Multiple Interpretations: Implications of FRBR as a Boundary Object
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Multiple Interpretations: Implications of FRBR as a Boundary Object Ingbert Floyd Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Work. Expression. Manifestation. Item. FRBR. FRBRoo. FRBR is a “conceptual model

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Multiple Interpretations: Implications of FRBR as a Boundary Object Ingbert Floyd

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Multiple interpretations implications of frbr as a boundary object ingbert floyd

Multiple Interpretations: Implications of FRBR as a Boundary Object

Ingbert Floyd

Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign







FRBR is a “conceptual model

of the bibliographic universe”

Serials Catalogers

Monograph Catalogers

Reference Librarians


LIS Researchers


Group 1 Entities

Compare FRBRoo (CIDOC CRM 2008) with FRBR (IFLA 1998) representations of portions of the bibliographic universe. Notice how the representations have changed over time. The FRBRoo representation does not include manifestations or items.

Museum Community

  • Work: “a distinct intellectual or artistic creation”

  • Expression: “the intellectual or artistic realization of a work in the form of alphanumeric, musical, or choreographic notation...” (e.g., a particular text)

  • Manifestation: “the physical embodiment of an expression” (e.g., a particular edition)

  • Item: “a single exemplar of a manifestation” (a copy)

  • Appropriate attributes are also assigned: a work might have a subject, an expression a language, a manifestation a typeface, an item a condition.

  • FRBR: Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (IFLA 1998). FRBR is the declared “foundation” for the next version of the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules: Resource Description and Access, and is increasingly influential in content management and cultural ontologies.

Digital Preservation Librarians

Implications & Questions


FRBR as a boundary object. A selection of different communities of practice (CoPs) who likely apply different technological frames to their understanding of FRBR, and have different conceptions of how to implement FRBR “properly”. The CoPs themselves are not homogeneous either, of course. Within eachCoPthere exist sub-communities whose technological frames and conceptualizations of FRBR vary as well.

  • FRBR will be subject to continuing negotiations surrounding their structure, interpretation, and organization

  • Began: Cutter & Lubetzky; Compare: FRBRoo & FRBR

  • “FRBR-compliant” cataloging systems need flexible information architectures that can support changes in cataloging practices, not just current practice.

  • FLOSS, local control, iterative development

  • FRBR translates between communities (e.g. item). Always successfully? Or are some interp. too far apart to translate?

  • More refined ontologies: are expressions, manifestations, and items roles other objects play? (Renear & Dubin 2007)

  • Entities such as “files” can be socially established as items because they fulfill the role requirements of an item.

  • Need multiple ontologies: related with clear translations between them, but optimized for different purposes.

  • Ideal form models vs. implementable form models.



Jones 2005

Taniguchi 2002, 2004

  • Work is a systems-level construct, it becomes important only when actualized by being implemented in cataloging rules.

  • How will the dynamic nature of serial publications will have to be twisted to fit into FRBR-based cataloging rules?

  • the amount of extra work for the cataloger as a primary criterion for the evaluation of FRBR as a model

  • Tech. frame is how cataloging practice as mediated by cataloging technology provides functionality for both the user and the cataloger.

  • Most important questions are:

  • how are concepts in the conceptual model translated into cataloging rules/practices

  • what is the primary construct of the conceptual model which cataloging rules & activity will be constructed around.

  • The conceptual model constructs are the important things to focus on: if correct, then the translation to rules should be straightforward

  • Tech. frame is the mechanism for translating the conceptual model into cataloging rules and practices.

Conceptual Model

Conceptual Model

FRBR Interpretation

Cataloging Rules

Cataloging Rules

  • FRBR’s intent “… was to produce a framework that would provide a clear, precisely stated, and commonly shared understanding of what it is that the bibliographic record aims to provide information about” (IFLA 1998).

  • A close reading of LIS literature surrounding FRBR indicates that different members of the community have different interpretations of the Group 1 Entities.

  • E.g.: Yee 1998; Renear, Phillippe, Lawton & Dubin2003.

  • FRBR itself states: “The concept of what constitutes a work […] may in fact be viewed differently from one culture to another.” (IFLA 1998)

  • A problem if different local institutions each try to develop their own cataloging software with the intent to produce data export formats that are harvestable and interoperable.

  • Thus, it seems FRBR can function as a boundary object.

  • Boundary objects are an analytic construct used to explain how members of different communities with multiple perspectives can coordinate activities around common objects without ceding their respective understandings of the objects.

Cataloging Practice

Cataloging Practice

A rhetorical oversimplification of thedifference between Jones (2005) & Taniguchi(2002; 2004) demonstrating different approaches.

References & Acknowledgements

Bowker, G., & Star , S.L. (2000). Sorting things out: classification and its consequences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Jones, E. (2005). The FRBR Model as Applied to Continuing Resources. Library Resources & Technical Services, 49(4), 227-242.

Renear, A., Dubin, D. (2007). Three of the Four FRBR Group 1 Entity Types are Roles not Types. ASIS&T, Proceedings of the Annual Conference.

Renear, A. H., Phillippe, C., Lawton, P., & Dubin, D., (2003). An XML Document Corresponds to Which FRBR Group 1 Entity? In B. T Usdin and S. R. Newcomb (Eds.), Proceedings of Extreme Markup Languages 2003 Montreal, Canada, August.

Taniguchi, S. (2004). Design of cataloging rules using conceptual modeling of cataloging process. JASIST, 55(6), 498-512.

Taniguchi, S. (2002). A conceptual model giving primacy to expression-level bibliographic entity in cataloging. Journal of Documentation, 58(4), 363-382.

Yee, M. M. (1998). What is a work? In J. Weihs (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Conference on the Principles and Future Development of AACR, 1997 (pp. 62-104). Chicago: American Library Association.

Special thanks for stimulating discussions to Allen Renear, David Dubin, Michael Twidale, Thomas Dousa, and Karen Wickett.

Work: can conceptualize it

many different ways, but if

you get it right, cataloging

rules follow if use

proper translation


Work: a systems level

construct that is defined

by cataloging pragmatics


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