Posts Tagged ‘FRBR’

Denton’s historical contextualization of FRBR

April 17, 2010

Denton’s article “FRBR and the history of Cataloging” does a great job of assessing the history of cataloging and contextualizing the development of FRBR as a product of this history, rather than a new and unaffected standard.

The thing that struck me about this article was that Denton manages to take a very long tradition of cataloging and classification theory and boil it down in a way that makes it not only accessible but relevant in terms of what we as librarians try and accomplish today.  By sticking to the basic principles of access and service that unite all the different theories and principals he summarizes that FRBR is just a continuation this tradition. I find that his keeping the discussion at this level it was extremely helpful for me, a budding cataloger who has a long way to go before understanding it all.

I think the point he brings up about FRBR being developed out of a long and rich history of cataloging are especially pertinent in light of what Maggie Dull has said in her “Dear Marc” post about catalogers glorification of MARC and AACR2.  By holding these standards as the epitome of cataloging it becomes very hard for change to be implemented. I see this as the problem of people taking cataloging  standards out of their long term historical context, and I think more people need to think about FRBR in the way that Denton does.

I think that any profession that has settled into a routine of doing things certain way will have problems when change arrives.  Many people want to either ignore the change it or take issue with it. I currently work for a financial compliance office which is having trouble getting the financial advisers to turn in paperwork that is compliant in terms of federal regulations. Because the government is cracking down on the financial industry right now, it’s becoming a real issue. Older and seasoned financial advisers don’t see the issue in context of the changes that are happening in the profession and in society, and many of them are just going about business as usual because they don’t see the problem in doing so. In her post on Catalyst for module 2, Maggie Dull made a good point about how if people don’t find in fault in their current tools they will not be as receptive to new ones.

I think that the problem is exacerbated by the fact that more and more cataloging departments are primarily relying on paraprofessionals, rather than librarians, to do the majority of the cataloging. I think many cataloging department heads dread the idea of having to re-train all of their staff on a new set of rules. While Denton’s contextualization does a great job for helping people to understand FRBR, I don’t think it puts a dent in that dread of re-training people who’ve been living by AACR2 and MARC day in and out for years.

Denton, William. “FRBR and the History of Cataloging.” In Understanding FRBR: What It Is and How It Will Affect Our Retrieval Tools, Arlene Taylor (ed.). Accessed at:


FRBR and the History of Cataloging

April 17, 2010

William Denton’s, “FRBR and the History of Cataloging,” reviews the history of cataloging and how it influenced the development of FRBR, one conceptual model used for the development of RDA.  As a newbie to the world of cataloging, and certainly to the world of RDA, I found this historical review of cataloging extremely helpful to understanding where cataloging began, how it has progressed, and how it developed into FRBR in the 1990s.  Denton outlines four ideas which led up to the development of FRBR: “the use of axioms to explain the purpose of the catalog, the importance of user needs, the idea of the “work,” and standardization and internationalization.”  I will comment on two of these ideas as well as an overarching viewpoint that, I think, helps to provide long-term perspective in the development of RDA.

1. The reason for cataloging is to help users find what they need.

If the assertion that user needs are of primary importance to information professionals is true, then how we catalog should be focused on providing easy, thorough, and reliable access to information.  Cutter, in Rules for a Dictionary Catalog, provided a first set of axioms in cataloging: enable a person to find a book, show what a library has, and assist in the choice of a book (Denton, p. 41).  FRBR follows in his footsteps with its user tasks of, “find, identify, select, and obtain.” (Tillet, B., 2004).  However, Denton asserts that FRBR’s task list is broader and more inclusive than Cutter’s because it includes the broader elements included in Group 1, 2, or 3 entities.  I think this is an important point to make, and one that is helpful to realize when reflecting on RDA.  By correctly identifying the resources and developing a standard for implementation it will enable users to find what they need, not only the specific item they are searching for, but perhaps related items such as audio recordings, videos, or adaptations.  FRBR’s “user-centered” tasks are essential to our motivation for bettering cataloging standards, and should form the basis for further development of RDA. 

2. Are Standardization and internationalization realistic? 

Denton states that attention to standardization and internationalization in cataloging came about in the early 20th Century (p. 43).  In the past Panizzi, Cutter, Ranganathan, dealt primarily (if not solely) with physical artifacts and those held within the actual physical collection.  But with the development of the Paris Principles in 1961, cataloging reached out to an international audience and addressed the desire to share information across language and physical borders.  AACR2 for English-speakers was one attempt to bridge the geographical divide, although it still resulted in two editions, one for the British and one for the Americans (Denton, p. 49).  Since AACR2 did not succeed in developing one standard for English-speaking countries, I am wondering how RDA can function as a flexible structure, providing for local interpretation of the rules while still being compatible with other communities, including non-English-speaking for metadata sharing ( and the IFLA Paris Principles (  Or will it either 1) be too flexible as to be incompatible, or 2) so rigid that it will not address local needs. 

How works, expressions, manifestations, or items are cataloged brings significant challenge to the cataloging profession.  As Denton stated, “Today things are vastly more complicated [than the 1880s].” He then outlined the challenges he saw with cataloging electronic resources, multiple formats, sheer quantity of artifacts, and technology.  However, my eyes focused on his first point:

      “Cataloging costs money and takes time.  Sharing cataloging records will save both, if everyone can agree on how to catalog things the same way.” (this author’s emphasis, p. 50). 

Granted, I am not well versed in application profiles, but I am curious about how this will be implemented with RDA in an international environment where money is scarce and the task large. 

3.  FRBR is, “an end point, not the end point.” 

Cataloging has been metamorphosing over 175 years (couldn’t help the pun…) and it will continue to transform as technology and user needs develop.  This long-term perspective, provided by Denton in the first sentence, should be helpful to alleviate some of the stress related to RDA development and even FRBR itself.     While I think it is important to make RDA the best it can be, it cannot be everything to everyone and is an end point, not the end point in cataloging standards. 

Denton, William. “FRBR and the History of Cataloging.” In Understanding FRBR: What It Is and How It Will Affect Our Retrieval Tools, Arlene Taylor (ed.). Available at: