the full range of functions of the bibliographic record and then state the primary uses of the record as a whole.
This is at the very least a daunting task. However, the Terms of Reference gave the consultants some guidance about how to go about their work. The remaining tasks for the consultants were:
2. Develop a framework that identifies and clearly defines the full range of entities (e.g., work, texts, subjects, editions and authors) that are the subject of interest to users of a bibliographic record and the types of relationships (e.g. part/whole, derivative, and chronological) that may exist between those entities.
3. For each of the entities in the framework, identify and define the functions (e.g., to describe, to identify, to differentiate, to relate) that the bibliographic record is expected to perform.
4. Identify the key attributes (e.g., title, date, and size) of each entity or relationship that are required for each specific function to be performed. Attribute requirements should relate specifically to the media or format of the bibliographic item where applicable.
The notions of entities, relationships, and attributes don't appear in traditional cataloging theory; they come instead from the world of database design, and in particular relational database design. Because these concepts were expected to be unfamiliar to members of the committee and perhaps also the consultants, the Terms of Reference provides definitions, using as its source the 1984 book Data Analysis: the Key to Data Base Design, by Richard C. Perkinson. (Note, some of this is re-iterated in the FRBR final report, in the section on methodology, where four books are cited as sources of information on entity-relation methodology.)

Those were the tasks for the consultants, the selected experts who would do the analysis and present the report to the Study Group. The Study Group itself had this task:
5. For the National Libraries: for bibliographic records created by the national bibliographic agencies, recommend a basic level of functionality that relates specifically to the entities identified in the framework the functions that are relevant to each.
It appears to be this last charge that directly addressed the needs expressed in the Stockholm seminar: the need for a core level record that would help cataloging agencies reduce their costs while still serving users. I read the charges to the consultants as mainly providing a working methodology that would allow the consultants to focus  their energies on what amounts to a general rethinking of cataloging theory and practice.

The Terms of Reference is a rather bare bones statement of what needs to be done, and it says little about the why of the study. According to Tillett's 1994 report [3], some of the concerns that came out of Stockholm were:
"the mounting costs of cataloging," the proliferation of new media, "exploding bibliographic universe," the need to economize in cataloging, and "the continuing pressures to adapt cataloguing practices and codes to the machine environment."
The FRBR document states the motivation as:
"The purpose of formulating recommendations for a basic level national bibliographic record was to address the need identified at the Stockholm Seminar for a core level standard that would allow national bibliographic agencies to reduce their cataloguing costs through the creation, as necessary, of less-than-full-level records, but at the same time ensure that all records produced by national bibliographic agencies met essential user needs." [4] p.2
At this point, it is worth asking: did the FRBR study indeed result in a "core level standard" that would reduce cataloging costs for national bibliographic agencies? It definitely did define a core level standard, although that aspect of the FRBR report is not often discussed. Chapter 7 of the FRBR document, BASIC REQUIREMENTS FOR NATIONAL BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORDS, lists the "basic level of functionality" for library catalogs:
Find all manifestations embodying:
  • the works for which a given person or corporate body is responsible
  • the various expressions of a given work
  • works on a given subject
  • works in a given series
Find a particular manifestation:
  • when the name(s) of the person(s) and/or corporate body(ies) responsible for the work(s) embodied in the manifestation is (are) known
  • when the title of the manifestation is known
  • when the manifestation identifier is known
Identify a work
Identify an expression of a work
Identify a manifestation
Select a work
Select an expression
Select a manifestation
Obtain a manifestation
This of course looks quite similar to the goals of a catalog developed over a century ago by Charles Ammi Cutter:
Section 7.3 of the chapter lists the descriptive and organizing elements (headings) that should make up a core bibliographic record. This chapter should be a key element of the FRBR study results, yet it isn't often mentioned in discussions of FRBR, which tend to focus on the ten (or eleven, if you add family) entities and their primary relationships to each other (is realization of, manifests, etc.), and the four user tasks (find, identify, select, obtain).

While most people can hold forth on the FRBR entities, few can discourse on this outcome of the report, which is a basic level national bibliographic record. Admittedly, the report itself does not emphasize this information. The elements of the basic level record use the terminology of ISBD, not of FRBR, which makes it difficult to see the direct connection with the rest of the report. (I haven't had the fortitude to work through the appendix comparing FRBR attributes with ISBD, GARE and GSARE but I assume that a matching was done. However, this does make the recommended core record hard to read in the context of FRBR.) For example, there are core descriptive elements relating to uniform titles ("addition to uniform title - numeric designation (music)") yet uniform titles are not mentioned among the FRBR attributes and the term "uniform title" is not included in the index.

It is not clear to me what has happened to the goal to provide a solution for cash-strapped cataloging agencies. The E-R model, which in my reading was offered as a methodology to support the analysis that needed to be done, has become what people think of as FRBR. If the FRBR Review Group, which is currently maintaining the results of the Study Group's work, does have activities that are aimed at helping national libraries do their work more effectively while saving them cataloging time, it isn't nearly as visible as the work being done to create definition of bibliographic data that follows entity-relation modeling. In any case, I, for one, was actually surprised to discover Chapter 7 in my copy of the FRBR Study Group report.

