NGC4lib on WEMI and Identifiers

The listserv, the Next Generation Catalog for Libraries has been extremely busy this last month. Three discussions really stand out: FRBR’s Group 1 entities and what type of identifiers are associated with them, in particular works, expressions and manifestations ; Tim Berners Lee and the Semantic Web ; FRBR’s user tasks and their continued relevance.

Unlike some listservs, these threads can be read in their entirety online. William Denton’s FRBR blog as well as some others have already advertised this to the community. I would like to re-advertise these discussions because of their importance in understanding FRBR and RDA among other things. In doing so, I would like to highlight some points from these threads. I will do this in a series of 3 blogs one on identifiers, a second on user tasks, and then end with the thread on Tim Berners Lee, which is still very active on NGC4LIB.

FRBR has 3 entity groups. Group 1 is comprised of the WEMI or work, expression, manifestation, and item. Barbara Tillett has some excellent presentations out on the web on FRBR and RDA. She recently presented at the NISO webinar, Bibliographic Control Alphabet Soup. Under “agenda”, there is the possibility to download the slides from this event. Also, Barbara mentioned on the NGC4LIB listserv that she will be publishing another article on RDA.

In general, Group 1 are things either physical and concrete (manifestation and item) or abstract (work and expression). In RDA, attributes are used to describe and characterize these Group 1 entities. And relationships play a huge role in RDA to link works to other works, expressions or manifestations and so forth.

In the thread from NGC4LIB, it was asked whether any in the group 1 had any inherent identifiers. The example of authority records and their identifier or ISBNs for books was given. This question prompted a discussion on not only the differences between work, expression, and manifestation but how it was possible to conceive of them with a unique identifier.

Here are some highlighted points:

  • Can an OCLC numbers be considered an identifier for manifestations?
    • One of the problems raised about using OCLC numbers as identifiers was that not all resources have an OCLC number. Consider as an example many records sold by vendors that state specifically that they cannot be entered into OCLC but only be accessed under the terms of agreement reached by the institution and vendor.
    • Another issue was that in many OCLC records, one OCLC number refers to different ISBNs -perhaps the hardcover and the paperback editiions. In this sense, one OCLC number is used for 2 distinct manifestations.
  • Can the International Standard Text Code be used as an identifier for works? Or can the ISTC be used as an identifier for expressions?
    • The issue is clear with these two questions. Is the ISTC number about “Moby Dick” and not the version, edition of a particular Moby Dick as Karen Coyle pointed out? In this way, the ISTC would not be an identifier for manifestations. Then, the ISTC identifier is perhaps used for expressions; some supported this suggestion in the thread. Yet, Karen Coyle highlighted that if several expressions could be linked together, this would create a work that could have a ISTC number for that grouping. Another similar example was that the text could receive a ISTC number and then there would be versions of it, such as the 3rd ed. with an introduction from a well-known scholar and a new completed timeline with different identifiers -perhaps a ISBN. The question is whether a ISTC number could be used for expressions or works.

What I found fascinating about this thread was of course the discussion between well versed and very knowledgeable people on FRBR. More than that, I was intrigued in how people were trying to use what is currently available, in this case ISTC identifiers, in order to help the library world sort out how to identify works, expressions, and manifestations. The reason this is so important is that RDA forces catalogers to think about and rethink how all the Group 1, 2, and 3 entities relate to one another as well as to the larger context of scholarly knowledge. In particular on the Internet, the way to create these relationships is by linking data. For this to happen, it is necessary to have a unique and permanent identifier so that one thing can point to another. This is the type of work currently being done by the Metadata Registry and their vocabularies as well as the SKOS project at the Library of Congress for their authorities and vocabularies.

If you have time, definitely take a detour to read this thread. It is short but very informative.

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