Thursday, April 7, 2011

Re: FRBR's Expression entity

Posting to Autocat

On Wed, 6 Apr 2011 09:47:30 -0400, Brenndorfer, Thomas wrote:
<snip>
Far from confusing things, RDA clarifies what roles elements and entities have played in the past and now assigns them to logical categories, making them more amenable to modern database design. With this clarification, it will be possible for new displays and functions to appear-- displays and functions that are now not uncommon on other database front ends on the web, with their extensive use of facets, relationship designators, and views of data that draw in elements from multiple sources.

The "only when we need to" concept is what is keeping cataloging in the 19th century, since authorized access points (which offers the continuity to catalogs of old) are not the sole basis upon which future catalogs can be built, nor are they reason to limit our data in ways that make improving our catalogs difficult.
</snip>
Maintaining that RDA clarifies roles is an assertion that remains to be demonstrated, and once it is demonstrated, it must be proven that it is of value to librarians and/or the public. This is why I called it a "known unknown". It is something that "we know we do not know." While I understand the theory, its practical utility still escapes me. While I can imagine people searching personal names, I can't imagine people searching them only within expressions or works or whatever. As a result, the only utility will be in displays and sorts (somehow in ways we supposedly cannot do today) and perhaps in database design (although that is something that catalogers should not be meddling with).

To repeat: all we have ever had to do with corporate and personal names is decide 1) if we have to trace them and 2) if any of them get main entry. Figuring all that out can be complicated in itself. If we enter into the FRBR universe, we will also have to consider which names go into work, expression, manifestation, or item. This means that creating FRBR records *definitely will* be more complex. How complex will this be? This is the "known unknown". Based on my own experience, I think we will be shocked by the additional complexities.

For example, I remember when LC came out with the "triple subject heading" Russia/Soviet Union/Former Soviet republics and the quite literally mind-blowing complexity that arose from something that at first blush seemed rather simple. I wrote up detailed guidelines in the Slavic Cataloging Manual (which I later gave to ACRL and is now maintained at Indiana University). What were the results of this seemingly rather slight change? First, books where it had been simple to assign subjects suddenly took much more time, effort and consultation. Also, with such a level of complexity for the cataloger, a patron could *never* understand it, and I don't know what kind of results they are retrieving now.

When I saw that exchange on RDA-L I mentioned earlier about the signers of a treaty, I admit my mind flashed back to these incredible complexities, which did not help access at all. I have been a cataloger for some time, have cataloged and trained many catalogers under different systems and rules, and I was *definitely* confused. It seems to me that sooner or later, practical issues must be addressed. If records are more difficult to create (as they must be with FRBR), we must show how this will be of sufficient practical utility to our public.

Enough with theory! If we want new displays and new ways of displaying search results, we can *do all of that right now*. Nothing is stopping us. Let's see what we can do now instead of betting the ranch (and our ever more precarious futures) on vague promises. That is not fair to our profession.

Where is the business case?

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