Karen Coyle has an excellent post called, What is a (FRBR) Work?, from her blog, Coyle’s InFormation. In this post, she tries to determine what a work is by asking whether a title should be included in a work record.
FRBR defines a work as:
The first entity defined in the model is work: a distinct intellectual or artistic creation.
A work is an abstract entity; there is no single material object one can point to as the work. We recognize the work through individual realizations or expressions of the work, but the work itself exists only in the commonality of content between and among the various expressions of the work. When we speak of Homer’s Iliad as a work, our point of reference is not a particular recitation or text of the work, but the intellectual creation that lies behind all the various expressions of the work.
Because the notion of a work is abstract, it is difficult to define precise boundaries for the entity. The concept of what constitutes a work and where the line of demarcation lies between one work and another may in fact be viewed differently from one culture to another. Consequently the bibliographic conventions established by various cultures or national groups may differ in terms of the criteria they use for determining the boundaries between one work and another.
For the purposes of this study variant texts incorporating revisions or updates to an earlier text are viewed simply as expressions of the same work (i.e., the variant texts are not viewed as separate works). Similarly, abridgements or enlargements of an existing text, or the addition of parts or an accompaniment to a musical composition are considered to be different expressions of the same work. Translations from one language to another, musical transcriptions and arrangements, and dubbed or subtitled versions of a film are also considered simply as different expressions of the same original work.
For example, take the Iliad by Homer. My title is tied to one language, English. This is the point that Karen highlights, namely that a title is expressed differently in different languages. The problem is which title and which language should the work record reflect. Karen suggests using a unique identifier instead. Unlike adding a uniform title in one language, a unique identifier would reference these variations. This unique identifier could then allow an individual to determine language the title should be displayed in based the needs of their users. In this sense, the work record would be more versatile thanks to the use of an unique identifier.
To do this, Karen explains that the work should be seen as a set:
So I like the idea of not assigning a title to the work, but I must admit that I’m increasingly seeing the Work not as a thing but as a set; a set made up of things that claim to be Manifestations of the work. Each resource that claims to be a Manifestation of that Work (using the Work identifier) is then part of the Work set, and it is the set that defines the Work.
In this sense, a work is an entity that encompasses the other group 1 entities.
How is this different from the current model?
Take for instance this illustration by Barbara Tillett meant to graphically explain group 1 entities in FRBR:
Unlike this linear relationship, I see Karen’s idea asking for two changes. One change is being able to create more complex and flexible relationships between work and the other entities. Not just a linear but also circular relationships that overlap in various ways could be created. Another difference is seeing work as an entity that is the reason for the other entities’ existence (or the root). Karen’s idea about work being a set asks that we think more deeply on what a work is in terms of creating work records. As one of comments suggested, Karen’s idea of work as a set entails a reworking of the conceptual model.
This is a great post that definitely gets one asking questions about RDA and FRBR. I would recommend reading it as well as the comments.