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Strategic Research

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

1. Introduction

Users, regardless of their abilities, share fundamental needs when trying to discover resources that meet their requirements. They need to find, identify, select and obtain the appropriate resource and they rely on the presence of certain types of bibliographic data in order to accomplish these tasks.

Certain data elements may have critical importance for a user when selecting the appropriate resource. This is evident for a user with a print disability, because the resource may be accessible to the user only if the content is delivered in a particular "format", through a particular media, on a particular carrier. Users with print disabilities will be at a greater disadvantage if a catalogue does not readily allow the retrieval of data according to these criteria.

Cataloguing principles and cataloguing codes have always aimed to serve the needs of the user, with varying degrees of success. As problems have arisen, the fundamental commitment to serve the user has driven the cataloguing community to make changes in order to improve access. One of the current challenges has been the "multiple formats" issue. This background paper will describe the multiple formats issue and will demonstrate how the cataloguing community has responded to this challenge and developed a new perspective and a new response. The new perspective on bibliographic data comes from the conceptual model, Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR). The new response is the development of the cataloguing standard, Resource Description and Access (RDA), which is built on the theoretical framework expressed in the FRBR conceptual model.

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.

1.1 Overview of Resource Description and Access (RDA)

RDA: Resource Description and Access is the new standard that will replace the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR). AACR2 is the current standard governing resource description and access, and is used by libraries in Canada, the United States, Australia and Great Britain, as well by libraries in many other countries. This cataloguing standard has been translated into more than 25 languages, which is evidence of its widespread use beyond the four author countries. RDA, a new standard written for the digital age, will replace AACR2.

RDA is a metadata content standard. The term "metadata" is used rather than the narrower term "cataloguing", because RDA was deliberately written so that its use would not to be limited to libraries. Metadata, data about data, encompasses the bibliographic data used in cataloguing records, and the various other types of metadata recorded by communities that collect and record our documentary heritage, such as digital repositories, archives, museums, publishers, etc. The purpose of developing RDA is to improve and facilitate the recording of well-formed metadata in order to improve resource discovery and retrieval, whether in current or newly emerging database structures.1 The more that communities share metadata standards, the easier it becomes for a user to search not only within library repositories around the world, but also across repositories of other metadata communities.

RDA cannot be considered a revised version of AACR2. RDA represents a change in approach to the cataloguing process. The key to RDA is the fact that it is built upon the conceptual framework expressed in the models known as FRBR and FRAD, Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records,2 and Functional Requirements for Authority Data.3 The two models were developed through a careful analysis of bibliographic and authority data, and a detailed mapping of the data to the various tasks which users perform when using that data. The FRBR and FRAD models act as the underlying road map for understanding resource description and access. RDA takes the FRBR and FRAD conceptual models as the basis on which to build the guidelines and to structure the organization of the guidelines. The models are also the means to test the RDA guidelines to ensure that they are logically consistent and theoretically sound. With the conceptual models as the theoretical foundation for the standard, RDA represents a major shift in how the cataloguing process is perceived and understood.

An important goal for RDA is to "provide a consistent, flexible and extensible framework for both the technical and content description of all types of resources and all types of content."4 The standard was designed for both traditional and non-traditional resources, within and beyond the library. Revisions to AACR2 had attempted to open up the cataloguing rules and accommodate new types of resources, but ended up providing band-aid solutions. It was problematic to extend AACR2 to encompass the description of new types of publication because of fundamental logical flaws in AACR2's rules and structure. Limitations in AACR2 were carefully analyzed and led to a new approach for technical and content description in RDA.

RDA is a metadata content standard. It is not tied to a single encoding schema, but it can be used with many encoding schema, for example with MARC21, Dublin Core, MODS.5 It does not dictate how bibliographic data and bibliographic relationships should be displayed for the user. It does encourage the recording of sufficient and well-formed metadata so that all users can find, identify, select and obtain the information resources that they require.

1.2 Scope and definitions

Ann Chapman, in a 2007 article in Library trends, summarized an ideal catalogue. She was looking at the process of resource discovery from the perspective of visually impaired users, but the features she outlines are features that would benefit all users.

