Identifying works: game

What’s in a work?
Defining a set of items to describe
Before we can describe a set of items in order to enable access to those items for a particular
purpose, or to facilitate a specific understanding of those items, we need to define, as best we can,
what constitutes that set of items. Why? Because different sorts of items will require different
attributes to describe them in a useful manner, and different sorts of items will also potentially
require different sets of values associated with those attributes. If we are describing photographs,
then we might need an attribute to specify the format: negative, print, digital. It would be difficult
to create additional attributes for physical characteristics, because each of these formats is so
different. But if have narrowed our set of items to digital photographs, then we can include
attributes specific to that medium, such as file format (JPEG, GIF, and so on), file size, and
resolution in pixels.
In the bibliographic universe, there is a longstanding agreement that it’s useful to define not only
each discrete physical item (such as a particular copy of the epic Gilgamesh) but the set of all
items that contain essentially the same intellectual content (all of the copies of all of the editions
of Gilgamesh). This set of “pretty much the same” items is called the work. While the idea of the
work seems basically intuitive and useful—most people searching a library catalog aren’t looking
for a specific physical copy of Gilgamesh; they either want any Gilgamesh or want to select from
all the Gilgameshes that the library may contain—it can be quite difficult to define what
constitutes the work in any particular case, especially when there are many versions. (So much
for necessary and sufficient conditions.)
In this activity, you will confer with your colleagues to determine how many works are present in
a set of similar items. Although the idea of the work is typically described as general and
universal across contexts, you will then consider some different scenarios and see if any of these
affects how you might define the work for your group of items.
Step one: examine your items.
Systematically go through all the items in your group’s set. Your set will contain versions of one
of the following:
 Maps of Austin (primarily!).
 Romeo and Juliet.
 Arabian Nights.
In most cases, you will have the entire item; however, for electronic resources you only have
metadata about the item. This should be sufficient to make your determination, but if you
disagree for any particular case, keep those items aside and be able to explain what information
was lacking.
Step two: divide your items into sets that represent the same work.
Separate your items into piles for different works. Be prepared to explain your rationale for these
You can use a definition of work from any of the week’s readings (Wilson, FRBR) or devise your
own definition of work. (Even if you use a definition from the readings, you will likely need to
make some judgment calls where the definition you selected lacks detail.)
INF 384C, spring 2010
Advanced: If this seems easy, further separate your items into piles for expressions and
manifestations according to the FRBR definitions.
Step three: consider different user scenarios and how these might affect your groupings.
Does your definition of the work apply universally for each of these cases? Or might you adjust
your sets for specific scenarios? Be able to explain why you would or would not adjust your
definitions for each of the following situations:
A scholar who wants to create an authoritative critical edition of the work.
A college student who wants the best version of the work for an introductory class in
(folklore, Shakespeare, cartography, as appropriate).
A city planner trying to determine new bus routes (for the map); a theater director (for the
play) a storyteller (for the tales)
Someone wanting to buy a house in Austin (for the map); a middle school English
teacher (for the play); a parent of children under age ten (for the tales).
Step four: report a summary of your findings and insights to the whole group.
In five minutes or less, tell the rest of us:
What you decided.
How you made your decisions.
Which decisions were difficult and why.
If you would adjust your categorizations for any of the scenarios, and your associated
INF 384C, spring 2010