Rethinking facets and FRBR

It was with great interest that I read the paper (PDF) “FRBR and Facets Provide Flexible, Work-Centric Access to Items in Library Collections” (2011) by Kelley McGrath, Bill Kules and Chris Fitzpatrick (mentioned on NGC4Lib) because it modified and enriched my understanding of the relationship between facets and FRBR and the way facets help meet the users’ information needs. Sure, facets are there to help users refine their search and pull out a smaller set of results that match certain attributes, but what is the theoretical underpinning and how does the FRBR model relate to facets?

The paper cited above highlights the authors’ experience with modeling and building a search interface including facets for a moving image collection, and while some of their observations are specific to these resource types and the retrieval requirements that go with them, much is generally applicable. The main point for me being (as alluded to in the paper’s title) that facets are much more flexible than hierarchical FRBR structures through which the user would have to navigate ā€“ facets allow the user to combine any number of attributes when limiting the results, without clicking through hierarchies of work, expression etc.

What makes the model and the prototype interface so powerful is the fact that FRBR is not slavishly followed but rather adapted to the specific features of the resources, collapsing the work, expression and manifestation entities into two levels, “movie” and “version/publication”. This helps avoid duplication of information, both regarding display and cataloging, and answer the questions: “what do you want?” and “how/where do you want it?” (probably the most general questions user bring to the catalog).

Through facets, users are offered several pathways into collections: “Patrons can start their search at any point in the FRBR hierarchy, from Item (location) to Work (genre, date), and easily transition between search and browse strategies, using facets to broaden or narrow their results and pivoting on facet values.” (p. 4) ā€“ explorations they cannot as easily undertake in a tree-like FRBR representation.

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