Library and Archives Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Institutional links

ARCHIVED - Initiative for Equitable Library Access

Archived Content

This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.

Strategic Research

FRBR and RDA: Advances in Resource Description for Multiple Format Resources

Download Freeware

[PDF 1,007 KB] [RTF 27,862 KB]

Prepared by Chris Oliver
March 2009
Prepared for:
Initiative for Equitable Library Access
Library and Archives Canada

The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Library and Archives Canada.

Executive Summary

The multiple formats issue has been a challenge that current cataloguing standards were unable to resolve. This paper describes the multiple formats issue and demonstrates how the issue is resolved through a new pespective on bibliographic data and a new cataloguing standard. The new perspective on bibliographic data comes from the conceptual model, Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR). The new standard is Resource Description and Access (RDA), which is built on the theoretical framework expressed in the FRBR conceptual model. RDA and FRBR, the conceptual model on which RDA is founded, resolve the multiple formats issue and point the way for improved access to resources for all users, and particularly for users with print disabilities.

The multiple formats issue, with its two aspects of alternative formats and multimedia resources, has its root in the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules 2s' (AACR2) inconsistent approach to content and carrier and inconsistent categorization of the classes of material. Alternative formats bring to the fore the unresolved problem of whether the content or the carrier should have primacy when describing a resource. Different approaches to the problem were unsatisfactory because they emphasized either the carrier or the content, to the detriment of the other. Resources consisting of multiple types of content and/or carriers were also not well served by AACR2 rules. AACR2 has a bias towards choosing one characteristic as having primacy. Such an approach may give the cataloguer a way to approach the description of the resource, but it does not necessarily allow for a full description of the resource, where all characteristics are equally well described.

In order to understand RDA's resolution of the multiple formats issue, it is important to understand how the solution emerged. Attempts to resolve the multiple formats issue within the AACR2 framework were unsuccessful and eventually led to the deconstruction of AACR2 and the development of RDA. The key to understanding RDA is the fact that it is built upon the conceptual framework expressed in the model known as FRBR.

The FRBR conceptual model is based on a detailed analysis of bibliographic data. The model offers a map to the bibliographic universe and it looks at bibliographic data from the user's perspective. FRBR changes the focus of the cataloguing process. The focus is no longer on the cataloguer creating a single record, but on the user seeking the record within the context of a large catalogue or database. Both activities continue to co-exist, but the defining viewpoint has changed.

FRBR brings about a collective shift in understanding the bibliographic universe. The problem of cataloguing is not simply the distinction between the book and its content. The categories of book and content have been made more precise and expanded into the four group 1 entities: work, expression, manifestation and item. The attributes of these entities and the relationships between them illuminate clearly the boundaries between content and carrier, and also open up the possibility of doing justice to both content and carrier when describing a resource.

RDA introduces a new framework for technical and content description. The core of the framework consists of three data elements: content type, media type and carrier type. The RDA framework of content, media and carrier types clearly indicates the level of similarity and differences between resources. A difference in content type means a different expression. A difference in media and carrier type means a different manifestation. Content, media and carrier types are three among many attributes that distinguish between expressions and between manifestations. But they are especially significant and useful when looking at alternative formats.

Alternative formats are resources that deliver the same content. Thus attributes such as author, title of the work, genre, etc., will be the same. Among the attributes that will differ, content, media and carrier types allow the user to find and select a version that they can use. If the user has difficulties with one of their senses, such as sight, then the user may be searching for a form of expression that uses hearing or touch. The difference in content type becomes of critical importance. If the user has access to a limited range of media options, then the media and carrier types become of critical importance.

RDA's solution for alternative formats is to move away from the content versus carrier issue to a new approach that respects both the content and the carrier, and gives scope for a full description of both aspects. The close mapping between FRBR and RDA means that RDA descriptions will record attributes of all the group 1 entities, permitting all levels of similarities and differences to be recorded.

FRBR's modelling of the group 1 entities also provides an answer to the problem of describing resources with multiple characteristics. AACR2 was not designed to support the description of resources with multiple, equally predominant characteristics, and it did not adapt well when the need arose. Part I of AACR2 assumes that the cataloguer will determine one predominant "physical form" and then use the chapter that corresponds to the class of material to which the resource belongs. The chapters are organized according to the different classes of material. However, the categorization is flawed because the differences between the classes are not consistent; the classes of material represent different levels of generality, some are content types, some are carrier types. The General Material Desigantion's (GMD) are also similarly inconsistent; in addition, one must select a single GMD.

