FRBR: Creating complexity or simplifying creation?
There is much ado in the library world, and in library school, as to whether the Functional Requirement for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) are a worthy endeavor for our libraries. The conceptual model that has been described has made many wide-eyed library students gloss over and nearly come to tears. In its essence this conceptual model could become a dynamic tool for the creation of the next generation of library catalogs.
The first difference in FRBR is the often ambiguous nature of the “work” level of classification. In definition, this can be seen as only existing in abstract form until it has taken form as an “expression.” The first confusion that seems to come up is that a work can have many relations to other works and even pieces of itself. The relationships made to these other works, in theory, does not warrant any hierarchical value. For instance, a collection of poems and the single poem within that collection will have the same value as a “work.” The relations between the two will be shown in both their particular manifestations and method of expression. Because of the theoretical applications at this point, it is unknown how exactly the most efficient means of expressing relations will be.
One of the hardest parts of FRBR to understand, is that records will no longer follow one-way linear paths to other records. MARC records may provide several access points but with something like FRBR you could find yourself traveling along two paths at once in order to get to a destination you didn’t realize was even on the map. Another manner of looking at such relational data structures is to conceptualize MARC records as cards on a table. You can spread the cards out side by side, line them up in whatever order you want, or attach them in such a way that you can still see all the fields; but they still exist in an X-Y plane. FRBR could open up the doors unto the addition of a Z-axis and the level of deep indexing only tentatively touched by some of the more complex database structures available today.
An exciting concept, which may never be fully realized, is how such technology could be used to replace the often complex Z 39.50 searches which facilitate inter-catalog communication. Even within a library system collection, the ability to allow single record interfaces for multiple copy data could easily make locating information less of a functional hassle. Such technologies also seem to lend themselves to the creation of “universal records”, in the sense that subsequent editions and variant items need not have a full new record; but instead only need to add an extension to the existing record. The relationships between the information may then be delineated by particular standards in relational concepts, rather than system formats.
The largest gray cloud on the FRBR horizon would seem to be the dollar signs flashing before our eyes. At this conceptual stage, the value of such a dynamic system grows within our minds but shrinks within our budgets. Small to medium sized libraries, and even large libraries with significant investments in their data systems, will most likely find themselves curious but shackled to their catalogs. As catalogers will require new training and perhaps new system interfaces to complete their work, the libraries will cringe at the projected budgetary implications. Another interesting analogy would be to compare FRBR to the web style standard of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). When CSS was first conceived, many new abilities were realized and limitations shrugged off from the prior systems. But those without the time and money needed to convert their online investments into something new and exceedingly dynamic, still relied on what seemed to work best for them.
This discussion is far from over and I hope to remain poised for the next revelation. I only caution others that we do not dismiss this movement because it seems too complex and full of ambiguity to be useful. For more information please refer to :
FRBR and Fundamental Cataloging Rules by William Denton
FRBR in Wikipedia
OCLC Fiction Finder Beta (an example of FRBR in application)