Designing a catalog with visually impaired people in mind requires considering several aspects. The content of the bibliographic records must contain appropriate information to support both filtered and unfiltered searching and record display. Record displays must contain sufficient information to enable the user to decide whether an item is suitable for her purpose. Access points must enable the user to search from a variety of starting points. Finally, the catalog itself must be accessible and have easy navigation.6

With the rapid proliferation of new types of publications and new types of electronic resources, flaws and problems with current methods of data navigation and display have become increasingly evident. To improve catalogues, not only must the interfaces be redesigned and improved. The bibliographic data that provides the basis for navigation and display must also be improved. This paper focuses on the improvement of bibliographic data to support and advance resource discovery.

This paper will use the same definition of print disabilities as the Initiative for Equitable Library Access:

Print disabilities prevent people from reading standard print. They can be due to a visual, perceptual or physical disability which may be the result of vision impairment, a learning disability or a disability that prevents the physical holding of a book.7

Tank and Frederiksen underline the urgency of addressing access to information for users with print disabilities:

Knowledge has become the most important capital in the present age, and the success of any society lies in harnessing that capital... In the knowledge society, the much broader concept of print disability may actually even be more relevant than visual impairment. The definition of print disability can vary from country to country, but generally print disability may be defined as the inability to access information in a print format due to either a visual, perceptual, or physical disability. Examples may include blindness, dyslexia, learning disabilities, or the inability to hold a book, follow a line of print, or focus and concentrate.8

This paper will look at the description of resources from both a general and a specific perspective. Many of the challenges and responses described in the paper apply to all resources, and are not specifically targeted at resources for users with print disabilities. However, the paper will draw out the particular impact on resources used by those with print disabilities, and will use relevant examples.

When looking at resources of particular interest to users with print disabilities, these include resources that may be delivered as printed texts, such as large print books, or as sound recordings, such as audiobooks, or in tactile notation, such as braille books. Equivalent content is now also frequently available as an electronic resource. There are many different ways to produce electronic resources: for example, one can have a static PDF file, or a streaming audio file. A "book" in an electronic environment can be a flat, linear reproduction or can be recorded with a document type definition that gives structure to the data so that the user can easily navigate through the resource and readily identify where they are. Audiobooks can also be issued as plain, linear sound recordings, or with a document type definition specifically for talking books, such as the DAISY standard. Resources for users with print disabilities can be delivered on a wide range of carriers, from a printed volume to a USB key, from an audiocassette to a MP3 file.

The content of a resource is frequently, but not always, text or spoken word. There are also other types of content, such as maps, music scores, images, etc.

The phrase "multiple formats" needs to be defined because it can have different meanings.

The meanings generally coalesce around two categories:

  1. alternative formats: identical content delivered on different carriers, e.g. a novel issued as a printed book, an audio book, and an e-book; a journal issued as a print journal, a microfilm and an e-journal; also called multiple versions
  2. a "multimedia" resource: one resource that includes multiple types of content, multiple types of media and/or multiple types of carriers, e.g. a single CD-ROM that includes sounds, text and images; a novel delivered both as an electronic text and a digital talking book; a collection that includes printed text, sound discs, and maps.

The Council on Access to Information for Print-Disabled Canadians defines multiple formats as "any non-traditional publishing format including but not limited to braille, electronic text, large print or audio." 9 Many government bodies define multiple formats as non-traditional publishing formats, and then list alternative formats for delivering identical content. Industry Canada's webpage about assistive technologies has a simple, but clear definition: "Multiple formats are simply other ways of publishing information." 10

The term "multiple formats" is sometimes understood to mean a multimedia resource, a resource consisting of multiple formats.

In the sound recording industry, the phrase "multiple formats" may also mean abridged versus unabridged content. For example, Larry Mallach, audio buyer for Borders, is quoted in Trudi Rosenblum's article: "Are we going to get rid of abridgements altogether, or will we still have multiple formats?" 11 The relationship between abridged and unabridged content is important for users, and will be mentioned, though it will not be considered an aspect of "multiple formats".

This paper will address the two understandings of "multiple formats": alternative formats of the same content and resources consisting of multiple types of content, media or carriers. For the purposes of this paper, when identical content is delivered on different carriers, this understanding of multiple formats will also be called "alternative formats". The second type, a resource consisting of multiple types of content, media and/or carriers, will also be called "multimedia", as a shorthand way to refer to this category. The term "multimedia" is understood to be a little misleading, because the multiple types are not limited to multiple media types.

