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).

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Weinberger, Everything Is Miscellaneous

Posted by: William Denton, 2 July 2007 7:36 am
Categories: Books

I read David Weinberger‘s new book Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder recently and I recommend it. If you use del.icio.us, Wikipedia, and Library Thing, it won’t all seem brand new or earth-shattering, but it’ll get you thinking about some things in new ways. Others may get freaked out. The more people that start thinking about this way of working, the better.

It’s not perfect. Sometimes it’s disjointed, as though assembled from smaller parts; I think it needed more one more close edit. Even a book about miscellaneity requires a solid backbone. There are two almost identical mentions of an Umberto Eco quote that stand out strangely. Nevertheless, there is much interesting in the book.

Everything Is Miscellaneous mentions FRBR in the “What Is a Book?” section that begins on page 118 of my manifestation (Times Books, 2007). Weinberger talks about Hamlet and all the variations and versions of it, and quotes Thom Hickey, of OCLC fame when explaining xISBN. Then on pp. 122-123 there’s a bit about FRBR.

Huzzah to Weinberger for exposing FRBR to a wider audience!


Arlene Taylor’s FRBR book delayed until November

Posted by: William Denton, 1 June 2007 7:58 am
Categories: Books

Understanding FRBR: What It Is and How It Will Affect Our Retrieval Tools, edited by Arlene Taylor and published by Libraries Unlimited, has been delayed until November. I have a chapter in the book and was quite looking forward to seeing it this spring, but now you have six extra months to get an order for it into your library’s system. Rest assured I’ll let you know when it’s available.

Understanding FRBR is listed at Amazon.com now, if you want to get it that way.

UPDATE: Arlene Taylor left a comment with the revised contents listing, which I’ll add to the main body of this entry so that no-one misses it:

  1. An Introduction to Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) – Arlene G. Taylor
  2. An Introduction to Functional Requirements for Authority Data (FRAD) – Glenn E. Patton
  3. Understanding the Relationship between FRBR and FRAD – Glenn E. Patton
  4. FRBR and the History of Cataloging – William Denton
  5. The Impact of Research on the Development of FRBR – Edward T. O’Neill
  6. Bibliographic Families and Superworks – Richard P. Smiraglia
  7. FRBR and RDA (Resource Description and Access) – Barbara B. Tillett
  8. FRBR and Archival Materials – Alexander C. Thurman
  9. FRBR and Works of Art, Architecture, and Material Culture – Murtha Baca and Sherman Clarke
  10. FRBR and Cartographic Materials – Mary Lynette Larsgaard
  11. FRBR and Moving Image Materials – Martha M. Yee
  12. FRBR and Music – Sherry L. Vellucci
  13. FRBR and Serials – Steven C. Shadle

De Revolutionibus encore

Posted by: William Denton, 1 March 2007 7:27 am
Categories: Books

This is a follow-up to De Revolutionibus and De Revolutionibus redux. I just noticed that in the external links section of Wikipedia’s entry on Copernicus, there’s a link to a digitized version of a manuscript of the book, written by Copernicus.

The history of this copy (which they call an “autograph” because it’s written by hand) says:

The Autograph De revolutionibus preserved in the Jagiellonian Library is a result of work of the great scholar, intermediate between a rough copy and a fair copy. It had remained in Copernicus’ hands until his death (24 May 1543). His papers and books passed to his closest friend, Tiedemann Giese (1480-1550), a bishop in Chelmno at that time. He bequeathed his library to Warmia Chapter. However, the autograph went to the collection of George Joachim Rheticus (1514-1574), astronomer, Copernicus’ pupil. Rheticus was occupied with publishing the work of his master, but the basis for printing was not the autograph but its copy.

It knocked around a fair bit after that, ended up in Prague, and was given back to Poland in 1956.

What does this mean for we FRBRians? Well, it’s the same work, De Revolutionibus. No doubt there. Is this the same expression as the one we were discussing earlier? I don’t know. The quote above says “the basis for printing was not the autograph but its copy.” Who made the copy? We don’t know. How different is this autograph from its copy, and how different are both from the printed version? We don’t know. We’d have to check what researchers have found out (or get smart students to make a project of it).

For fun, let’s assume that the text of the copy is different enough to seriously count as a new expression. We won’t be picky about a different letter or word here or there. Let’s say there are noticeable differences that merit distinction. Maybe textual or numeric changes were introduced prior to printing, or Rheticus edited it, or some such. We’re pretending.

