FRBR for the Terrified : a workshop at the University of Kent, 25 March 2013

FRBR for the Terrified : a workshop at the University of Kent, 25 March 2013

Another report back from a course that one of us has attended.  This time Chris braves the terrors of FRBR.

This course was arranged by the Cataloguing and Index Group of CILIP. It had already been run at several venues and the intention had been (and still is) to put at least one on in London, but since the opportunity came up of attending it in Canterbury, I clutched at it.

A Powerpoint display had been put together by various members of CIG. This formed the basis of the workshop that Robin Armstrong-Viner, Head of Collection Management at the University of Kent presented.

FRBR, the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records was published in 1997. It is not a format (like MARC) nor a set of cataloguing rules (that is RDA) but is an abstract model for cataloguing that underpins RDA. It says fundamentally similar things to previous sets of principles, like Cutter in 1904 and the Paris Principles in 1961 but uses more general terms and itself comes from outside the library world and from database models.

There is a lot of new terminology in FRBR that you either like or dislike! The early part of the workshop took us through a lot of this – entities, attributes, relationships. This was all reasonably familiar to me but it was good to hear it explained right through and the first exercise involving one sheet of blue paper and two sheets of white was useful. We were required each to think of some invention (however implausible). We were then asked each to write our idea in a sentence on the blue sheet and pass it to our neighbour who then copied the sentence, first onto one white sheet and then onto the other. Finally we were required to tear off the corner of one of the white sheets. The explanation of this crazy party game was that the idea in our heads was the “work”; the writing it down on the blue paper, the “expression”; the writing of it on the white sheets was the “manifestation”; and we ended up with two “items” one of which (the torn sheet) was a damaged item – in my case particularly so because I had been scribbling notes on my sheets not realising they were to be props for an exercise!

If the first half of the workshop was about the terminology and structure of FRBR, the second was almost entirely about “relationships”. This is the very heart of what FRBR is trying to achieve – making clear to the catalogue user the relationship between this film and the book it came from and the music which was composed for the film and the translation of the book into Punjabi – even the Lego kit which was brought out based on it. These relationships are many and sometimes complex. FRBR aims to provide a kind of structure which enables these connections to be made and visualised. We were shown a disambiguation page from Wikipedia as an example of how an FRBR-ised catalogue should look – each different thing differentiated (and “disambiguated”) and then a link for you to follow.

The final exercise of the day was mind-bending, involving placing different bibliographical concepts (eg. “free translation”, an “annotated edition”, a “facsimile”) on a spectrum of whether it was equivalent to, a derivative of or descriptive of the original work. Your decision affected whether you would look on it as being a new “work”, a new “expression” or the same “expression” as the original. Some of us staggered for the door at the end!