We hear all the time “FRBR is untested, FRBR is incomplete, FRBR needs work.” One version of this is in Karen Coyle’s summary of the Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control report. [ I’m waiting for the official written report before really responding to these reccommendations, but I’ll respond now just to the informal comments here as one point of view, regardless of whether it accurately represents the working groups’.]
“The framework known as FRBR has great potential but so far is untested.”
Now, as it happens, I in fact agree with this completely so far as it goes. However, that doesn’t change the fact that we desperately need what FRBR is trying to do—a formal and explicit schematic of how we
model the ‘bibliographic’ (or ‘information resource’) universe. Some agree that we desperately need this, some don’t and think it’s all a bunch of hot air. I’ve made my case for why we need it before, and probably ought to do so again in more polished form.
But those of us who agree that we desperately need this, AND that FRBR is an untested and imperfect attempt to do this—then what? Either we:
- continue to work to improve, analyze, empirically test and validate, and fix FRBR;
- we start over from scratch with something else (which will also need to then be tested by fire etc);
- or we abandon FRBR and do nothing.
I think the last would be disastrous. The second also seems undesirable to me—FRBR is the thing we’ve got, and despite being imperfect and unfinished, a lot of work has gone into it. How do we get closer to our goal by abandoning what we’ve got and starting over from scratch?
To me it seems obvious, that if FRBR is untested, incomplete, and imperfect, the answer is to test it (in many ways), analyze it, start putting it into practice so we can learn what the issues are, and work to resolve them. We need to get away from the idea that any kind of standard can somehow be produced in isolation from practice in one monolithic barrage and then never be returned to.
So to me, what we need is to convince people that indeed FRBR is an unfinished product, and we need to put community resources behind continued work on it–including implementation and testing of it. (And the decimation of the ranks of professional catalogers does not help with this lack of actual trial-by-fire of FRBR; but the cataloging gorillas of LC and OCLC can do a lot here (I’d make the important sub-point here that FRBR, and it’s testing and development–is a LOT MORE than just creating worksets)).
But what I worry is that all this talk of “FRBR is unfinished” will instead lead to the second case (start over with something else), or worst of all the last (abandon it with no replacement). I believe that is in fact the _motivation_ of some of the “FRBR is imperfect” chatter—and that others participating in it who do NOT have that motivation may unintentionally contribute to those ends. I think that would be disastrous.
Karen in her summary reccomemdation goes on to say:
“The working group recommends that no further work be done on RDA until= there has been more investigation of FRBR and the basis it provides for bibliographic metadata.”
I think this is probably a big mistake if followed. Rather, the work done on RDA is part of that investigation of FRBR! I think it’s also a mistake as a reccommendation, in that I think it plays into those who want to dismiss FRBR thinking that nothing like it is needed. I think implying that we need to start over from scratch is also dangerous—what we need is continued work on FRBR (which may or may not result in radical changes to FRBR, but it will be as part of the FRBR process, not as something new!).
And the work on RDA–with it’s recent recommittal to true FRBR-alignment in action not just words, along with the DCAM work that is important to me not so much for DCAM specifically as because it forces a formal and explicit accounting–is the best thing we’ve got for that continued work on FRBR, and for bringing cataloging into the contemporary era. I am in fact fairly convinced that those working on RDA largely share the perspective of the Working Group’s reccommendations as summarized by Karen (as do I), and I don’t want to hold them up to wait for some monolithic “completness” of FRBR. (Again, see Karen Schneider’s post on Standards 2.0 and my subsequent comment there).
And I’ll add that I say all this as someone who thinks the FRAD component of FRBR specifically is both one of the most important parts of our universe to model as well as fatally flawed in its present form. For months I’ve been trying to write something on that but keep running into writers block. I’ll have to resign myself to posting something less than perfect instead of insisting on perfection in my own essay (irony intended). But anyway, the point is that the solution to that is to analyze and improve FRAD, to critique it with specificificity. That’s how we learn, that’s how we come up with something better. Merely insisting it be dismissed in generalities would get us nowhere!