[1] Terms of Reference for a Study of the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records. (1992). Available in: Le Boeuf, P. (2005). Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR): Hype or Cure-All?. New York: Haworth Information Press.
[2] Madison, Olivia M.A. The origins of the IFLA study on Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records. In: LE BŒUF, Patrick. Ed. Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR): Hype, or Cure-All? [printed text]. Binghamton, NY: the Haworth Press, 2005.
[3]Tillett, B. B. (1994). IFLA Study on the Functional Requirements of Bibliographic Records : Theoretical and Practical Foundations, (April), 1–5.
[4] IFLA Study Group on the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records. (2009). Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records. Retrieved from

Friday, February 14, 2014

FRBR as a conceptual model

(I have been working on a very long and very detailed analysis of FRBR, probably more than anyone wants to know. But some parts of that analysis might be generally helpful in understanding FRBR, so I'm going to "leak" those ideas out through this blog.)

The FRBR document, in its section on Methodology, gives the reasoning behind the use of entity-relation modeling technique:
The methodology used in this study is based on an entity analysis technique that is used in the development of conceptual models for relational database systems. Although the study is not intended to serve directly as a basis for the design of bibliographic databases, the technique was chosen as the basis for the methodology because it provides a structured approach to the analysis of data requirements that facilitates the processes of definition and delineation that were set out in the terms of reference for the study.
E-R modeling is a multi-step technique that begins with a high-level conceptual analysis of the data universe that is being considered. Quoting the FRBR document again:
The first step in the entity analysis technique is to isolate the key objects that are of interest to users of information in a particular domain. These objects of interest or entities are defined at as high a level as possible. That is to say that the analysis first focuses attention not on individual data but on the "things" the data describe. Each of the entities defined for the model, therefore, serves as the focal point for a cluster of data. An entity diagram for a personnel information system, for example, would likely identify "employee" as one entity that would be of interest to the users of such a system.

This is a very good description of conceptual modeling. So it is either puzzling or disturbing that most readings of FRBR do not recognize this difference between a conceptual model and either a record format or a logical model. In part this is because few have done a close reading of the FRBR document, and unfortunately it is easy to view the diagrams there as statements of data structure rather than high level concepts about bibliographic data. (It's not surprising that people get their information about FRBR from the diagrams, rather than the text. There are three very simple diagrams in the document, and 142 pages of text. Yet even if a picture is worth a thousand words, those three are not equal to the text.)

One of the main assumptions about FRBR is that the entities listed there should be directly translated into records in any bibliographic data design that intends to implement FRBR. For example, there is much criticism of BIBFRAME for presenting a two-entity bibliographic model instead of the four entities of FRBR. This reflects the mistaken idea that each Group 1 entity must be a record in whatever future bibliographic formats are developed. As entities in a conceptual model there is absolutely no direct transfer from conceptual entities to data records. How best to create a record format that carries the concepts is something that would be arrived at after a further and more detailed technical analysis. In fact, the development of a record format might not seem to be a direct descendent of the E-R model, since the E-R modeling technique has a bias toward the structure of relational database management systems, not records, and the FRBR Study Group was not intending its work to be translated directly to a database design.

There are innumerable ways that one could implement a data design that fulfills the conceptual view of FRBR. In E-R modeling there are subsequent steps that build on the conceptual design to develop it into an actionable data design. These steps are actually more detailed and imposing than the conceptual design which is often used to bridge the knowledge gap between operational staff and the technical staff that must creating a working system. The step after the conceptual model is usually the logical design step that completes the list of attributes, and defines the types of data values that will be stored in the database tables (text, date, currency) and the cardinality of each data element (mandatory, optional, repeatable, etc.). It then normalizes the data to remove any duplication of data within the entire database. It also resolves relationships between data tables so that one-to-many and many-to-many relationships are correctly implemented for the applications that will make use of them. Although this is couched in terms of database design, an equally rigorous step would be needed to move from a conceptual view to a design for a format that could be used in library systems and for data exchange.

As an illustration, here is a logical design for the bibliographic system MusicBrainz that stores information about recorded music. It has many of the same concepts as FRBR (works, performers, variant expressions), and must resolve the complex relationships between albums, songs, and performances (not unlike what a music library catalog must do):

With perhaps some difference in details you could say that this implements the concepts of FRBR. Still, this is a database design, and not a record format. For many databases, there is no single record that represents all of the stored data. Business databases are generally a combination of data from numerous departments and processes, and they can often output many different data combinations as needed.

It does say something about the state of technology awareness in the library profession that once a presumably successful conceptual model was developed there was no second step to make that model operational. What was the ultimate goal of FRBR, and did it fulfill that goal? Look for another post soon on that topic.