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August 6, 2010

How many books?

With a precision that we can only assume they are winking at, Google has announced that there are 129,864,880 different books in the world.

The post, by Leonid Taycher, explains some of the decisions Google made when deciding what constitutes a book, but there are obviously cans of worms by the truckload waiting to be opened if someone really wanted to pin this number down. Or, put differently, there is no conceivable way of pinning this number down because books are too important and too ancient to be capable of anything except arbitrary definitions. Google does it in part by making one-at-a-time human decisions: “Twice every week we group all those records into ‘tome’ clusters, taking into account nearly all attributes of each record.” It’s dirty work, but someone has to do it.

Actually, it’s dirty, messy work that would seem perfectly suited to an expert-amateur collaboration: Librarians and readers. For example, just think how valuable it would be to know that two books were almost considered to be the same! Not to mention all the other relations among books that we could together could discover and publish.

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April 3, 2008

[topicmaps] Sam Oh on FRBR

Sam Oh teaches at Sungkyunkwan U in Korea and heads the ISO committee responsible for Topic Maps (among other things). (I had the pleasure and honor of having dinner with him last night.) [Caution: Live-Blogging]

FRBR tries to capture the various levels of abstraction of our works. Group 1 consists of: work, expression, manifestation, and item. “A work is realized through an expression” that is “embodied in” a manifestation and “is exemplified by an item.” E.g., Othello is a work which may be expressed in English or in Korean. A particular edition of a book is a manifestation, while a particular copy is an item.

Group 2 consists of people and corporate bodies responsible for creating Group 1.

Group 3 are the subject entities that “serve as the subjects of intellectual or artistic endeavor” Concept (topical subject heading), object (name for an object), even (name for an event), place (name for a place). Sam says that FRBR adopted these from topic maps.

There are some defined relationships among these three grups: A work is by a person, a manifestation may be produced by a corporate bdy, etc. Ad there are work to work relationships such as successor, supplement, complement, translation, etc.

Currently, everything is focused on the manifestation level. That’s at the center of the map, so to speak. A future direction for library systems: Applying FRBR in services to present search results, to streamline cataloging, and to express new insights into works. FRBR can “naturally” be rendered in topic maps, he says.

Sam talks about mapping MARC (standard bibliographic records) to FRBR. The OCLC has an algorithm for converting these.

He shows some examples of pages and maps. He also notes that FRBR’s terms for talking about these levels of expression aren’t clear to a general public. E.g., most people don’t talk about “manifestations.” He’d like to see better terms, especially as FRBR gets exposed more widely. He also thinks the library community should come to know topic maps better.

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