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).


November 2009
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Last week in FRBR

Posted by: William Denton, 27 November 2009 7:35 am
Categories: Last Week

This is the last two weeks in FRBR, actually. Lots of stuff to point out to you. (I just realized I don’t get notified when there are comments waiting for approval, so a few have been sitting in the queue. Sorry about that. I’ll change it.)

Alison Carlyle says 2010 is the Year of Cataloguing (or something like that) and FRBR is involved. Of course!

Next Monday Ron Murray is giving a talk called Re-Imagining the Bibliographic Universe — FRBR, Physics and the World Wide Web. The abstract:

In response to dramatic increases in the quantity and types of culturally significant resources in libraries, cataloging theories like FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records) have become more complex when compared to traditional cataloging theories. The need to re-conceptualize and justify bibliographic resource description theories is now critical, due to the emergence of the World Wide Web – whose structure and content is more varied and more dynamic than that of libraries. To support the argument that the “commonsense imagery” of analog materials limits our thinking about cataloging and about resource description in general, the speaker will review how for atomic physicists, the “commonsense imagery” of physical processes had to be abandoned in the early 20th Century because the mathematics that explained the measurements of physical processes could no longer be related to any perceivable object or event. The diagrams that have fueled physicist’s imagination since 1945 correspond to nothing in the physical world – but were instead generated by the theories created by the physicists. The speaker suggests that the complexity of analog and digital Cultural Heritage resources warrants a similar approach to their description. This approach – “Paper Tool” creation and use – applies equally well to bibliographic descriptions of library content as well as to the emerging Semantic Web.

Ron Murray sent me up a bunch of interesting stuff about this, and I have been sitting on it and not gotten around to giving it a serious think or posting about it. It’s quite thought-provoking, and if a recording of his talk is available afterwards then I’ll link to it and you’ll want to listen to it.

Lukas Koster asks Is an E-book a Book? “First, we need see how all this fits together before we can answer the question ‘Is an e-book a book?’ or more precise: ‘In which sense is an e-book a book?’ Fortunately there is already a conceptual model for bibliographic entities and the relationships between them that describes this: FRBR.” And later: “I also think we should use the possibilities of the FRBR model to start describing, cataloging and identifying the ‘stories’ (chapters, articles, etc.) that make up books and e-books separately, as units of content in their own right. People are interested in the content, the ‘stories’, not the physical items or artificial digital aggregate units like e-books or e-journals.”

Kent Anderson asks, How Many Books Dance on the Head of an E-pin? It’s a response to Koster’s post. “Should we trim up the tree further? Simply stop at ‘expression’? In that case, you would have the expression of the work ‘Tom Sawyer,’ with the FRBR silent from that point on. And that may be where we’re headed — toward a world that can’t presume items or manifestations, but only list expressions of works. Or perhaps we should evacuate some of the detail from “manifestation” in order to provide an appropriate silence on the issues involved.”

Lukas Koster also pointed out a couple of interesting things in a tweet.

First, UNIMARC, RDA and the Semantic Web (130 KB PDF), a paper given by Gordon Dunsire at IFLA in Italy in August. The abstract:

The paper will discuss the application of Resource Description and Access (RDA), the emerging
successor to the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, as a content standard for metadata encoded in
UNIMARC. RDA is designed for international application in a digital environment, and is not aligned
with any specific bibliographic record encoding format, although work is ongoing to develop its
application to MARC21 and Dublin Core formats. The paper will also discuss the implications of
making components of RDA and associated models such as Functional Requirements for
Bibliographic Records (FRBR) and Functional Requirements for Authority Data (FRAD) compatible
with the Semantic Web.

Second, RDA and the Semantic Web, slides from a talk given in Seoul earlier this year by Alexander Haffner. FRBR starts on slide three.

Library student Michael Steeleworthy might do a reading course on FRBR. “I’m pushing for this in part because I’m not enthused about the course options for winter term, but mostly because I’m not comfortable with the level of knowledge I have on the organization of data and records to feel qualified to apply for a job in the sub-field.” He even scanned in some notes he took while reading Arlene Taylor’s Understanding FRBR.

Jennifer Eustis posted Are User Tasks Outdated Asks NGC4LIB from that never-ending mailing list thread which I still haven’t read.

And there’s some mention of FRBR in Bugs in Amber, Diane Hillmann’s analysis of Study of the North American MARC Records Marketplace (1.1 MB PDF), a report that the Library of Congress commissioned from R2 Consulting. It asks, “[A]re traditional cataloging and the MARC record—even after modernization by RDA and FRBR—still necessary in an era of full‐text indexing”? Diane replies: “Leaving aside the odd assumption that RDA and FRBR represent the ‘modernization’ of the traditional MARC record, they couch the issue only in the context of a limited number of technologies, never mentioning the gorilla in the room, the data being built by others outside our comfy and bounded silo.”


  1. An especially rich 2 weeks for FRBR! Thanks, Bill, as always, for compiling these. Wish I could keep up with it all!

    Comment by Jodi Schneider — 30 November 2009 @ 8:33 am
  2. [...] Last week in FRBR (source: The FRBR Blog, [...]

    Pingback by Catalo & co (06/12/09) « pintiniblog — 6 December 2009 @ 8:39 am

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