A weblog following developments around the world in FRBR: Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records.

Maintained by William Denton, Web Librarian at York University. Suggestions and comments welcome at wtd@pobox.com.

Confused? Try What Is FRBR? (2.8 MB PDF) by Barbara Tillett, or Jenn Riley's introduction. For more, see the basic reading list.

Books: FRBR: A Guide for the Perplexed by Robert Maxwell (ISBN 9780838909508) and Understanding FRBR: What It Is and How It Will Affect Our Retrieval Tools edited by Arlene Taylor (ISBN 9781591585091) (read my chapter FRBR and the History of Cataloging).


December 2005
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Lubetzky audio clip

Posted by: William Denton, 6 December 2005 7:56 am
Categories: Audio/Video,Conferences

“The catalogue has to tell you more than what you ask for.”

Here is a short audio clip of Seymour Lubetzky talking in 1977 (1.6 MB MP3). (He’s at a conference called The Catalog in the Age of Technological Change, in Los Angeles, 19 May 1977). He’s just read a paper called “The Precepts of 1876 and the Pursuits of 1976″ and now there are questions from the audience. A woman (Cydia? Tudor from Roosevelt University in Chicago; I can’t make out the first name clearly–there’s a lot of static on the recording) asks about how catalogues will work when they’re all on computers in the future: “Would it really be necessary to worry about filing rules … [and] main entry, because if you had multiple access points, couldn’t you just key in these various items and call up the record and get a printout and maybe in the year 5000 there’ll be different kinds of printouts.”

Lubetzky talks about main and added entries, but the reason I copied this clip is because he says, “The catalogue has to tell you more than what you ask for…. The answer of a good catalogue is not to say yes or no, but … to tell [the user] that the library has [the item] in so many editions and translations, and you have your choice.” (In his answer he actually refers to something he’d discussed in his paper, George Washington’s farewell address, which has been published under many different titles.)

Terms like “main entry” and “added entry” and “access points” may not be familiar to non-librarians out there, but the key thing to know about this clip is that Seymour Lubetzky (1898-2003), one of the greatest cataloguers ever, is a major figure in the development of FRBR because of his ideas about what a “work” is and how catalogues should function. The quote I highlighted above is new to me (perhaps it appears in his writings; if so, I don’t remember) and it grabbed me immediately. That the catalogue should tell the user what editions and translations it has is exactly what FRBR is going to do. That the catalogue should tell the user more than he or she asks for is also what FRBR will do: if you search for a particular song, the catalogue can tell you what movies it was used in, what artists have recorded it, what songs have sampled it, what CDs it’s available on, as well as who wrote the lyrics and who wrote the music, etc. That’s much more valuable than “yes we have it” or “no we don’t have it.”

I talk about Lubetzky and FRBR in my paper FRBR and Fundamental Cataloguing Rules.

(Here’s a picture of Seymour Lubetzky and Mitch Freedman shaking hands in 1975 of 1977. The audio clip comes from a tape recording at the library of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information Studies).

If you have any thoughts about this, or knew Lubetzky, please leave a comment.

UPDATE (18 December 2005): Tribute to Lubetzky Held During Midwinter in San Diego, from the ALCTS Newsletter Online. Elaine Svenonius, Barbara Tillett, and Martha Yee spoke about Lubetzky and the texts of their speeches are available to read. (Michael Gorman also spoke, but his isn’t there.)


  1. This really brought back memories! Mr. Lubetzky
    was always a delight to talk to. His insights
    were amazing. I wasn’t fortunate to have been one
    of his students like many of my colleagues; but die
    benefit from many discussions with him here at
    UCLA over the years.

    Comment by Joan Flintoff LoPear — 9 December 2005 @ 4:01 pm
  2. I just found your announcement about this audio clip buried in my email (my method of inbox as to-do list is failing miserably), and had a listen. I was struck by what I heard to be the questioner using the word “online” TWICE to refer to catalogs of the future, as an alternative to card and microfilm catalogs. I had no idea the concept of online catalogs was circulating widely as early as 1977. Too cool!

    Comment by Jenn Riley — 19 November 2007 @ 9:21 pm
  3. One hilarious thing is how careful the questioner has to be to avoid being ridden out of town by her cataloging colleagues. “Isn’t it _possible_… in the _future_”.

    Anyone know who the questioner is? Where’d you get the audio anyway, is there more?

    Comment by Jonathan Rochkind — 20 October 2010 @ 11:48 pm
  4. It’s from The Precepts of 1876 and the Pursuits of 1976, a talk that the U of Toronto library school library has on a dusty old cassette. That’s the only bit of it I recorded. I can’t make out the name of the questioner, but surely someone out there knows who it is, if she’s not around herself …

    Comment by William Denton — 20 October 2010 @ 11:58 pm
  5. Such a valuable thing to post this, so we have the opportunity of listening to the Lubetzky saying that the catalog has to tell the user mora than what he’s asking.
    Thank you.
    Claudia (Mexico City)

    Comment by Claudia Escobar Vallarta — 26 August 2013 @ 12:58 pm

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