Now we have two expressions: the text of the autograph and the text that made up the editions (manifestations) printed in 1543 and 1566. Let’s summarize how things stand, viewed with FRBR, before any digitization was done:

Work: De Revolutionibus by Nicolaus Copernicus

  • Expression 1: text (in an abstract sense) of autograph version
    • Manifestation 1: Copernicus’s handwritten copy (with that text on paper)
      • Item 1: Copernicus’s handwritten copy
  • Expression 2: text (in an abstract sense) that went to press (which we’re pretending is sufficiently different)
    • Manifestation 0: Rheticus’s copy of the handwritten version (with that text on paper)
      • Item 1: Rheticus’s copy, wherever that is now
    • Manifestation 1: first edition, Nuremberg, 1543 (where the printer put the text into physical form by printing it on paper)
      • Item 1
      • Item 2
      • Item 3 and so on …
      • … up to item 400 or 500 or so, Gingerich estimates
    • Manifestation 2: second edition, Basel, 1566 (where another printer put the text into physical form)
      • Item 1
      • Item 2
      • Item 3 and so on …
      • … up to item 500 or 600 or so, Gingerich estimates

How does the Polish digitization of the autograph copy affect the first expression? How do we express what’s on their web site — and what’s on your hard drive when you’ve looked at a page and it’s stored in your browser’s cache — in FRBR terms? Aha! Now you’re scratching your head!


De Revolutionibus redux

Posted by: William Denton, 26 February 2007 7:34 am
Categories: Books

Friday, the day after I posted De Revolutionibus, I went to the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto to have a look at their copy of the 1566 second edition of Nicolaus Copernicus’s book.

The Fisher is a great place. If you’re in Toronto, drop by and have a look. The outside is a repulsive brutalist structure; the inside is a beautiful, majestic temple to books, history, and knowledge, dark and redolent of old paper. There are no interior floors, and you can see the shelves around the walls going up six storeys. Anyone can get a card and ask for a book to be brought down to the reading room. Go in. Inhale deeply and smell a good library.

In An Annotated Census of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus (Nuremberg, 1543 and Basel, 1566) (Leiden: Brill, 2002), Owen Gingerich says this about the provenance of the Fisher’s copy (item):

  1. “Possibly the copy of Philips Lansbergen (1561-1632), Dutch astronomer.”
  2. Later a fellow named James Erskine had it.
  3. In late Victorian times, the library of the Society of Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet had it.
  4. Historian and ollector Stillman Drake bought it at auction, and later donated it to the Fisher.

Five owners over 450 years leaves a lot to be filled in.

There’s a sign of another owner in some writings on the beginning blank pages. Someone wrote in by hand a chronology, “Chronographia,” the first part labelled “Christum praecedens” (before Christ, i.e. B.C.) and the second the Latin equivalent of after Christ (I forgot to note it). It identifies 6984 BC as the year Adam was created and runs through other Biblical and historical events down to 753 BC, when Rome was founded. Someone (the same person?) did a sum beside and added 1668 to 753 to get 2421. Whoever did that must have been looking at this chronology in 1668 and wondered just how many years it had been since Rome’s founding, and did the addition on paper because it was a bit too tricky to do it mentally. Later notes in the chronology mention Plato, Euclid, Archimedes, and other mathematics and astronomy dates and names.

Gingerich says about this item:

Heavily annotated, especially in Book III, in a small script and much faded brown ink. There are nine preliminary flyleaves, mostly blank, with schematic diagrams of the heliocentric celestial sphere on pp. 2-3, and a chronological table on pp. 5-7.

At the top of the title page, DULCES ANTE OMNIA MUSAE. At the end of the Osiander “Ad lectorem,” “Petrus Ramus in Epist[ola] sua ad Rheticum de conformanda Logicis Legibus Astrologia existimat hauc esse Rhetici praefationem.” (“Petrus Ramus in his letter to Rheticus concerning the agreement of astronomy with the rules of logic thinks that this preface is from Rheticus.”) This refers to the letter of Ramus to Rheticus of 25 August 1563, apparently first published in 1599 in ref 1 and reprinted by Birkenmajer [ref. 2] and Burmeister [ref. 3]; see ref. 4. A copy of this annotation is found in Warsaw 2.

