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60th IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 21-27, 1994

IFLA Study on the Functional Requirements of Bibliographic Records:
Theoretical and Practical Foundations

Barbara B. Tillett, Ph.D.,
Chief, Cataloguing Policy and Support Office, Library of Congress



The project to study the functional requirements for bibliographic records was conceived at the 1990 Stockholm Seminar on Cataloguing, sponsored by the IFLA UBCIM Program. During the 1960's, a fundamental examination of cataloguing theory and practice was conducted on an international level. The thirty years since have seen the cataloguing world change. A confluence of developing trends and probl ems in this changing cataloguing world set the stage for the 1990 Stockholm Seminar:

Lively discussion at the Stockholm Seminar focused on the quality and functions of bibliographic records. Some speakers proposed that cataloguing could be considerably simplified. One speaker stated that the number of descriptive data elements needed in a bibliographic record could be reduced without seriously affecting access. This statement was based on finding of catalogue use studies at the U niversity of Bath. Further, it was stated that economic advantages could be realized by distributing the work of constructing bibliographic records; in particular it was suggested that non library consumers of bibliographic records, such as book sellers and publishers, might participate in supplying data elements to create generic records. These statements were challenged by another speaker on th e grounds that they did not take into account the variety of functions a bibliographic record was intended to perform. Further, the cost of providing bibliographic control did not lie so much in the provision of descriptive data elements as in the provision of organizing data elements requiring authority control.

By the end of the Seminar no consensus had emerged over the functions of bibliographic records, and it was evident to the participants that a fundamental reexamination of the bibliographic record was needed. In particular, what is needed is common agreement on what the bibliographic record aims to provide information about. Also needed is agreement on what the bibliographic record is to achieve i n answering user needs. It was to initiate this reexamination that the study of the functional requirements of bibliographic records was proposed.

In May 1991, a draft of the Terms of Reference for A Study of the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (Draft 1991 04 05) was created by Henriette Avram and Tom Delsey for review by a subcommittee of the Conference of Directors of National Libraries. Comments were requested from the IFLA Division of Biblio graphic Control. At the August 1991 IFLA meeting in Moscow, the IFLA Divisio n of Bibliographic Control formed the Study Group on Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records under the leadership of the Standing Committee of the Section on Cataloguing with representation from the Section on Classification and Indexing. The initial study group membership included: Olivia Madison, Chair (United States), John D. Byrum, Jr. (United States). Suzanne Jouguelet (France), an d Dorothy McGarry (United States). The initial commentators on the work of the Group were: Franoise Leresche (France), Brain Holt (United Kingdom), Eeva Murtommaa (Finland), and Andrew Milton Wells (Australia).

In May 1992, three consultants, Elaine Svenonius (United States), Barbara Tillett (United States), and Ben Tucker (United States), were appointed to prepare a draft report on the functional requirements for bibliographic records. The Consultants and Study Group members met at the June 1992 ALA in San Francisco to review and revise the draft Terms of Reference.

The Terms of Reference for a Study of the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records states the following purpose: The purpose of this study is to delineate in clearly defined terms the functions performed by the bibliographic record with respect to various media, various applications, and various user needs. The study is to cover the full range of functions for the bibliographic record in its widest sense (i.e., a record that encompasses not only descriptive elements, but access points (name, title, subject, etc.), other "organizing" elements (classification, etc.), and annotations).

This purpose was specified in a set of Requirements, which, following a suggestion made at the Stockholm Seminar, proposed the development of a model that would define the entities of interest to users of bibliographic records and the types of relationships that may exist between those entities. Such a model would serve as the foundation for the subsequent work of identifying attributes of entiti es and relationships required to carry our the functions of the bibliographic record.

The Terms of Reference were approved by the IFLA Standing Committee of the Section on Cataloguing at the September 1992 IFLA meeting in New Delhi, with a few changes. The most significant change was an additional charge given to the Study Group: "For bibliographic records created by national bibliographic agencies, recommend a basic level of functionality that relates specifically to the entities identified in the framework and the functions that are relevant to each." The Study Group was enlarged to include Nancy Williamson (Canada), Barbro Borg (Sweden), Philip Bryant (United Kingdom), Thomas Delsey (Canada), Assumpcio Estivill (Spain), and Maria Witt (France).

