Monday, December 1, 2008

More Blogging MLA... Introduction to RDA/FRBR

No, we're not talking about Recommended Dietary Allowances, nor are we talking about a particular child rearing method, although one says FRBR like "Ferber." We're talking serious insider cataloging baseball talk. And nothing says "cataloging" like a bunch o' acronyms.

RDA, or Resource Description and Access, is the "new" AACR2r (that's Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, 2nd Edition, Revised), bringing library cataloging standards right into the 1990s. Uh, I mean the 21st century. FRBR, or Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, builds on an entity relationship model for cataloging resources. Until I went to this session, I confess, I did not really "get" FRBR. I've read quite a bit, I generally think I'm pretty quick to figure things out. But for whatever reason, I did not have a good understanding of what FRBR did. After 45 minutes with Chew Chiat Naun, Principal Cataloger at the University of Minnesota Libraries, I had a true "ah-ha!" moment, when it finally all clicked together. Here's my attempt to explain:

Basically, a catalog, or metadata, record for an item has some information that is unique to that particular item and some information that may be shared by other records. FRBR is an attempt to notice those differences in the information, and make distinctions between them by introducing different language to describe them. Let's consider the first book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Philosophers's Stone. The basic intellectual concept of the story is the work. Once that information is put into a tangible form, it becomes an expression of the work, with potentially different manifestations of the work: The book with the U.S. title, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the audio book (which might be on CD or as a digital download), the large print edition, and so on. Eventually, we get to the item, the specific manifestation that Library A gives the call number, Juv Fic Row and barcodes with 3030222169788.

Then we look at what information is shared between all manifestations. Name of the creator, title, date of copyright, and basic topical controlled vocabulary terms would be shared. What is unique to the manifestation? The carrier (print book or audio CD), descriptive information that goes along with the carrier (the book's dimensions and number of pages, for example), publisher. What is unique to the item? Call number, barcode, local notes. RDA uses the framework provided by FRBR to restructure the elements of describing the various manifestations of an expression of a work. All that perfectly clear? That's what I thought.

Anyway, back to the session. I had my ah-ha moment about midway through the session. In a perfect world, we would have library catalog systems that would allow us to take full advantage of this entity relationship model and we could link all this information together. For example, J. K. Rowling writes other books too and is involved with other works (the movies, etc.); rather than copy her name into every metadata record for something she's been involved with, there should be a name authority record for her (actually, there is), and we should just plug in the identification number for that authority record into the information for the manifestation we're cataloging (that part, we can't do yet). Same thing with publisher. Have the version published by Scholastic? Look up the publisher authority record and put the number for Scholastic into the record (nope, can't do that yet either).

So, I had the epiphany that we should work toward an "HDTV" moment for library cataloging, where we move from the flat-file model we have now with metadata records that literally contain all of this information over and over again, to a "virtual" bibliographic/metadata record that fully makes use of the relationships between these information pieces and uses linking data to bring the user a uniform display that looks like what we're used to seeing. No reason we can't do that. Just need the will and some reinvestment in time and energy.

Anyway, the session went over some more nitty-gritty details of RDA changes, like moving from "main entry," to "preferred access point," no longer using GMD (General Material Designation) to media/carrier/content, and no more "rule of three" regarding access points. And, at some point, there's gonna be a whole lotta trainin' goin' on.