I had the chance recently to attend a lecture at the British Library on FRBR given by Ronald J. Murray of the Library of Congress. If you are not a cataloguer, you may not recognise the acronym. FRBR stands for Functional Requirements of Bibliographic Records, a theoretical model that describes what we want catalogue records to do and (briefly) the data they need to contain to achieve that.
Why is this important to anybody other than cataloguers? Well, FRBR changed the way we think about the data in catalogue records because it made us think about the users of catalogues. FRBR concepts then became embedded in the new cataloguing rules Resource Description and Access (RDA), which in turn has prompted changes to the MARC Format (a metadata schema for library catalogue data). The changes in the format will now enable library management system vendors to develop new products which offer a richer searching experience to users.
So how might this work in practice? Typing in ‘cats’ as a search term in my public library catalogue today brings up 500 results. There is no order to the list, it includes both fiction and non-fiction titles and it doesn’t separate out different forms of resource. I could limit the search to items in my local branch (213 results) or limit it by media – large print, say, which gets me just 7 results – but however I limit I am still faced with an unordered list of adult and junior fiction and non-fiction titles in various media.
Now, if the catalogue had been designed with FRBR principles and a MARC Format enabled for RDA defined data, then my experience would be different. For example, options to limit my search for content type and audience would make it easier to find a book written for adults. Adding in a further limiter for media type means I could restrict the search to large print titles or e-books. Even if I don’t limit in these ways, if the right data is in the record (and the system is designed to do this) the results display could show the items in different groups – all the adult non-fiction text resources first, then junior non-fiction, then junior fiction, then videos, say. Another way would be to start with cats as a search term; the first results display might simply say ’500 items found’ and ask you to choose limiters (e.g. adult/junior, fiction/non-fiction, text/video/images).
Even if I am much more specific in my search term at the beginning, e.g. Romeo and Juliet, I get 102 results if I put no limits on it. The first page of results gives an animated version on DVD, a film on DVD, a ‘fantasy overture’ recorded music performance on CD, a playset with multiple copies, a vocal score for an opera, hardback text, a talking book on CD, a paperback text, a hardback text about the play, and another recorded music performance of the fantasy overture on audio cassette. If I knew I wanted the music recording, I could have limited it as ‘music’ but if I wanted a recording of the ballet and not the opera I can only limit by DVD. The results displays at this point mean I can easily see if something is on videotape or DVD, but recordings of the ballet and the opera are mixed up with films of the play and animated versions. In a FRBRised catalogue, a search for Romeo and Juliet, content = ballet, media = DVD, would find me the one item in stock.
So FRBR might be more important than you think in delivering a better library catalogue experience to your users in the future.