Heidrun Wiesenmüller made a series of comments about the proposed FRBR-LRM on the RDA list some weeks ago and noted that there hadn’t been many responses either to the document or to her comments. I didn’t respond myself at the time because I hadn’t had time to read and think about the proposed document, but now that I have I do have some comments that I’d like to note publicly, and I hope others might respond. The document is available here: http://www.ifla.org/node/10280. I think this is a foundational document and we all need to have a look at it, and there needs to be some serious public discussion. FRBR-LRM expresses some fundamental principles (or perhaps better, ground-rules) on which cataloging codes, including RDA, will be based for some time, so I think we need to get this right.
This is the first of a couple of messages I’m sending in which I want to express some significant reservations I have about a few parts of the proposed model. Because I think public open discussion is critical I’m sending the messages to the RDA, PCC, and FRBR lists. I apologize if this means duplication of messages for some of you. I also hope the IFLA authorities who will ultimately approve a final document are monitoring these lists and will consider public comments as responses to the call for world-wide review of FRBR-LRM.
But first of all I’d like to make clear that I am impressed with the dedication and hard work that the authors of the document have clearly poured into it. It is very important that the three FRBR models be consolidated, and this is a great start. But since it’s the first draft that has been released for comment to the general cataloging community I hope the authors (and IFLA) will be open to criticisms or reservations and will be willing to thoughtfully consider—and make—changes based on these comments. I presume that’s the reason the document was sent out for world-wide review.
This first message discusses what it is we’re actually modelling here. What does the FRBR-LRM ER model describe?
It is crystal clear by its own language that the proposed model is intended to be used to describe the bibliographic universe:
p. 5: “The model covers bibliographic data as understood in a broad, general sense.”
p. 5: “The study then identifies the characteristics or attributes associated with each entity and the relationships between the entities … [in] the universe of entities described in bibliographic records.”
p. 13 (LRM-E1, Res, scope notes). “Everything considered relevant to the bibliographic universe, the universe of discourse in this case, is included.
Even if it was not made so admirably clear, this is in fact the universe our model must describe. But fortunately it is indeed clear from the above that the proposed FRBR-LRM model describes the bibliographic universe. Point: The bibliographic universe is not the same universe as the “real” universe.
In the bibliographic universe numerous entities exist that do not exist in the real universe. A “work,” an abstract notion, does not exist in the real universe, for example. Neither for that matter do expressions or manifestations, also abstract notions. They don’t “really” exist, they only exist in our imagination. If we limit our model to entities found in the “real” universe we’ll have to eliminate works, expressions, and manifestations.
Entities not found in the real universe but that exist in the bibliographic universe include fictitious entities that take responsibility for works, expressions, manifestation and items. These are in fact real individuals (or sometimes real groups) in the bibliographic universe.
Entities not found in the real universe but that exist in the bibliographic universe include non-human entities who are not fictitious and who take responsibility for works, expressions, manifestations, and items (e.g. animal actors, animal creators of paintings or music). These are in fact real individuals in the bibliographic universe (or sometimes real groups) who are capable of agency.
Entities not found in the real universe but that exist in the bibliographic universe include bibliographic entities represented by pseudonyms or stage names. These are in fact real individuals (or sometimes real groups) in the bibliographic universe.
In the bibliographic universe these entities are all real and act as agents. Yet in FRBR-LRM they are expressly excluded from the category of person (and thus agent) in the model, because (I surmise) the authors don’t consider them to be “real” agents. The scope note for person (p. 19, LRM-E7) reads “The entity person is restricted to real persons who live or are assumed to have lived.” The authors mean individuals “who live or are assumed to have lived in the “real” universe”, i.e., not the bibliographic universe. The authors seem to have forgotten which universe is being described by the model. It also seems arbitrary since the same restriction isn’t applied to other “unreal” entities such as work, expression, and manifestation.
The restriction is arbitrary and does not conform to the “reality” of how the bibliographic universe behaves. In other words, it does not accurately describe the bibliographic universe. This is a serious problem. In the bibliographic universe fictitious characters such as Geronimo Stilton or Hyacinth Bucket are indeed real persons and they do indeed take agency responsibility. In the bibliographic universe, Miss Marple is indeed a real person and she does live or is assumed to have lived. In the bibliographic universe animals are indeed credited with creation (chimpanzees painting, speaking, and writing, elephants making music, whales singing) and contribution (specifically identified animals acting in films).
Even if the model is restricted to describing the “real” universe (which would make it a less-than-useful model since that’s not in fact what we’re describing), the exclusion of real non-humans from creatorship/contributorship might be described as arrogant and hubristic. Many scientific and philosophical works have taken up this issue and conclude that many non-human animals have intelligence, have volition, and are capable of creating things, of acting in the sense of voluntarily doing things (which is the basic definition of what an agent does). Even if this were controversial in the scientific or philosophical world (and I’m not at all sure it is), it certainly isn’t the place of a group of librarians to be making pronouncements on this issue and declaring that animals cannot create works or contribute to expressions. This is outside the expertise of the field of librarianship.
And why is this restriction necessary, anyway? The model can function perfectly well without narrowly restricting the meaning of “person” or “agent” in this way. Similar international standards do accept “unreal” persons as persons. Schema.org defines the entity “person” as “a person (alive, dead, or fictional)” https://schema.org/Person. The FOAF ontology defines the entity (class) “person” quite generally: “Something is a person if it is a person. We don’t nitpic about whether they’re alive, real, or imaginary. The person class is a sub-class of the agent class.” http://xmlns.com/foaf/spec/#term_Person.
If the hangup is that some people don’t like using the word “person” to describe fictitious or non-human entities, how about calling the entity “individual”?
I strongly urge IFLA not to include this restriction in the final document. It isn’t necessary to the model and doesn’t coincide with a correct description of the universe the model needs to describe.
Robert L. Maxwell
Ancient Languages and Special Collections Librarian
6728 Harold B. Lee Library
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602
"We should set an example for all the world, rather than confine ourselves to the course which has been heretofore pursued"--Eliza R. Snow, 1842.