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

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Many thanks for this, and your previous FRBR post. I have often wondered, without taking the time to look as you have, what the original goals of the FRBR study group were.

Your analysis is very helpful.