Function in the Fuctional Requirements for Bibliographic Records

Until recently, the title and in particular the word, functional, did not strike me as a crucial change in perspective in the way we conceptualize information organization and cataloging. This changed while surfing various discussions on FRBR. I came across the argument that FRBR differs from the underlying (and unidentified) model on which AACR2 is based. From a format driven imperative, which underlies the content standard AACR2, FRBR introductions a conceptual framework based on function.

When first thinking of this distinction between FRBR and the unstated theory behind AACR2, I was taken by the simplicity of format versus function. However, I re-evaluated this dichotomy by asking some basic questions about FRBR.

My first question concerned function and its meaning in FRBR. The bibliographic record serves several functions based on the types of tasks of the users. Remember, according to FRBR, users covers a broad spectrum of people, from patrons of a library to library staff. Furthermore, tasks performed by the user are identified in FRBR as: being able to find a resource; identifying a particular resource; selecting a resource; obtaining a resource. Here, I am using the term resource very generally; resource does not mean an item but could cover a work, expression, manifestation or item (the group 1 entities in FRBR). With this information, the bibliographic record needs to be able to function in such a way that data can be easily found, identified, selected, and/or obtained by the user. In other words, the bibliographic record needs to have a basic degree of functionality. This requires that the bibliographic record has to have more natural language such that any user can understand that record’s context. This context involves more linked data in order to see the relationships between a record and other spheres of related information. The bibliographic record needs to be more intuitive in terms of how users think about and use information, particularly in a digital word; this brings us back to linked data, meaningful relationships between data and information.

My second question concerned if functionality really did differentiated itself entirely from format. If a user needs to find a resource of a particular format, then the bibliographic record should have the minimum level of functionality in order to provide that information to the user. Indeed, FRBR explains that the functions performed by the bibliographic record are based on various types of materials. One of the reasons for this is that we all know that users expect to find a wide range of resources available in different formats:

The study also endeavours to be comprehensive in terms of the range of materials, media, and formats that are covered. The study group drew on a wide range of sources identifying data pertaining to textual, cartographic, audio-visual, graphic, and three-dimensional materials; to paper, film, magnetic tape, and optical media; and to acoustic, electric, digital, and optical recording modes. (p. 4)

In this sense, function supersedes format in terms of the conceptual hierarchy of how information is organized. Instead of differentiating format from function, format is an expression of the functionality of the bibliographic record based on the tasks performed by users.

The distinction between format and function was misleading. The change in perspective is between item cataloging and the organization of contextualized and related data. FRBR introduces the notion of working with data that fits into a framework of relationships required of the bibliographic record because it performs key functions to satisfy any of the user tasks.

The more that this data is related in one way or another to other data helps enrich and therefore enhance the functionality of the bibliographic record. It is in this way that, for example, William Denton and Jodi Schneider can speak of weak and strong relationships between FRBR entities. This also leads to the idea of linked data, as discussed by Tim Berners-Lee.

IFLA’s final report on the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records was published in 1998. It can be found online at: