inheriting from FRBR, merrily smashing some things

This post over at Everybody’s Libraries captures, I think, the things I like about FRBR, while neatly throwing out the things I don’t. Go read it, it’s fun; I’m going to toy around with its concepts below.

So — instead of being keen on the “work, expression, manifestation, item” idea — Ockerbloom’s model seems to be pure inheritance. Objects {p, q, r} belonging to class A inherit metadata attached to A, and may then elaborate on it with their own specific metadata. So, for instance (and using his example), class A is “Hamlet” (including such metadata as “Hamlet” and “Shakespeare”, coded however you like), and p, q, and r each have that metadata as well as edition-level stuff like “published in 1966” or “translated into French” or what-have-you.

I made a graph!

As he goes on to note, this inheritance process can go on at as many levels as you like. For the Bible, it doesn’t make as much sense to go from that top-level idea to specific editions as it does to go from “the Bible” to “King James and Douai and whatall” to specific editions.

One thing I like about this is it breaks the idea that there is a level which is Work, and another level which is Expression, and so forth. The boundaries of these levels were always vague, and part of the reason was (as with the Bible) there’s no reason to think that any two documents have…ideational and textual traditions?…which can fit into the same sets of boxes. It simply takes more levels of information to situate some books in the bibliographic universe.

Another thing I like is that it’s presented simply as inheritance, and implicitly (albeit admittedly not necessarily) monohierarchical. FRBR always seemed to me to blithely assume that the entirety of textual and literary criticism could be carried out by catalogers. Trace all the influences of works on other works? Sure, why not! …no, actually, that is a hard problem, and people spend entire careers on it for tiny spheres of works. (My best friend got a Ph.D. for, like, prolegomena to this stuff. Seriously. From Oxford.) Encoding that kind of information, by default, in a library catalog, is….well, it makes sense in whatever world the Semantic Web makes sense in: you know, the one where we have utopian ideas without any reference to how we would implement them.

I was torn, in library school, between loving the cataloging theorists — far and away the most intellectually engaging part of the degree — and wanting to punch through some walls because catalogs must, at some point, be implemented, and if the discussion about theory doesn’t crosscut with practice, doesn’t iterate between principle and implementation, then even the principles are flawed. But here’s this pragmatic little model of inheritance, ripping from FRBR its most useful part (the ability to ignore distinctions among documents when not salient, and not ignore otherwise), and tossing away the most impractical. Lovely, lovely. And I got to make a graph.

5 thoughts on “inheriting from FRBR, merrily smashing some things

  1. It appears that this might also contain a step towards solving one of my dad’s rants about library cataloguing and publishing companies. Publishing companies, he says, seem downright allergic to using any sort of straightforward “X edition” on books that anyone might ever consider popular in the least. Sure, professional books that get updated regularly generally have straightforward indications of edition numbers, etc. — but a lot of books get issued with “New” or “Updated” or the like at the beginning or end of their titles instead, which gets really confusing the third or fourth time a book gets updated. It might still be annoying for the cataloging department to figure all this out, but this sort of hierarchical structure could definitely help the rest of the librarians not have to figure it all out again.

    Likewise, it would be *wonderful* to be able to add hierarchical layers to the cataloging of Bibles.

    And, off-topic but likely intersting to you: It turns out that the *reason* my children’s librarian is wanting to buy homeschooling books is because she actually looked at the statistics she’d gathered as part of the Summer Reading Program this year, and noticed that there were more homeschoolers than ever before. Yay! Not sure what, if anything, they’d done with the information they collected in previous years — it’s not like they collected any new information this year as compared to previous years — but at least they’re using it now! πŸ™‚


  2. Awesomeness! There is definitely a danger here, in that too much freedom is likely to lead to widely divergent practices, but I very much like the idea of getting away from the ideas of “work”, “expression”, etc., as you describe above. We’ll want to have some sort of guidelines about when inheritance is and isn’t appropriate, but with any luck those will become pretty clear with use. I hope this idea gets the attention it deserves!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s