by Tracie Kreighbaum
Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, or “FRBR,” has been a concept in incubation for some time. It is a general rather than specific type of metadata schema, which means it is not a system you can implement to provide record structure or content standards (Taylor & Joudrey, 2009, p. 104). Rather, it is a conceptual framework for bibliographic control, and focuses on relationships within and among items library personnel and other information professionals organize. FRBR also offers guidance to catalogers by outlining “user tasks,” or the expectations information seekers bring with them when engaging a catalog in search of information. Being aware of the following user needs: to “find,” “identify,” “select,” and “obtain,” provides catalogers direction when making decisions during record creation.
This selected literature review offers a brief explanation of the need for FRBR before describing its essential elements, or “entities.” I’ll then discuss literature that serves to introduce LIS students, librarians and other information professionals to this conceptual model by exploring points of view regarding the changes FRBR brings.
Why FRBR, or, in Other Words, Why Bother?
While many readers likely remember card catalogs, few will remember (or at least have used in practice) book catalogs, a creation that marked the beginning of the modern era in bibliographic records. Svenonius (2000) describes the utility of the book catalog, noting some of its attractive features including hierarchical integration of various forms of a work, and its recognition for the need of nonhierarchical elements (secondary attributes) through cross-references (p. 62). She cites nineteenth century librarian Antonio Panizzi who revolutionized cataloging during his time, and believed that more references would make a catalog more useful (Svenonius, 2000, p. 63).
Card catalogs heightened bibliographic standardization, and, like their predecessor, maintained a hierarchical structure that allowed users to find everything in a particular library by an author, and everything related to a work under the name of the work’s author. As Taylor (2007) describes, a work could have a group of cards taking up an inch or more in a card catalog drawer, but these cards would contain, altogether, information about and related to the work. This logical collocation of bibliographic information was lost with the advent of the online catalog. Most items in a library are cataloged at the manifestation level instead of the work level, and relationships between manifestations are often not noted. According to Svenonius (2000), online catalogs have “brought…a steady deterioration in the integrity of bibliographic structure” (p. 64). FRBR may be the answer to restoring this loss of structure and integrity.
The FRBR Model
In 1998 the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) published its final report on what they termed Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, or “FRBR.” According to the IFLA, FRBR was developed, in part, to establish a “framework for relating the data that are recorded in bibliographic records to the needs of users” (IFLA, 2008, p. 7). It can be used, or adapted, to various data models, including MARC, although newer tools such as XML are easier to customize for use with FRBR (IFLA, 2012).
FRBR is an entity-attribute-relationship model made up of three “groups” of entities for organizing information. An entity is a thing to be organized, an attribute is a characteristic, and a relationship is a connection. As Taylor (2007) explains, entities are first identified in a bibliographic system, attributes of the entities are identified next, and the relationships between entities are then specified (p. 4).
Group 1 Entities
Group 1 provides a logical hierarchy of what it is we are organizing. It is made up of “work,” “expression,” “manifestation,” and “item” categories. A “work,” a concept that has been thought and written about for some time in the information profession, is “a distinct intellectual or artistic creation” (IFLA, 1997, p. 13). An expression is the realization of a work, and it is important to note that these two categories do not represent something tangible; it is the manifestation category where the physical embodiment is represented in the record. The item is a single exemplary piece of a manifestation. To demonstrate, the popular story Gone with the Wind is a work. The expression could be the novel (as opposed to the movie, or a movie poster, for instance), the manifestation could be the 1936 first edition of the novel (as opposed to an e-book, or book on CD), and the item would be one particular copy of the first edition.
Group 2 Entities
Group 2 entities consist of “persons,” a “corporate body,” or the newly added “family” categories. These entities represent who is responsible for the intellectual or artistic content or the physical production of the item of interest in the first group. Regarding our Gone with the Wind example, the “person” category would be Margaret Mitchell, the novel’s author. If, however, we were referring to the DVD of Gone with the Wind, under the “corporate body” a cataloger would list Selznick International Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Group 3 Entities
Group 3 entities include “concepts,” “objects” “events” and “places,” or in other words, subjects of a work. Concepts are notional ideas, objects refer to physical objects, events describe occurrences, and places are locations.
Group 3 also encompasses all of the group 1 and 2 entities (work, expression, manifestation, item, person, corporate body, and family) because works can be about other works, or a manifestation, or a person, etc. Group 3 entities are still in development, and not as widely written about as group 1 and 2 entities. To again use our Gone with the Wind example, a concept could be “plantation life,” an object could be “Tara,” an event could be “Civil War,” and a place could be “Georgia.”