“Warsaw 2″ is another copy (item) of this same second edition (manifestation), in Warsaw. It’s the second one Gingerich lists in that city. He says it is “clearly closely related to the Toronto copy,” and that the annotations throughout it are generally the same. It has a note in it that Kepler wrote in one of his own copies that Schreiber named Osiander as the writer of the introduction.

Phew! So we have:

  • Nicolaus Copernicus (person), his book De Revolutionibus (work), its expression, its two manifestations, their printers (persons or corporate bodies, I don’t know), etc.
  • Lansberger (person) who might have owned the Toronto copy (item).
  • James Erskine (person) who owned the Toronto item.
  • The Society of Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet (corporate body) who owned the Toronto item.
  • Stillman Drake (person) who owned the Toronto item and donated it to …
  • The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library who own the Toronto item now.
  • Whoever (person) did the chronology on the blank pages at the start. Lansberger? Someone else?
  • Possibly a post-Lansberger owner (person) who did the 1668 + 753 sum. Lansberger died in 1632 so it seems very unlikely he’d have done the calculation.
  • Andreas Osiander (person) who did the introduction to De Revolutionibus, but anonymously.
  • Kepler (person) who got his copy (item) of a manifestation of De Revolutionibus (work) from Schreiber (person) who was given it by the printer (person).
  • Petrus Ramus (person), who wrote a letter to …
  • Rheticus (person) discussing De Revolutionibus (work).
  • Works, expressions, manifestations where this letter is reprinted (the Berkenmajer and Burmeister references).
  • The Warsaw 2 item, another item from the same manifestation (edition) as the Toronto item.
  • Whatever persons and corporate bodies owned Warsaw 2.
  • Whatever person wrote the annotations in Warsaw 2. Since they are very close to those in the Toronto item, I assume that either one was copied from the other or both were copied from a third item.
  • Owen Gingerich (person), who examined the Toronto and Warsaw 2 items, lists them in An Annotated Census of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus (Nuremberg, 1543 and Basel, 1566) (work) and discusses this work and De Revolutionibus (work) and its manifestations and items in The Book Nobody Read (work).
  • William Denton (person), who has a copy (item) of The Book Nobody Read (work) and looked at the Fisher’s (corporate body) copy (item) of De Revolutionibus (work) and copy (item) of the Census (work).
  • A.R. (person), a journalist and documentary film maker, who I met at a party Thursday night, who once interviewed Gingerich (person) about another Renaissance work on astronomy (work) for an article (work) she was writing for a magazine …
  • This post in its original form and in a slightly modified updated version, the previous post and its comments, this blog’s RSS feed, the copy of this post on Planet Code4Lib, Planet Code4Lib’s RSS feed, blog posts that link to the previous post …

It’s complicated enough just doing all the entities and relationships that Gingerich covers in the Census. When we add discussion of Gingerich and De Revolutionibus that takes place on the Internet, it gets even more complicated and confusing. That’s a lot of works, expressions, manifestations, item, persons, and corporate bodies, and all kinds of different relationships between them all.

Right now it’s all in Gingerich’s Census, which I say again is an astounding piece of scholarship, but is trapped on paper. If its contents were also available in RDF, for example, related to controlled vocabularies or ontologies about people and publishing and astronomy and countries and provenance and the history of science … Well, imagine the possibilities.


De Revolutionibus

Posted by: William Denton, 22 February 2007 7:12 am
Categories: Books

I’m reading The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus by Owen Gingerich (US: Walker and Company; Canada: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2004). Gingerich is an astronomer and historian of science who took an intense interest in Nicolaus Copernicus‘s 1543 book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. (It’s known as De Revolutionibus, and Gingerich gives the pronunciation as “Day Revoluty-OWN-ibus.”)

There were a few hundred copies (items) of the first edition (manifestation) done in Nuremberg in 1543 (the year Copernicus died, aged 70), and a few hundred of the second edition (manifestation) done in Basel in 1566. It’s a crucial book in astronomy and the history of science. Kepler, Brahe, Galileo, Newton, Leibniz, and most of the other important figures in Renaissance science read it. Many of them annotated their copies, and many of those personal copies still exist. Gingerich spent years travelling around the world looking at every copy (item) he could find (in rare book libraries, museums, and personal collections) and figuring out who had owned them and who had written the annotations, if any. The Book Nobody Read tells the story behind the writing of an astounding piece of scholarship, An Annotated Census of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus (Nuremberg, 1543 and Basel, 1566) (Leiden: Brill, 2002). It will be exciting reading for people interested in bibliography and the histories of astronomy, science, and books.

