Understanding FRBR as a Conceptual Model: FRBR and the Bibliographic Universe

Article excerpt

Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) presents a complex conceptual model. Because of this, it is not easy for everyone to understand. The purpose of this paper is to make some of the more difficult aspects of the FRBR model, in particular the Group 1 entities work, expression, manifestation, and item, easier to understand by placing FRBR in the context of what it is: a conceptual entity-relationship model. To this end, a definition of the term "model" is presented, a variety of types and functions of models are introduced, conceptual models are discussed in detail, modeling an abstraction is explained, and different ways of interpreting FRBR are suggested. Various models used in the history of cataloging are introduced to place FRBR in the context of the historical development of document models.

FRBR, Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, presents a complex conceptual model that is not easy for everyone to understand. (1) One reason people have difficulty understanding the FRBR conceptual model is that they have difficulty understanding the nature of models, in particular, conceptual models. In this paper, FRBR's status as a model is examined in detail to explicate more fully what it is, what it is not, and what it attempts to do. Various definitions of the word "model" are presented, followed by a variety of examples of model types and functions. Because FRBR is a conceptual model of abstract entities, a discussion of modeling abstractions also is presented. The focus of the discussion throughout this paper is the Group 1 entities: work, expression, manifestation, and item. Several strategies are presented to clarify the more difficult abstract entities in FRBR: work and expression. Because FRBR is the most recent of a series of conceptual models used in library cataloging, models used prior to FRBR are described and compared to FRBR. Finally, various challenges surrounding the adoption of FRBR are discussed, for example, drawing the line between such abstractions as work and expression.


FRBR is a conceptual model, but what does that mean? Models are used everywhere, from civil engineering to life-and-death situations in hospitals to playtime in the backyard. Because models are used in so many contexts, encountering many different meanings of the word "model" in the dictionary is not surprising.

The four definitions below illustrate the range of meanings for "model":

* A representation of something (sometimes on a smaller scale). (2)

* A schematic description of a system, theory, or phenomenon that accounts for its known or inferred properties and may be used for further study of its characteristics: a model of generative grammar; a model of an atom; an economic model. (3)

* A simplified description of a complex entity or process. (4)

* A preliminary work or construction that serves as a plan from which a final product is to be made: a clay model ready for casting. (5)

Models are extremely useful, particularly in library and information science (LIS), a discipline that has at its core an abstraction--"information." Bates states, "Models are most useful at the description and prediction stages of understanding a phenomenon." (6) Documents are the central phenomena of LIS in general, and cataloging in particular. Despite several centuries of practice, the profession is still beginning to understand what it means, or perhaps can mean, to catalog a document.

In essence, FRBR is a model of a model, if one considers that a bibliographic record is a representation of a document and so, in its own way, is as much a model as FRBR. If one considers a title page or other chief source of information to be a representation of a document as well, and thus a model in its own right, FRBR is a model of a model of a model of a document. In the list of definitions above, the first and third fit FRBR most closely. …