In June 1993 at the ALA Conference in New Orleans, the Study Group and the consultants, now reduced to two following the resignation of Ben Tucker, held a working meeting to review a partial draft of the consultants' report. Their completed draft was presented and discussed in August 1993 at the IFLA meeting in Barcelona. Several suggestions for revision were made, which expanded the focus of the report. Tom Delsey was appointed as a third consultant and had many suggestions on reworking the report. Olivia Madison resigned as Chair of the Study Group, but continued to serve as a member of the Group, and Nancy John (United States) assumed the position of Chair. To the commentator group were added: Fernanda Maria Campos (Portugal), Warwick Cathro (Australia), Eugenie Greig (Australia), Mon a Madsen (Denmark), Ingrid Parent (Canada), Cathrine Spangen (Norway), Friedrich Strassnig (Austria), and Sarah Thomas (United States). Philip Bryant (United Kingdom) resigned as consultant.

The consultants and the entire Study Group met for a two day working meeting in Chicago, November 1993, to completely revise the draft Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records. to assign responsibilities for the finalizing and distribution of the report, and to set a timetable for worldwide review. Follow up meetings on revised portions of the report were held at the Los Angeles ALA Conf erence in January 1994. The work continues to revise the parts of the draft report with the hopes that the final report will be ready for worldwide review later this year.

Theoretical and Practical Aspects

What materials should be represented in a structured bibliographic database? How do we use bibliographic records in the mix of manual and technological environments? What are the functions we expect bibliographic records to perform? Given an understanding of the uses of the record, what are the essential data elements or attributes that should be reflected in the bibliographic record? Our concept s are changing with the introduction of electronic multimedia and in today's economic climate where administrators are demanding that cataloguer's provide minimal information in order to catalogue more materials faster and cheaper.

The bibliographic records study was seen as having theoretical and practical implications. Theoretically, such a study would describe, as has not yet been adequately done before, the domain of cataloguing theory, that is, the bibliographic universe, its inhabitants, and the relationships among them. Practically, such a study would provide a rationalization of data elements in a bibliographic reco rd, in the sense of stating for each data element its raison d'etre. Given such a rationalization, it should then be possible to assess the effect on catalogue functionality of deleting or adding any proposed data element. Such an assessment is prerequisite to determining a basic level of catalogue functionality.


The approach taken in the report Functional Requirements of Bibliographic Records consisted of three steps. The goals of these steps are as follows:

  1. Reach a consensus among the consultants and the Study Group members concerning the functions of the bibliographic record.
  2. Develop a model of the bibliographic universe, which reflects a multiplicity of users and uses and the full spectrum of book and nonbook media.
  3. Determine for each of the entities and relationships identified those attributes needed to carry out the functions stipulated in step one and, in the process of doing this to:
For the first step, reaching consensus on the functions of the bibliographic record as a whole, it was agreed that the functions of data in bibliographic records were to help users identify bibliographic entities, to relate them, to choose them, and to access them.

For the second step, developing a model, it was decided to model the bibliographic universe using an Entity Relationship (E R) approach. The E R approach is one of several approaches popular in logical database design. This approach differs from some other approaches in that is begins with an abstract of conceptual schema of the domain or universe in question. The universe is characterized in ter ms of the entities in it and the relationships that hold among them. As such, the conceptual schema is not restricted by the capabilities of any particular database system and is independent of any particular record definition. By virtue of its unrestrictive and independent nature, it is perceived as providing a unified view of the data to be modeled. It is perceived as being more easily understo od, more stable, and easier to design than schema conditioned by assumptions pertaining to what constitutes a bibliographic record or by storage and efficiency considerations.

In the Entity Relationship model there are entities, relationships, and attributes. Entities are the objects of interest, defined at as high a level as possible, which serve as a focal point for a cluster of data elements. The individual data elements that would be associated with an entity are called attributes of the entity. For example, entities or the bibliographic things which concern us are works, representations, items, components, etc. Attributes of those entities include things like title of a work, date of a representation, barcode identification for an item, etc. Relationships among bibliographic entities include such things a derivative relationships, whole part relationships, sequential relationships, etc. For example, a second edition of a work has a derivative relationship with the first edition from which it is derived.

For the third step, identifying those attributes needed for each of the functions and assigning a weight to each and determining whether the attribute needs to be normalized (or under authority control), the members of the Study Group and the consultants have made a start. We would like your help at this conference during our Workshop in reviewing our drafts, which will also be distributed worldw ide for further suggestions. In order for this to be a usable model, we must assure as broad a review as possible.


We hope this exercise will provide the basics for development of future structured bibliographic databases and future systems that facilitate creation, maintenance, and use of such databases; that it will guide those establishing cooperative cataloguing efforts in parsing out the tasks to build dynamically enhanced bibliographic records; that it will help libraries gain economic benefits through shared creation of bibliographic records; and that it will further efforts in universal bibliographic control and cooperation.