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What Exactly is an Item in the Digital World?

Ingbert Floyd and Allen Renear

(Submission #74)


Summary

IFLA’s Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) is a model of the bibliographic universe. Although initially its application to the digital world appears to be straightforward, upon closer examination puzzles arise. One is that within the digital world it is surprisingly difficult to say exactly what FRBR items really are. On the one hand, the ontological candidates for items (concrete physical states of the computing system) are rarely identified and treated as items in practice -- even though they may indeed be affirmed as items in theoretical discussions. On the other hand, objects that manifestly fail to meet the basic ontological criteria for FRBR items are commonly treated if they are items. We describe this situation and, based on a re-factoring of FRBR into a set of roles (relationships) rather than a set of entity types, explore two possible resolutions. One, favored by the second author, hews closely to the ontology implicit in the original FRBR vision, but allows assignment of item attributes and roles to things that are not items; the other, favored by the first author, is a radical departure from the underlying FRBR ontology, but preserves the original attribute assignments and roles.

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