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FRBR in Practice

Wendy Taylor and Kathy Teague describe what they learnt about how FRBR is used at the Celia Library for the Visually Impaired in Helsinki, during their Ulverscroft/IFLA-funded visit.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People National Library Service (RNIB NLS) was formed in 2007 as a result of a merger between the National Library for the Blind (NLB) and the Royal National Institute of Blind People’s Library and Information Service. It is the largest specialist library for readers with sight loss in the UK. RNIB holds the largest collection of books in accessible formats in the UK and provides a postal service to over 44,000 readers. RNIB produces its own books in braille, giant print and audio format for loan and sale. It is our role to ensure that all our stock is catalogued and classified so that RNIB staff and our blind and partially sighted readers are able to find and obtain what they need through the RNIB accessible online catalogue [1].

We have been working with two library management systems (LMS) since the merger and are now in the process of tendering for a new LMS to integrate our bibliographic data. We are anticipating the launch of the new LMS to our readers in the fourth quarter of 2011. We feel that it is an opportune moment to review our cataloguing practice and investigate the possibility of cataloguing the accessible format, e.g. braille at the manifestation level rather than as a holding attached to the bibliographic record describing the print book, like all other libraries for the Blind around the world. The disadvantage of this cataloguing method is the proliferation of records for each title. But we think that the negative effect could be corrected by Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) [2]. In order to test this theory we needed to have a better understanding of FRBR and how it actually works. We applied for and were awarded the Ulverscroft/IFLA Best Practice Award to fund our trip to the Celia Library.

Ulverscroft/IFLA Best Practice Award

‘The Ulverscroft Foundation was established in 1973 by Dr Frederick Thorpe, OBE, the founder of Ulverscroft Large Print Books Limited (ULPB), which he formed in 1964. ULPB is the major supplier of large print books to libraries in the UK and has expanded to become a major commercial supplier of a range of alternative format books in the UK and around the world. Having established a successful organisation for the supply of alternative format reading material Dr Thorpe was keen to address the other challenges faced by visually impaired people around the world by ploughing back the profits from his successful business enterprises. Consequently, the Ulverscroft Foundation has funded many hundreds of medical, social and library schemes/projects designed to serve the needs of visually impaired people world-wide.

The IFLA: Libraries Serving Persons with Print Disabilities Section (LPD) is the international body which seeks to promote national and international co-operation to improve access to information and reading materials for blind and other print handicapped people. Established in 1983 it has 86 member organisations across the world ‘ [3]. The two organisations co-operated to set up the Best Practice Awards to support libraries and individual library staff members to carry out projects that are beneficial to blind and partially sighted library users.

Our application proposed a visit to Celia Library, the first library in Europe to have adopted FRBR. We wanted to understand FRBR better and improve our understanding of how it works. The aims of our visit were to:

We anticipated that our new knowledge about the FRBR model gained from the visit would enable us to:

Overall it would help us to make an informed decision, prior to the data migration to the new LMS. We are both actively involved in the implementation of the new LMS and were able to report back to the Project Team.

Celia Library for the Visually Impaired, Helsinki

Celia Library in Helsinki is the special Finnish national library for the visually impaired and print disabled. Celia was founded in 1890 by Cely Mechelin. It has been state-owned since 1978 and was renamed Celia after its founder in 2001. The Library has 15,000 customers and issues 950,000 loans per year - 98% of which are audio books. All items are produced on demand and do not need to be returned to the library. Celia Library serves all print disabilities (for example, dyslexia), but is mainly used by users who are over 60 years of age with a visual impairment.

How do Celia and RNIB NLS Compare?

The obvious difference between the two libraries is that RNIB NLS is a charity. Our service is limited to what we receive in donations and to the income that we generate. We are unable to provide all services to all people free of charge. The Celia Library is state-funded. The numbers of readers also varied greatly: RNIB NLS has a much larger reader base. Unlike Celia Library, we are not yet a 100-per-cent print-on-demand service. We still have a large of collection of braille and giant print books that require housing in Stockport, Lancashire. Our audio books are print on demand but due to copyright restrictions we require our readers to return the books when they have finished with them.

The majority of titles in our collection are in English. We have a limited collection of Welsh and some Asian language books. Celia Library has a large amount of Swedish language materials. In addition, Celia Library is able to make use of the Swedish Library for the Blind’s collection, a step in the direction of The Global Library Project. Working within the constraint of the UK Copyright Licence Agreement means that our service is restricted to blind and partially sighted people. It is an unfortunate limitation because most of our accessible format materials can benefit people with other print disabilities. We are also unable to take advantage of electronic file sharing, as can the Celia Library, without first applying for copyright permission from the copyright owners.

What is FRBR?

In 1990 IFLA established a Study Group to define the purpose of bibliographic records and how they could be changed to be more effective in an increasingly networked environment. The group defined how bibliographic records should help users to perform the following functions

From these functions an entity-relationship model was developed which includes three groups of entities.

