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FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records): a brief introduction

FRBR is an acronym for “Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records” and was developed by IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) and initially recommended in 1998. FRBR means to fundamentally change the way the library catalogue works. Because catalogues were originally paper-based and therefore limited in what and how information could be retieved standards were based on a “flat record concept”. Entity-relationship databases have changed the way that information functions within the catalogue and FRBR seeks to take advantage of this.

FRBR principles outline four key areas of information representation: work, expression, manifestation, and item. A work represents a unique creation (Beethoven’s 8th Symphony for example); the expression is a realisation of that work (Beethoven’s 8th Symphony as performed by the Berlin Symphony); the manifestation is the physical thing itself (Beethoven’s 8th Symphony as performed by the Berlin Symphony on compact disc); and the item is a single example of that manifestation (Beethoven’s 8th Symphony as performed by the Berlin Symphony on compact disc, copy 1, located in SMIL).

So what is FRBR supposed to do for library catalogues? It seeks to improve the relationships between bibliographic records and the bibliographic items themselves. If a catalogue is “FRBRized” the user should be able to search and find exactly what he or she is looking for. This particularly useful for prolific authors, items in translation, musical works, etc. To use the Beethoven example from above, the user should be able to find all the expressions of the work Symphony No. 8 by Beethoven, no matter whether it is a full score, piano reduction, lp, or compact disc. The user should then be able to further specify exactly which manifestation (a compact disc in this case) and then further drill down.

Check out RedLightGreen for an example of an FRBRized catalogue. Try searching “Beethoven Symphony No. 8″. If you look at the detailed view of any of the records you will see text at the top that tells you how many other manifestations there are of that particular expression. While not perfect in its FRBRization, it is interesting.

To quote OCLC “If fully implemented, FRBR would produce the biggest change cataloging has seen in the last century.”

Further information on FRBR:
IFLA Study Group on the Functional Requirements of Bibliographic Records. “Functional Requirements of Bibliographic Records: final report.”

Gonzales, Linda. “What is FRBR?”. Library Journal. 130 (Supp 22)

Denton, William. “The FRBR Blog

OCLC “OCLC Research Activities and IFLA’s Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records

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