Why do I mention it here? Because it’s a great example of a work (The Book Nobody Read) about another work (De Revolutionibus), a work about manifestations (the two printings), a work about items (the copies owned by Johannes Kepler, Kepler’s teacher Michael Maestlin, a contemporary of theirs named Jerome Schreiber, and others), and more. It’s a whole big mix of fascinating relationships between Group 1 (work, expression, manifestation, item) and Group 2 (person, corporate body) entities. (I’ll skip the Group 3 entities such as concept and place for now to keep things simpler.) In fact, The Book Nobody Read is also a work about another work, An Annotated Census of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus (Nuremberg, 1543 and Basel, 1566), which is a work about De Revolutionibus, but I’ll leave that out as well, for simplicity.

Here’s a thumbnail of a large diagram that maps out some of the relationships. It’s a link to the full-size version (103 KB PNG), so pull that up in a separate window or tab.

Thumbnail of diagram of crazy relationships between The Book Nobody Read and De Revolutionibus

Along the top you have Nicolaus Copernicus, creator of the work De Revolutionibus. I believe it just had the one expression that was used for both of the printings (manifestations) done in 1543 and 1566. To keep things simple we’ll ignore any corrections made while the printing was underway. (See note below.) Also along the top you have the anonymous introduction that was added to the book. It was written by Andreas Osiander (1498-1552) and said that the book wasn’t meant to really say that the Earth went around the Sun, but just that this was a good way of making calculations simpler. I have the book and the introduction as two related works that come together in the manifestations.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) had a copy of the book. It was given to him by Jerome Schreiber, a mathematician, who had got a copy from his friend the Nuremberg publisher and thus knew who’d done the introduction. Schreiber annotated it before passing it on. Gingerich looked at this copy (this item, in FRBR terms) and saw that it had also been annotated by Kepler’s teacher, Michael Maestlin. This bit gets a bit confusing, so I’ll quote Gingerich:

What follows is an exercise in minutiae, but one that ultimately offers a most intriguing insight into Kepler’s student-teacher relationship with Michael Maestlin. Below Schreiber’s note is another, looking at first glance very much like Kepler’s hand, yet clearly distinct from Kepler’s annotations elsewhere in the book. In fact, I believe it matches Michael Maestlin’s hand more closely than Kepler’s….

Why do I get excited about something as esoteric as this? Because the presence of this little note tells us that Kepler showed his copy to his teacher, and that’s why Maestlin was so sure it was Osiander who had written the anonymous introduction to Copernicus’s book. There it was in Kepler’s copy, in black and white, coming straight from Schreiber, a Wittenburg insider.

So: Schreiber got a copy of the book from the printer, and annotated it. He gave the copy to Kepler. Kepler annotated it. Kepler showed his copy to his teacher Maestlin, who wrote his own comment in the margin. Maestlin annotated his own copy with a similar comment, and indicated in his copy where he had annotated Kepler’s copy.

All of this is mapped out in the bottom left of the diagram. I apologize for not using directed lines (with arrows on the ends) to indicate what direction relationships are in. It does show, however, the item-to-item and person-to-person relationships. It’s fascinating to think of two people looking at and discussing a third person’s annotations in a book, and one of the two marking up his own copy to show where the marginalia was in the other. And then centuries later, Gingerich came along, looked at them all, and figured out what it all meant!

Over on the right is a cluster of entities representing Owen Gingerich, his book, its publishers, and me and my copy. I like this bit because it puts me six degrees of FRBR separation away from Copernicus.

There are scores of other interesting relationships that could be given here. For instance, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) owned a copy. The Roman Catholic Church put De Revolutionibus on its list of forbidden books, and sent out instructions on which bits of the book were to be censored. Galileo scratched out the relevant lines in his copy and there’s a picture of this in The Book Nobody Read. As well, Kepler worked for Tycho Brahe, who had a copy of De Revolutionibus and annotated it; some people copied Brahe’s annotations into their own copies; Leibniz had a copy and annotated it; Newton annotated a copy; Gingerich describes many others.