Group 1 - attributes which describe the products of the artistic or intellectual creation - works, expressions, manifestations, items

Group 2 - the persons or bodies responsible for producing the Group 1 entities

Group 3 - usually subjects which describe concept, object, event, or place

The report defines the data elements (or attributes) for each entity and the relationships between the entities, for example, a manifestation may be a reproduction of another manifestation, works may be successors to other works, or an adaptation of another work, and items may be bound with other items [4]. Accessible materials for blind and partially sighted people are usually reproductions of print works making them ideal for FRBR description.

What are Accessible Materials?

RNIB produces the majority of its titles in more than one format. A standard print work is scanned to create a master XML file which is used to produce accessible copies in braille, audio or giant print:

Cataloguing Accessible Materials

Accessible materials can and should be catalogued using existing standards, but it is important when describing accessible items to include additional information to aid users in choosing an item that is suitable for their needs. For example, the type of braille, the level of navigation on the DAISY file, the size and type of font, the length of a recording and the gender of a narrator. As such the physical attributes of the item can be as complex to describe as the bibliographic elements.

RNIB’s accessible formats might be available for loan or for sale and therefore require different information. For example, sale items require a price and an order number, whereas loan copies will require a barcode. There might also be different restrictions such as copyright.

FRBR and the Cataloguing of Accessible Material

FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records) allows relationships to be assigned between different accessible formats of the same work. This enables the linking and grouping of bibliographic catalogue records to simplify their display. It should enhance the searching and retrieval experience of library catalogue users.

Celia Library’s PallasPro (Axiell) library system describes bibliographic material according to the FRBR Group 1 entities (work, expression, manifestation and item). The FRBR hierarchy is not currently visible through the Library’s OPAC [5] but Celia plans to take advantage of the structure in future developments. Celia Library offers many of its titles in both Swedish and Finnish and staff have found FRBR to be very effective in describing the same work with different translations at the expression level. Not all of Celia’s stock requires the depth of the FRBR hierarchy so its catalogue has been designed to accommodate both FRBR and non-FRBR records.

During our visit we were given the opportunity to catalogue on the Celia system using FRBR. Celia staff use FinMARC which is similar to MARC21. First the Work is catalogued with basic information such as author and title; next the Expression level contains translation and subject descriptions; the Manifestation level describes the physical information and product information; finally, the Item level contains information about the actual book that will be received by readers.

On the other hand, RNIB catalogue records are currently based on a simple work/manifestation structure. The print book is catalogued with the accessible versions attached. All information relating to the accessible versions are contained at the holdings level.

RNIB may hold different editions of the same work in the same format. For example, we have various editions of Hamlet in braille which are produced from different original print works. The user will want to be able to identify that a braille version of Hamlet is available, but may be happy to read the play irrespective of the edition or they may want to select a specific edition for academic study.

diagram (31KB) : Figure 1 : Example of RNIB catalogue record based on a simple work / manifestation structure

Figure 1: Example of RNIB catalogue record based on a simple work / manifestation structure.

Under FRBR level 1 entities, as used by Celia, the structure would be as follows:

diagram (45KB) : Figure 2 : The Celia Library structure in line with FRBR level 1 entities

Figure 2: The Celia Library structure in line with FRBR level 1 entities

This approach would improve the search results for users as it follows the functions of Find, Identify. Select and Acquire. It would also simplify the cataloguing process because we would only need to catalogue the work once. This will reduce inconsistencies and errors in the catalogue. Shared information about sale and loan items will be recorded at the manifestation and work level, but unique information, such as price or barcode, can be recorded at the item level.

Visit Conclusions and Recommendations for RNIB

The visit provided us with a unique opportunity where we were able to gain practical experience of cataloguing records using FRBR. We have heard a lot about FRBR but seeing it in practice is entirely different. It works as we have speculated but it helps a great deal to have our conjecture confirmed. The knowledge gained during our visit fills in the gaps of our understanding of FRBR. It confirms our theory that FRBR would help simplify the display of search results for our readers. We feel surer that we can change our cataloguing practice from cataloguing the print book with alternative format holdings to cataloguing the alternative format at the manifestation level without detrimental effect on our readers. We feel that cataloguing the alternative format at the manifestation level is beneficial to our readers in terms of searching, display of search results and creating and maintaining personal bookshelves/reading lists. Each alternative format having its own bibliographic record will allow for easier extraction of data from the LMS, something we do frequently at RNIB NLS, in order to create reading lists to help our readers choose what they want to read. With the added benefits to our readers and staff in mind, we will therefore recommend that RNIB adopt the FRBR model.


  1. RNIB Library Catalogue http://librarycatalogue.rnib.org.uk/
  2. Functional Requirement for Bibliographic Records by IFLA Study Group on the Functional Requirement for Bibliographic Records
  3. Ulverscroft/IFLA Best Practice Awards Web site
  4. UKOLN Bibliographic Management Factfile: FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records)
  5. Celia – Equal access to literature and information for print disabled persons (English version)

Author Details

Wendy Taylor
Librarian (Bibliographic Services)
RNIB National Library Service

Email: wendy.taylor@rnib.org.uk
Web site: http://www.rnib.org.uk/library

Kathy Teague
Librarian (Cataloguing & Technical Support)
RNIB National Library Service

Email: Kathy.teague@rnib.org.uk
Web site: http://www.rnib.org.uk/library

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