Thursday, October 7, 2010

RE: Displaying Work/Expression/Manifestation records

Posting to Autocat

This has turned into a very interesting thread indeed! I will only point out once again that there is the Cooperative Cataloging Rules at, so there is a choice! For many libraries out there, there is no choice since they no longer have a budget that could cover the costs of redoing everything.


On Wed, 6 Oct 2010 16:03:59 -0500, Kevin M. Randall wrote:

>Mac Elrod wrote:

>> Seems to me we are thinking in terms of philosophical categories, not
>> patron needs.
>The philosophy behind FRBR is quite definitely geared toward meeting patron

This idea that FRBR is geared toward meeting patron needs requires serious rethinking. Why do we believe this? I have seen absolutely no evidence for it, but it seems it is just accepted. Are our patrons demanding to find works/expressions/manifestation/items by their authors/titles/subjects? Not my patrons. They want something else. In fact, in the many reports I have read discussing what people want and expect from information today, I have never seen mentioned anything similar to FRBR user tasks.

And yet, the cataloging sector of the library world insists that people want the FRBR user tasks. In examining this, we must first recognize that the library catalog *right now* allows people to do the FRBR user tasks. The current library catalog *right now* allows users to search by varying types of uniform titles, authors, subjects, and to bring together *right now* the works, expressions, manifestations and items, as shown in FRBR. FRBR does not posit *anything new* (except for some possibly useful new attributes, e.g. extent of an expression). FRBR describes in another way exactly the same thing that we do now and have done for a long time. This fact needs to be accepted, understood, and examined.

What FRBR defines as "new" are the *displays*, it posits nothing new in the way of access, and in essence, eliminates the unit card (or unit records). So, if I have 100 different versions of Beowulf in various translations and editions, the user can find all of these right now using traditional catalogs, but in an FRBR world, would not have to look at 100 or so different unit cards, and they will get the FRBR displays, which are almost exactly (if not exactly) the same displays as those found in 19th century printed catalogs.

Once we recognize that FRBR does *not* bring in anything new to the matter, but is a matter of display, and changes nothing in access (aside from eliminating the rule of three, which is only a single rule change that does not need an entirely new cataloging code), other things start to make sense, e.g. typing out abbreviations, or changing "1962-" to "born 1962", which are also matters only of display.

What would be new are the attempts to eliminate ISO2709/MARC21 and to put catalog information in RDF, or any other type of XML format. But this could be done today and you do not need FRBR/RDA to accomplish this.

Research has shown that fewer people are finding the library catalog useful, and are turning to other tools. The scientists left some time ago; the social scientists have been leaving for awhile; and now even the humanities are starting. These problems that people find with our catalogs: are they based on "display"? Or do they lie elsewhere? I ask, does FRBR merely restate the functions of the traditional catalog in late 20th-21st century terminology, or does it offer something new? To me, it is obvious that it offers nothing new. And to be fair, I don't think that FRBR even suggests that it does.

I am not claiming that we give up, or conclude that the records we create are useless. I believe completely the opposite! But we must rethink what we are doing in this new reality (which isn't even so new anymore!), and this can be a terribly daunting path to embark upon.

This is what I am trying to discuss in my podcast series of my "personal journey", by the way. (Apologies for yet another bit of self-promotion. Series at:

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