FRBR addresses user tasks through its entity-attribute-relationship model, described above. The User Tasks portion of FRBR acknowledges Charles Cutter’s cataloging rules first published in 1876. Cutter suggested that library catalogues (he was talking about dictionary catalogs at the time) should be able to allow a user to: find a book for which either the author, title, or subject is known; show what the library has by a certain author, subject, or type of literature; and to assist a customer with the choice of book regarding its edition or character (Cutter, as cited by Taylor, 2007). FRBR’s user tasks address the requirements Cutter suggested, and adds a fourth, “acquire or obtain access to the entity described” (Taylor, 2007, p. 15).
Literature Introducing FRBR
We can find different points of view in the literature on FRBR articles written for or primarily for introduction purposes. The articles to some extent tell a similar story as they promote basic understanding and clarification, however, some authors acknowledge hesitation within the library profession towards the affects FRBR will have on current cataloging practices. The following themes are apparent in the FRBR literature revealing some of the perceived pros and cons of FRBR, and ways of approaching this new world of bibliographic control.
As mentioned above, FRBR has two areas of concentration: group entities, and user tasks. Group 1 entity terminology is essential to understand in order to appreciate Group 2 and 3 entities, and the relationship between the entities in all three groups. Tillett (2003) demonstrates the meaning that FRBR gives to its entities, noting that terms such as “item” and “work” lacked clarity in current cataloging rules. She also explains relationships between entities, such as a relationship between a “corporate body” in Group 2 and the entities in Group 1 (work, expression, manifestation and item). This demonstration of relationships between entities is taken a step further by Adamich (2007), who uses the familiar work Charlotte’s Web to demonstrate the functionality of FRBR’s Group 1 entities. For instance, Adamich writes that the “work” is Charlotte’s Web, the Spanish translation is one “expression,” or “communication form” (p. 65) of the work, a paperback or hardback copy represents two “manifestations” of the expression, and if a library carries several copies of different manifestations, each copy is called an “item.”
Where focus is on the basic functionality of FRBR entities, “user tasks” are also often introduced. Copeland (2010) explains that the whole purpose of FRBR is to address these tasks. He explains FRBR’s four user tasks (find, identify, select, and obtain) and, like Tillett (2003) and Adamich (2007), demonstrates how FRBR maps its entity-attribute-relationship model to specific user tasks.
Words of Encouragement
Although often described as something “new,” FRBR is the culmination of nearly 175 years of thinking of the purpose of catalogs and how they should serve their users (Denton, 2007, p. 35). Denton (2007) reminds us FRBR is not the “finish line” for organizing the bibliographic universe, but changes have come quickly, recently, and perhaps this is why explanations and reassurances are something of a common thread in FRBR articles.
Bowen (2005) reassures those who might be experiencing “FRBRphobia” that FRBR “offers great potential for influencing the way that we think about bibliographic data” (p. 175). More than that, she points out that library catalogs already contain some of the elements of FRBR, and that rather than thinking of it as something “new,” we should think of it as a more robust way of doing what we already do (Bowen, 2005, p.186). This urging to not call FRBR “new” is reiterated by Le Boeuf (2005), who tells us FRBR, or at least parts of it, were discussed by cataloging theorists like Lubetzky, Ranganathan, and Heaney (p. 3-4). Tillett (2003), who authored some of the earlier articles on FRBR, describes FRBR as an “opportunity” to take another look at—and improve—our cataloging rules (p. 12). Adamich (2007) insists that school librarians have been doing this sort of “relationship organizing” for years. He points out past significant changes in the materials offered, as well as changes in cataloging presentation and procedures; changes that we have survived. Adamich assures readers that embracing FRBR will aid in virtual school library catalogs and collaboration.
In spite of reassurances, and the historical momentum that brought us to this place in our understanding of bibliographic organization and user needs, anxiety-induced obstacles to embrace FRBR exist and are acknowledged in the literature. Copeland (2010) says that “the idea that seasoned catalogers may have to re-learn the fundamentals of library cataloging and that bibliographic control systems will require re-engineering is a daunting task” (p. 17). Although Copeland goes on to say, essentially, that the effort will be worth it, the general sentiment is echoed by others. Bowen (2005), for instance, points out a number of specific obstacles, including that although FRBR is organized starting at the “work” level and proceeding from there, cataloging is carried out in the reverse: starting at the manifestation or item-level. She assures readers, however, that most of the time, this approach to cataloging can still be carried out, and collocation at the expression level of a work rather than cataloging at the expression level will achieve the same benefits for the user. In addition, Bowen points out that rules for headings for expressions in AACR2 will need to be written, and system vendors will need to be convinced that a FRBR-based interface is what the public wants.