In both cases, multiple formats are resources where there are complex relationships between the content of the resource and the carriers on which they are delivered. In the first case, the same content is delivered on different carriers, and, in the second case, the resource may consist of many content types on one carrier, or one content type on several carriers, or several content types on several different carriers.

1.3 Outline

The paper will begin by looking at some of the areas of difficulty in the description of resources, looking both at resources in general and those of interest to users with print disabilities. The focus will be the challenges presented by "multiple formats", first examining the issues associated with alternative formats, and then with multimedia resources.

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 led to the evolution of a new standard, RDA. It is through the history of RDA's development that one sees how the new responses to old problems were developed, and one can appreciate the power and efficacy of the new responses. An overview of the development process shows how the cataloguing community wrestled with the issues and why it became necessary to replace AACR2. The response to the multiple formats issue was not an arbitrary decision, nor the decision of a few. Many ideas and avenues were explored. The approach to multiple formats that is found in RDA comes out of wide community discussion and debate, and rests on a foundation of internationally accepted theoretical concepts and principles.

The paper gives a brief overview of the FRBR model because RDA is built on the theoretical framework expressed in the model. FRAD, Functional Requirements for Authority Data, is an important extension of the FRBR model that analyzes and models authority data, but it is less relevant to the multiple formats issue, and so is not described. The paper focuses on the modelling of bibliographic data. The FRBR model changed the direction of cataloguing revisions and led to the development of RDA.

The paper describes the salient features of RDA, and focuses particularly on RDA's approach to the description and categorization of content and carrier. It is RDA's approach to content and carrier that leads to a resolution of the multiple formats issues. However, other aspects of RDA also complement and further support RDA's approach to content and carrier. RDA improves description and access for all resources. The paper gives particular attention to resources of interest to users with print disabilities.

RDA encourages the recording of well-formed metadata, but does not govern the design of databases, search engines or data display. It may not be immediately evident how RDA can make an impact on resource discovery and data display. The paper will give a quick overview of a few applications of FRBR concepts, using current AACR2 data. Despite the shortcomings of current bibliographic data, the application of FRBR concepts leads to a marked improvement in resource discovery and data display. Through these experiments, one can already see the potential for even greater improvements when data will be recorded according to RDA.

The paper also briefly describes how the standard will be used. RDA will be released as an online tool and this additional functionality facilitates use of the standard and promotes consistent application of the standard. It also provides scope for customization which will be of particular use for specialized cataloguing communities, such as those who catalogue for users with print disabilities. It will be possible to use RDA with current encoding schema due to the preparatory work undertaken by appointed groups. Thus, it will be possible to use RDA's solution to the multiple formats issue as soon as implementation occurs.

The concluding section summarizes how 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.

1. Joint Steering Committee for Development of RDA. Strategic Plan for RDA, 2005-2009. (5JSC/Strategic/1/Rev/2, 1 November 2007).

2. IFLA Study Group on the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records. Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records: Final Report. (München: K.G. Saur, 1998).

3. Functional Requirements for Authority Data is an extension of the FRBR model. IFLA Working Group on Functional Requirements and Numbering of Authority Records (FRANAR). Functional Requirements for Authority Data: A Conceptual Model. Draft 2007-04-01. (Final version approved for publication, March 2009; draft removed from website).

4. Joint Steering Committee. Strategic Plan for RDA, 2005-2009.

5. MARC21, see
Dublin Core, see
MODS, Metadata Object Description Schema, see

6. Ann Chapman. "Resource discovery: catalogs, cataloging and the user." Library Trends 55, no. 4 (Spring 2007): 917.

7. Initiative for Equitable Library Access. "What is a print disability?" IELA website.
This definition is also in line with the definition of perceptual disability in the Copyright Act.

8. Elsebeth Tank and Carsten Frederiksen. "The DAISY virtual library: Entering the Global Virtual Library." Library Trends 55, no. 4 (Spring 2007): 933-934.

9. Council on Access to Information for Print-Disabled Canadians. Policy and Implementation Plan on Providing Access to LAC Publications in Multiple Formats, 2008. Background.

10. Industry Canada. "What are multiple formats?" (Assistive Technology Links).

11. Trudi Rosenblum. "Audiobooks at the millenium." Publishers Weekly 247, no.1 (January 2, 2000): 35-37.

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