Joint Steering Committee for the Revision of AACR (JSC)
Format Variation Working Group

Update for MARBI, June 2003

1. Introduction

Last summer, the JSC Format Variation Working Group (FVWG) presented a Discussion Paper to MARBI: 2002-DP08 "Dealing with FRBR Expressions in MARC 21 *." During discussion of that document at the 2002 annual ALA meeting, MARBI requested that the Working Group continue to keep MARBI informed as the group's work progressed. The following report contains an update of the Working Group's activities during the past year. While it does not specifically discuss all of the concepts that were presented in 2002-DP08, it should provide MARBI with an indication of the directions that the Working Group is currently pursuing.

During the past year, the Format Variation Working Group has been working in three different areas:

  1. Writing revisions to Chapter 25 (Uniform Titles) in AACR2 to accommodate the creation of headings at the FRBR level of "expression."

  2. Discussing mechanisms for "deconstructing the GMD," and for proposing a mechanism to identify mode of expression within a catalog record.

  3. Working with system vendors and utilities that are currently incorporating the FRBR model into their databases, and discussing best practices in this area.

In February, the JSC distributed preliminary documents from the Working Group related to the first two of these areas to its constituent bodies for comment. These documents were discussed at the April 2003 JSC meeting, and the Working Group received further direction from the JSC for how to proceed with moving these two projects forward during the next year.

2. Rewriting AACR Chapter 25

As one of its efforts to incorporate FRBR into AACR, the JSC has asked the Working Group to propose additions to Chapter 25 that would allow catalogers to construct uniform title-like headings that would identify not only a particular work (as currently in AACR2) but also a particular expression of a work. Rules for constructing these headings would be conceptually an extension of the rules already in place in Chapter 25. The FVWG is working under the assumption that headings at this level of specificity (expression) would remain optional within AACR, as the use of uniform titles is currently optional. The headings would only be desirable in a limited number of circumstances. For example, when a library catalog contains voluminous entries for certain works that appear in the catalog in many expressions and manifestations, it may be desirable to collocate the entries first under the work, and then under the expression.

The Working Group's first document suggesting changes to Chapter 25 (4JSC/Chair/71/Rev/Chair follow-up/4) took a fairly minimalist approach to revision. While the JSC concluded that this was a useful and necessary exercise, the JSC and its constituents felt that much more was needed. Thus the Working Group has now been asked to take a "fresh look" at the entire chapter, rather than to work primarily with the structure of rules that is already there. In particular, we have been asked to include more discussion of the different functions of uniform titles, delineate situations where uniform titles are useful, and explain the concepts behind them. The Working Group will be proposing an outline for a redesign of the entire chapter to the JSC in August.

As the revision of Chapter 25 progresses, it is possible that some revisions to both the bibliographic and authority formats may need to be considered to accommodate expression-level headings. If so, the Working Group will present another Discussion Paper to MARBI that deals with these issues.

3. Deconstructing the GMD/Mode of Expression

Last October, the JSC presented the Working Group with an additional charge: to explore the feasibility of "deconstructing" the GMD through the use of a term or device in the bibliographic record to represent the mode of expression, moving terms representing physical format and form of carrier to the physical description or to notes, and to make recommendations to the JSC on how the mode of expression could be represented in the bibliographic record.

In February, the Working Group presented a preliminary discussion of these issues to the JSC and its constituents (4JSC/Chair/71/Rev/2/Chair follow-up). In response to this document, the JSC recommended the next steps for the Working Group in this area. The JSC requested that the Working Group clearly distinguish between the analysis that is needed to deconstruct the GMD, on the one hand, and the synthesis that will then be needed to propose rules for the description. For the analysis, the Working Group has been asked to develop a more rigorous taxonomy of terms for mode of expression and ensure that the terms are at an appropriate level of specificity for the user community. These terms need not be user friendly as they are for analysis and not for display. Once the analysis is done, the Working Group will work on display terms for mode of expression that would actually be useful to users.

The Working Group will be working to further define the objective that would be achieved by coding the mode of expression in a catalog record. The JSC asked the Working Group to continue thinking through the function or hoped-for function of the GMD and think of other ways to achieve this functionality, if desirable.

The FVWG's exploration of this topic remains at a very preliminary stage. It will continue to keep MARBI informed as it progresses in this area through progress reports or a future discussion paper.

Working with System Vendors on FRBR

The Format Variation Working Group is continuing to work with system vendors and utilities (so far primarily OCLC and VTLS) that are currently incorporating the FRBR model into their databases. As a part of that effort, we are establishing liaisons with any vendor who has an interest in this area, whether or not they are currently implementing FRBR. So far, the Working Group has established liaisons with Digibis, Endeavor, Ex Libris, Innovative Interfaces, OCLC, The Library Corporation, and VTLS.

The Working Group feels that it is important to maintain these liaison relationships so that we can:

  1. study various implementations of FRBR, especially in MARC-based systems

  2. keep vendors informed of the direction that rule revisions are going to support FRBR and

  3. encourage vendors to support FRBR-related development in their systems

The Working Group's approach so far has been to look at each system and identify those features that work well in creating intelligible, collocated catalog displays for users. Based partly upon our experiences in working with system developers in this way, the Working Group plans to compile a list of criteria for evaluating online systems that organize bibliographic data according to the FRBR model.

System vendors and utilities that do not currently have a liaison relationship with the JSC Format Variation Working Group are encouraged to establish one by contacting the Working Group Chair, Jennifer Bowen at


*Current and previous reports from the Format Variation Working Group are available via the JSC website.

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