Thursday, April 24, 2008

Conversation with a Serials Librarian

It went like this: I sent our serials librarian the link to the "FRBR for serials" paper (pdf!), which is apparently quite the rage at the CONSER operational meeting. She said, "oh, yeah, it's nice to see CONSER taking this on, since ever since FRBR came out, it hasn't addressed serials."
And THEN she says "It took them about 40 years just to address serials and continuing resource questions in AACR! That's the whole reason CONSER exists."

The more we talked, the more we both came to the conclusion that FRBR is, as the serials librarian said, "a fancying up of old ideas." When I think of FRBR and I think of all the examples that FRBR has been used to describe, it's still based off the basic idea of one work that can be expressed in multiple expressions/manifestations/items. But it's still ONE WORK that was created by ONE person/group/corporation. Serials are just not like that, so it falls to CONSER to (yet again) make their own rules, and tweak concepts, just like they had to do when the library community ignored their needs back in the mid-century with AACR. I don't have a problem with FRBR being tied to traditional ideas of bibliographic control, but they should probably acknowledge that straight off.

This goes back to something I wrote about awhile ago--that archives and museums will have no interest in RDA. And it's dawning on me as to why (besides the obvious one that RDA is kind of imperialistic). If RDA is based off the conceptual framework of FRBR, and FRBR starts everything off with the term "work," we're automatically shutting out everyone who is not part of the one-book-one-author universe. Archivists, curators,and serials librarians just don't respond to that kind of terminology. It doesn't really matter if you have "addressed" their needs--you're starting from the wrong place.

I think that our serials librarian is right, in a way. FRBR, even though it seems to be trying to philosophically embrace all kinds of information, just doesn't do that. Where do archival collections fit into FRBR? Serials? Pith helmets? They don't fit, and will never fit. And that's ok. Because I'm not saying that FRBR isn't an excellent way of conceptualizing the creation of creative works. It is! But if the concept doesn't even fit one of the largest "anomalies" in the library world (serials), then why are we using it as a base to build a new set of rules about cataloging?

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"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.