This question, “Is this is what the public really wants?” is at the core of the user-centered movement that many in the library field have embraced, and perhaps at the core of some trepidation towards FRBR. Zhang and Salaba (2012) recently explore this question, writing on three studies where users conduct searches using FRBR. They acknowledge that while FRBR implementation has been “exploratory” due to system catalog designs and interpretation of cataloging rules, users of their developed FRBR prototype catalog preferred it over a traditional catalog by 85%. Moreover, they found that 100% of the participants in their study preferred the FRBR prototype catalog to a “regular” catalog when looking for a specific type of material or language (p. 718). In addition, 88% of participants responded positively to FRBR groupings (work, manifestation, and expression), and in general, participants felt “that the groupings were intuitive and made searching faster and easier” (p. 720). Perhaps Zhang and Salaba’s (2012) research will act to lessen feelings of anxiety, and encourage catalogers to embrace FRBR as Le Boeuf (2005) does, and who urges his readers to see it as, if nothing else, a “helpful tool” (p. 10).
FRBR is not a new concept in the history of cataloging. At least as far back as the mid-nineteenth century, Sir Antonio Panizzi was writing about “works” (Denton, 2007), and in the late nineteenth century, Charles Cutter was developing user tasks as a guide for the purpose of the library catalog. By the mid twentieth century, several of FRBR’s entities were being written about by Lubetzky, who clarified the distinction between a “work” and a “book” (Svenonius, 2000, p. 16), and by Wilson (1968), who was writing about works, expressions, and manifestations, even if he was not using these exact terms explicitly (he does speak of a “work” extensively).
Today, what is exciting about FRBR is the international cooperation in its development. When the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) met in Stockholm, Sweden in 1990 to discuss bibliographic control, it was resolved that a study get underway to define the functional requirements for bibliographic records. Seven years later in 1997, the study group’s report was approved, and has had considerable impact on the library community ever since (O’Neill, 2007). Today, development is ongoing. FRBR as it stands is not fully developed, but “a model that requires continuing refinement, interpretation, and development” (O’Neill, 2007, p. 61). Separate working groups for each of the FRBR group entities (1, 2 and 3) meet to further define and understand the functionality of the FRBR groups.
As of 2007, over 500 studies, articles and papers have been written either directly or indirectly about some aspect of FRBR (O’Neill, 2007). The largest group of research articles are indexed under the heading of “Theoretical Aspects” which include general introductory materials (O’Neill, 2007, p. 64). I’ve highlighted a selection of introductory materials here, each offering valuable instruction and insight into a complex model for bibliographic control. This article is meant to set the new FRBR student on a path of discovery starting with some resources providing knowledge basics before further study into this chapter of bibliographic organization.
Tracie Kreighbaum, M.L.S., is a Ph.D. student and part-time instructor at the School of Library and Information Management, Emporia State University. She is a career public librarian, an advocate for equitable information access, and a cataloging enthusiast!
Adamich, T. (2007). FRBR: Cataloging’s future is closer than you think! Knowledge Quest, 36(1), 64-69.
Bowen, J. (2005). FRBR: Coming soon to your library? Library Resources &
Technical Services, 49(3), 175-188.
Copeland, J. H. (2010). RDA and FRBR: A brave new world in cataloging. Arkansas Libraries, 67(2), 14-19.
Denton, W. (2007). FRBR and the history of cataloging. In A. Taylor (Ed.), Understanding FRBR: What it is and how it will affect our retrieval tools (pp. 35-57). Westport, CN: Libraries Unlimited.
IFLA (1997). Functional requirements for bibliographic records: Final report.
IFLA (2012). FRBR review group: Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from http://www.ifla.org/node/949
LeBeouf, P. (2005). FRBR: Hype or cure all? Cataloging & Classification Quarterly,
O’Neill, E. T. (2007). The impact of research on the development of FRBR. In A. Taylor (Ed.), Understanding FRBR: What it is and how it will affect our retrieval tools (pp. 35-57). Westport, CN: Libraries Unlimited.
Svenonius, E. (2000). The intellectual foundation of information organization. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Taylor, A.G. (2007). Understanding FRBR: What it is and how it will affect our retrieval tools. Westport CN: Libraries Unlimited.
Taylor, A. G. & Joudrey, D. N. (2009). The organization of information (3rd Ed.). Westport, CN: Libraries Unlimited.
Tillett, B. B. (2003). FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records). Technicalities, 23(5), 1-13.
Wilson, P. (1968). Two kinds of power: An essay on bibliographic control. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Zhang, Y., & Salaba, A. (2012). What do users tell us about FRBR-based catalogs? Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 50(5-7), 705-723.