The FRBRization of Humphry Clinker

A case study in the application of IFLA's Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR)

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. This project is one of four FRBR-related OCLC Research projects.

More information about FRBR and related OCLC Research projects is available on the main FRBR Project page.


The goal of OCLC's FRBR projects is to examine issues associated with the conversion of a set of bibliographic records to conform to FRBR requirements (a process referred to as "FRBRization"). The goals of this FRBR project were to:

  • examine issues associated with creating an entity-relationship model for (i.e., "FRBRizing") a non-trivial work
  • better understand the relationship between the bibliographic records and the bibliographic objects they represent
  • determine if the information available in the bibliographic record is sufficient to reliably identify the FRBR entities
  • to develop a data set that could be used to evaluate FRBRization algorithms.

Using an exemplary work as a case study, lead scientist Ed O'Neill sought to:

  • better understand the relationship between bibliographic records and the bibliographic objects they represent
  • determine if the information available in the bibliographic records is sufficient to reliably identify FRBR entities.


Dr. O'Neill began with a single work and attempted to identify all of its manifestations, expressions, and items.

The work chosen as a case study was Tobias Smollett's The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (first published in 1771). The eighteenth-century Clinker is an epistolary novel, presenting a series of letters from members of a particular family as they travel about Britain.

This work was chosen because:

  • it has been previously studied by the Office of Research
  • it is considered to be of mid-level complexity and not atypical of works in the WorldCat database
  • it is widely held
    • there are 184 records in WorldCat with over 5,000 holdings
  • researchers believed that if serious difficulties were encountered in the process of FRBRizing Clinker, then such difficulties would be likely for many other works as well.

The objective of the Humphry Clinker analysis was to organize the bibliographic objects represented by bibliographic records, not to simply organize the records. To determine if two records were for the same expression, the question was whether the objects represented by the records had the identical content; not about the similarity of the records.

In order to collect the bibliographic records, WorldCat was searched for all possible Humphrey Clinker records.

  • A total of 179 records were found.
    • Thirty-eight actual books were examined
      • 600 digital photographs were taken of key pages.

Researchers identified a number of types of revisions to the original text, including:

  • the correction of errors
  • replacing of archaic character forms with modern letters
  • repositioning dates on the letters that convey the story
  • adding chapter titles
  • numerous others.

A set of elements of the bibliographic record were identified as crucial for the determination of different expressions:

  • added entries
  • statement of responsibility
  • notes
  • edition statement
  • the physical description
    • especially notations of illustrative material.

Another set was identified as key for the determination of different manifestations:

  • publisher
  • date of publication
  • statement of responsibility
  • notes
  • edition statement
  • physical description
    • especially size and pagination
  • reproduction note (if any).


At the completion of this project

  • 48 different expressions of the work, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, were identified, including
    • eight translations
    • 39 augmentations in addition to the unedited version.
  • A total of 114 manifestations also were identified, including
    • eight from the translations
    • 43 from the unedited version
    • 63 from the augmentations.
  • Although it was not possible to trace all items emanating this work, researchers identified:
    • 18 microforms
    • 51 printings and duplicates.


  • The FRBR notion of work is a valuable concept.
    • It provides a means to aggregate bibliographic units to simplify database organization and retrieval.
  • Works can reliably be identified from bibliographic records.
    • However, when any modifications to a work "no matter how minor" are considered to be new expressions, the granularity of resulting expressions is too fine and can be almost indistinguishable from that of manifestations.
  • Bibliographic records do not contain sufficient information to reliably identify expressions.
    • Reliable identification requires physical examination of selected items.
    • Duplicate records could pose a serious problem.


Project report

O'Neill, Edward T. 2002. "FRBR: Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records; Application of the entity-relationship model to Humphry Clinker." Library Resources & Technical Services 46,4 (October). E-print available at (PDF:411K/35pp.)

For more on Works/Clinker

O'Neill, Edward T. and Diane Vizine-Goetz. 1989. "Bibliographic Relationships: implications for the function of the catalog." In E. Svenonius (Ed.), The Conceptual Foundations of Descriptive Cataloging, pp. 167-179. San Diego: Academic Press.

Smiraglia, Richard P. 2001. The Nature of "a Work": implications for the organization of knowledge. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press.

Svenonius, Elaine. 2000. The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

Research team

  • Ed O'Neill (Principal researcher)