In summary, because of Gingerich’s An Annotated Census of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus (Nuremberg, 1543 and Basel, 1566) a very complete FRBRization of relationships around Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus could be done. It would stretch from work-to-work relations down to item-to-item relations, and connect hundreds of different people and corporate bodies with the Group 1 entities and each other. This would be very useful to bibliographers, historians of science, librarians, and collectors, but it would be a lot of work. The editors would need good tools to create and manage all of the bibliographic and personal relationships, and the users would need a navigation and visualization system that gave them customizable views of the information.

Note about expressions: Both of the first two manifestations (editions) of De Revolutionibus were done on a hand press. While the printer was printing, if he noticed a typographical error he could have fixed it right then by poking out one letter and popping in another before he did another sheet. Thus two items from the same manifestation could be different by, for example, one letter in one signature (bundle of pages). Does this mean that they are actually two different expressions? It depends. The expression entity is under revision and the proposed revision (62 KB PDF) says:

On a practical level, the degree to which bibliographic distinctions are made between variant expressions of a work will depend to some extent on the nature of the work itself, on the anticipated needs of users and on what the cataloguer can reasonably be expected to recognize from the manifestation being described.

If we built a FRBRized system for managing all of this, we’d want it to be able to record all such information (because Gingerich and bibliographers and historians need it) but we wouldn’t display it to users unless they asked for it. By default, I think we’d make it so that all these expressions would be considered as one unless the user wanted to see all the details. Sort of a basic and expert view.

One last note: If you have access to it, have a look at An Annotated Census of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus (Nuremberg, 1543 and Basel, 1566). Browse through and consider all of the work that went into it, and all of the history contained in the items listed.


Ranganathan, The Five Laws of Library Science

Posted by: William Denton, 12 January 2007 7:33 am
Categories: Books

S.R. Ranganathan‘s 1931 masterpiece The Five Laws of Library Science is available online as 10 PDFs at the dLIST open access archive at the University of Arizona. You should read it.

The five laws are:

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every person his [or her] book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.

I think the book is one of the most important works written in library science. I think the laws should underpin everything we do every day. Memorize them so you can quote them in meetings. You’ll be amazed at how they cut things down to some sensible size and help you remember what’s important.

FRBR fulfills the laws: it will help people find their books, it will help books be found, it will save the time of the reader, and it is part of the continuing growth of libraries not just in shelves and buildings but in ideas and services.

You’ll also be interested in Ranganathan’s Monologue on Melvil Dewey, a fifteen-minute talk he gave in 1964.


Catalogue & Index book review

Posted by: William Denton, 2 January 2007 7:15 am
Categories: Blog Mentions,Books

Happy new year to those of you who now write 2007 in your e-mail headers.

Patrick LeBoeuf’s FRBR: Hype or Cure-All (the special issue of Cataloging & Classification) is reviewed by Alan Danskin in Catalogue & Index (#154, Autumn 2006). The whole table of contents of that issue is online. I just found out about it because it’s mentioned in their new blog, which went live yesterday. Greetings!


Arlene Taylor editing new book on FRBR

Posted by: William Denton, 2 October 2006 7:52 am
Categories: Books

Arlene Taylor, professor emerita at the University of Pittsburgh, is editing a book about FRBR. It’s called Understanding FRBR: What It Is and How It Will Affect Our Retrieval Tools, and it’ll be out in spring 2007 from Libraries Unlimited. It looks like it’ll be a good one and if you follow this blog you’ll want to read it. Here’s a list of who’s contributing chapters:

  • Basic explanation of FRBR – Arlene Taylor
  • Basic explanation of FRAR – Arlene Taylor
  • FRBR as continuum since Panizzi – William Denton
  • Research on FRBR and some FRBR projects – Ed O’Neill
  • Interaction of FRAR and FRBR – Glenn Patton
  • FRBR and RDA – Barbara Tillett
  • FRBR and music – Sherry Vellucci
  • FRBR and art works – Murtha Baca and Sherman Clarke
  • FRBR and serials/continuing resources – Steve Shadle
  • FRBR and moving image materials – Martha Yee
  • FRBR and cartographic materials – Mary Larsgaard
  • FRBR and archival materials – Alex Thurman
  • FRBR and bibliographic families / superwork idea – Richard Smiraglia

That’s me doing the third one, about FRBR and the history of cataloguing. I’m delighted to have a chapter in the book and to be in such company. I’ll post more about the book as the release date gets nearer.


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