OCLC Research Activities and IFLA's Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records

FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records) is a 1998 recommendation of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) to restructure catalog databases to reflect the conceptual structure of information resources.

More technically, FRBR uses an entity-relationship model of metadata for information objects, instead of the single flat record concept underlying current cataloging standards. The FRBR model includes four levels of representation: work, expression, manifestation, and item. (See Background section below.)

If fully implemented, FRBR would produce the biggest change cataloging has seen in the last century.

Why OCLC is conducting this research and how it helps libraries

  • Having resources brought together as "works" will help users sift through the myriad information resources available digitally.
  • Widespread adoption of FRBR will produce major changes to bibliographic databases, including OCLC's WorldCat.
    • Manual conversion of existing files is likely to be prohibitively expensive, so algorithms must be developed to automate as much of the process as possible.
    • The techniques and approaches developed by OCLC researchers should facilitate conversion of WorldCat, and possibly other bibliographic databases, to FRBR standards.
    • Experience from the projects has resulted in recommendations about how FRBR should be evaluated and implemented in large databases.
    • Prototype services, such as FictionFinder, demonstrate the power of the model and suggest the type of services that might be developed by the entire community.


The goals of OCLC's FRBR projects are to:

  • test the feasibility of implementing the FRBR structure in a large catalog database
  • examine the issues associated with the conversion of a set of bibliographic records to conform to FRBR requirements.
    • This process sometimes is informally referred to as "FRBRization".
  • build prototype services utilizing the FRBR-ized database.


Using an exemplary work as a case study, researchers hope to better understand the relationship between the bibliographic records and the bibliographic objects they represent, and to determine if the information available in the bibliographic records is sufficient to reliably identify FRBR entities.

  1. FictionFinder
  2. xISBN
  3. Algorithm
  4. Extending the Case of Clinker
  5. Case Study: The FRBRization of Humphry Clinker
  6. Work Records in WorldCat





FRBR conceptualizes three groups of entities:

  • Group 1 consists of the products of intellectual or artistic endeavor (e.g., publications).
  • Group 2 comprises those entities responsible for intellectual or artistic content (a person or corporate body).
  • Group 3 includes the entities that serve as subjects of intellectual or artistic endeavor (concept, object, event, and place).

The internal subdivision of Group One entities is important as well. FRBR specifies that intellectual or artistic products include the following types of entities:

  • the work, a distinct intellectual or artistic creation
  • the expression, the intellectual or artistic realization of a work
  • the manifestation, the physical embodiment of an expression of a work
  • the item, a single exemplar of a manifestation.

FRBR also specifies particular relationships between classes of Group One entities:

  • a work is realized through one or more expressions
    • each of which is embodied in one or more manifestations
      • each of which is exemplified by one or more items.

In traditional cataloging, bibliographic units are described out of context. With FRBR the items must be described in context in a manner sufficient to relate the item to the other items comprising the work. AACR2 is focused on the physical manifestation while FRBR uses the four-level bibliographic structure outlined above.

For more information about FRBR

IFLA Study Group on the Functional Requirements of Bibliographic Records. 1998. "Functional Requirements of Bibliographic Records: final report." München: K. G. Saur. Available online at http://www.ifla.org/VII/s13/frbr/frbr.pdf. (Downloaded 29 August 2002.)

Delsey, Tom. 2002. "Functional Analysis of the MARC 21 Bibliographic and Holdings Formats." (Paper prepared for the Network Development and MARC Standards Office, Library of Congress.) Available online at http://www.loc.gov/marc/marc-functional-analysis/home.html. (Downloaded 4 April 2011.)

Tillett, Barbara B. 2001. "Bibliographic Relationships." In Relationships in the Organization of Knowledge, Carol A. Bean and Rebecca Green (eds.), Dordrecht; Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 19-35.

Research team

  • Diane Vizine-Goetz
  • Jenny Toves
  • Ed O'Neill
  • Thom Hickey