When the AACR2 classes of material and GMDs are examined from a FRBR perspective, one problem is immediately evident: the classes of material and the GMDs are inconsistent because the categories are at different levels of abstraction and map to different entities. RDA abandons the "class of material" organization used in AACR2 and bases its organizational structure on the FRBR conceptual model. RDA shifts to the principle of having general instructions that apply to all types of resources, followed, where needed, by supplementary instructions for specific types of resources. The possibility of conflicting instructions is further eliminated by the categorization of attributes according to the four group 1 entities. Each entity has its own logical attributes.

RDA's solution is to move away from the need to determine a predominant aspect. Instead, RDA opens up the possibility of describing a simple resource or a complex resource equally well. The description of the resource will include all relevant attributes and relationships. The cataloguer will include attributes at work, expression, manifestation and item level. All aspects of the resource can and should be recorded.

The possibility of describing all aspects of a resource is not limited to the content, media and carrier types. If a data element applies to the resource being described, then one can use it. By using separate data elements, data is well identified and segmented. Any data element can also potentially be used to search and navigate.

RDA offers a way out of the multiple formats impasse. It enables the recording of all aspects of content and carrier, and it improves the collocation of resources, with greater definition of the similarities and differences between resources. RDA achieves the resolution of the multiple formats issue by moving away from the question of whether content or carrier should have primacy and instead affirming the role of both the content and the carrier. RDA provides a new approach to content, media and carrier, and this approach is based on the FRBR modelling of the group 1 entities.

RDA is a content standard, not an encoding standard, and not a display standard. RDA is a key step in the improvement of access to resources, because it governs the recording of metadata and the construction of access points to this data. The creation of well-formed metadata is a vital piece of the infrastructure to support search engines and data displays. RDA alone will not improve navigation and display because the metadata must be used appropriately by well-designed search engines and search interfaces. But the recording of clear, unambiguous data is a required step in the improvement of access to resources.

The strength of RDA is that it is built on the theoretical framework expressed in the FRBR conceptual model. Thus, RDA approaches description and access with a logically consistent framework underpinning it. RDA improves the description of resources and access to them, with its carefully defined data elements that record attributes and relationships. This improvement affects all resources. RDA adopts FRBR's focus on the user, and its instructions are given within the context of recording data in order to ensure that the user will find, identify, select and obtain the resource that meets his or her need.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
1.1 Overview of Resource Description and Access (RDA)
1.2 Scope and definitions
1.3 Outline

2. Problems with the cataloguing of "multiple formats" in the AACR cataloguing community
2.1 Alternative formats
2.1.1 Different approaches to microform reproductions
2.1.2 Multiple Versions Forum, Airlie, Virginia, December 1989
2.1.3 Electronic resources
2.1.4 Alternative formats: resources for users with print disabilities
2.2 Problems with the cataloguing of a single resource consisting of multiple content types, media types and/or carrier types (multimedia)
2.2.1 All resources
2.2.2 Multimedia resources: resources for users with print disabilities
2.3. International Conference on the Principles and Future Development of AACR.

3. FRBR: the conceptual model
3.1 Origins and impact of FRBR
3.2 User tasks
3.3 Brief outline of entity-relationship model
3.4 Impact of FRBR on the content versus carrier issue

4. Towards a resolution of the multiple formats issue
4.1 The Logical Structure of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules
4.2 Partial revision of rule 0.24
4.3 Format Variation Working Group
4.4 AACR3

5. RDA: Resource Description and Access
5.1 RDA, the successor of AACR2
5.2 FRBR in RDA
5.3 RDA's approach to content and carrier
5.4 Recording attributes and relationships
5.4.1 Recording attributes
5.4.2 Recording relationships

6. Potential impact for resource discovery and data display: experiments with FRBR-ization

7. Using RDA
7.1 RDA as an online tool
7.2 "Social cataloguing": benefits for specialized cataloguing communities
7.3 Using RDA with encoding schema

8. Conclusion: impact of FRBR and RDA
8.1 Multiple formats issue
8.2 Improved descriptions and improved access

9. Bibliography