Patrick Le Boeuf, ELAG Conference, Prague, June 6th, 2001









FRBR: toward some practical experimentation in ELAG?











I. Context


            Since the very beginning, ELAG has been interested in the IFLA four-level model FRBR. There has been an FRBR workshop in ELAG since 1996 and Susanna Peruginelli reported, on the occasion of a two-day conference entirely devoted to FRBR, in January 2000 in Florence, that ELAG regarded FRBR as “not only of a high theoretical value, but also a practical one, […] making it possible to integrate [digital resources] with “traditional” material; […] searching and retrieval functionality will be improved.”[1]

            Hence our wish to develop an experimental database, within ELAG, that would allow us to value more precisely the benefits the whole library community might expect from this new, revolutionary model. We also want to know if this model would not raise implementation problems; we must think of cataloguers’ comfort and, of course, or our patrons’ comfort when navigating, in the future, a new catalogue entirely developed according to the model.

            Paula Goossens has therefore elaborated Guidelines to help workshop attendants to create new “records”. The aim is not just to transcode pre-existing records, but to create new ones. We’ve tried to get totally rid of the MARC structure: our future experimental database is intended to be entirely designed in XML from the beginning.

            Only four bibliographic families have been elaborated so far: it is obviously not enough for a database to be implemented, but it is a beginning, and it already presents us with some interesting cases. It would be too long to report in detail on all of these four families, I’ll therefore introduce only three of them to you.


II. Three examples of bibliographic families


a)   A “unicellular” family: “The story of my life”


Figure 1



            This kind of “family” is far from uncommon, especially for National Bibliographic Agencies, whose task is to describe the whole production of a country. Many Works exist in only one version (= Expression) and are published (= Manifestation) only once, and they have neither “parent works” nor “sibling works”. In such a case, the complexity of FRBR results in much redundancy: the same title appears at the three upper levels: Work, Expression and Manifestation.

            We must spare our cataloguers’ time and nerves, and carefully designed “by default” proposals should prevent them from having to type identical data several times for one document.

b)  “Boris Godunov”: the Pushkin play, the libretto, the opera…

Figure 2

            This bibliographic family involves rather complex bibliographic relationships between different kinds of materials (text, musical notation, sound recording, graphic material…) and mingles different alphabets. It highlights a difficulty which the FRBR Final Report had left unsolved: what treatment should be applied to creations which are regarded as “secondary” (forewords, illustrations…) in comparison to what we call “main entry”, but which have nevertheless their own existence and should not be held less important than anything else in a document, especially in the context of “integrated heterogeneous resources”?


c)   Coronelli’s “Terrestrial Globe”


Figure 3


            This bibliographic family involves an even greater number of different kinds of materials: cartographic materials (both 2D and 3D), manuscripts, electronic resources (CD-ROM and website). It features an interesting example of a direct “reproduction relationship” (taken into account in the FRBR model but rarely encountered in current catalogues) from Item to Work. It contains links to websites.


III. Future developments


            Four bibliographic families only is not enough, even for an experimental database. Creating these records does take a lot of time. We therefore urgently need volunteers…

            We also need a physical place for our experiments, a computer, a software… There is an opportunity to use the VisualCat structures from the Danish Bibliographic Centre (thanks to Poul Henrik Jørgensen!).

            Then we’ll have to start with the practical implementation of an ELAG experimental database, which will focus on two main topics: the ergonomics of the catalogue production system (cf. the aforementioned redundancy in the “Story of my life” example!) and the retrieving facilities for final users (how to navigate the catalogue, how to make the FRBR complexity simple, how to make its peculiar terminology understandable, etc.: in one word: OPAC issues).


IV. Some reflections on OPACs


            Last year in Paris, Dan Matei launched a great idea: “We must get rid of traditional “Author/Title/Subject” OPACs!” This motto raises two questions:

— Would it benefit our patrons?

— If yes, how could this be achieved?

            I don’t have the answer to the first question, but here is a proposal draft, just in case the answer would be “yes”. I don’t claim in any way that switching from our current catalogues to such a structure would prove useful and beneficial: we have to make experiments if we want to make progress, and experiments may of course sometimes be unsuccessful. And I insist this is only a proposal, and a draft: there is still much work to put into it, and it needs to be discussed, valuated, put into question by several people with different ideas, which stimulating contradiction would help us to make progress as a group.


Figure 4


            Under “Person or Corporate Body”, we could choose between: Person or Corporate Body, Person only, and Corporate Body only. Under “Work”, we could choose between: Work, Monograph only, Periodical only, Series only, Expression, Performance, and Manifestation. Under “Object”, we could choose between: Object, Music instrument and/or voice, Scientific instrument, and Item. Under “Concept”, we could choose between: Concept, Place, Event, and Form/Genre. Under “Date of manifestation”, we could choose between: Date of manifestation, Date of work, Date of expression, Date of performance, and Date of event. Under “Place of manifestation”, we could choose between: Place of manifestation, and Place of performance. Under « Language of expression », we could choose betwen : Language of expression, and Language of performance. Under “Mathematical data”, we could choose among the whole range of mathematical data which are required in cataloguing cartographic materials.

            After selecting, for instance, one name of person, we would have the following structure:

Figure 5

            This proposal raises the problem of the FRBR terminology, with which our patrons are far from familiar. How could we “translate” the names of the FRBR Group 1 entities (“Work”, “Expression”, “Manifestation”, “Item”) into common language?


V. Conclusion


            We need:

                        — Imagination

                        — Volunteers

                        — Funds.

[1] Peruginelli, Susanna. FRBR: some comments by ELAG. In Seminar FRBR: Florence, 27-28 January 2000. Rome: Associazione italiana biblioteche, 2000, pp. 131-135. Also available from World Wide Web: <>.