Posting to RDA-L
On Wed, Nov 23, 2011 at 5:33 AM, Cossham, Amanda wrote:
We know that FRBR is a conceptual model of the bibliographic universe. However, there is no generally accepted definition of ‘bibliographic universe’ nor does the original IFLA report define it. Some definitions are hugely broad, some exclude maps and music, others imply any textual material but in practice mean what is held by libraries.
So, I’m collecting definitions to see how broad or narrow this universe is, and what FRBR might or might not be useful for. You’re welcome to comment on any of the definitions I’ve collected so far, or add others.
I think that the concept of the “bibliographic universe” has changed in fundamental ways with the advent of the web. Today, any item on the web can be subject to being part of this universe, so I think we need to discuss first, what is going on. This involves the concept of “metadata” which, I think, is subject to misinterpretation.
When I began as moderator of a listserv for ASIS&T for information architecture quite a few years ago, there was a woman from Lucent who was interested in metadata and we began to exchange emails discussing it. I thought I had a good understanding of what metadata was (i.e. library catalog information primarily), and we exchanged about 5 indepth emails before I realized we were discussing completely different things! She was just as surprised as I was! We used the same terminology in lots of cases, but our “universes” were completely different, so we wound up discussing what seemed to be the same things, but in different planes of reality that never met.
So, what is metadata? As I wrote once somewhere, “metadata” is nothing essentially new: libraries have always kept all kinds of information in different files: card catalogs, shelflists, acquisitions lists, borrowers, desiderata etc. etc. etc. But other organizations have always kept their information in all kinds of files: banks, governments, the military, businesses, courts, universities, doctors, etc. etc. etc. Nothing new. Starting in the 1970s (about), the price of computers began to come down and software was made, so that it became easier and cheaper to handle all of these files using computer databases, and everybody began to put this information into computers. Nothing really new, just change in format.
But then, the internet appeared, and it seemed that almost overnight, all of these separate computers were suddenly linked together. From that point, the information in these different databases could interoperate. That had never really been possible before and, from this point the group term “metadata” could begin to be used in a meaningful way, denoting in essence: the totality of the information stored in all of these different databases. When you think of all of this information, some of it very sensitive, the possibility that all of this metadata can interoperate obviously holds both opportunities and dangers and is something that we are all still dealing with.
In this broad scheme of metadata, library metadata is very small and commands very little respect. This is what I began to realize ‘way back then when I exchanged emails with that woman from Lucent. Metadata that leads to money and power gets respect. Google and Facebook are based on metadata, but it’s their kind of metadata, not ours. Our metadata does not lead to money and power, at least not immediately, and is a major reason why library metadata is handled almost as an afterthought by the big information agencies.
To me, this sea change in the information environment forces a reconsideration of the original idea of the “bibliographic universe” which, to me now, seems almost quaint. It must be updated to include everything that is available on the World Wide Web, if not much more, since this is the reality of what people deal with on a daily basis. If someone would have told me this would happen just 25 years ago, I would have said they were crazy!
Concerning the concept of the “document,” as Hal pointed out, I think this is changing too since people want things granularized and summarized and repackaged in a whole variety of ways. Therefore, the “document” changes constantly, is often created dynamically, and other “documents” disappear without a trace.