BIBFRAME Through The Looking Glass

A strong indication that something may be  amiss in BIBFRAME is that the picture drawn by its  model of the bibliographic universe  does not include books, and  as Oxford logician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson observed, “What use is a picture without books?”.

What, If Anything, Is a bf:Holding?

Rather than modelling a specific copy of a book, a BIBFRAME Holding models someone saying things that appear to be about a specific copy of a book. Surprisingly, there is nothing in BIBFRAME’s ontology that corresponds to any copy of a book that the statement might be about.

We cannot ask how many copies of books we know about (unless we are satisfied with the trivial answer “none”). We can only count how many times we have been told about copies of books.   If we have a BIBFRAME Holding from OCLC saying that UNC has a copy of a certain book, and another from UNC saying the same thing, we have two different Holdings.

From this behavior, it seems that a BIBFRAME Holding corresponds to a MARC Holdings Records, rather than a physical book, or FRBR Item.

Do BIBFRAME Annotations  Support Provenance for Holding?

One of the reasons given for  BIBFRAME Annotations is that they carry information about who asserted a statement (via the bf:annotationAssertedBy property).

Despite the  conflation  of Epistemic  and Ontological concerns that we see in bf:Holding, we cannot rely on  the annotationAssertedBy property to support provenance.  If we have one data source that gives one value for  bf:annotationAssertedBy, and a different data source that gives another, conflicting value, we  have no principled way to choose between them, unless we have other provenance information to support our decision.

The problem is readily apparent in the example used for the Holdings Annotation.

    a bf:Holding ;
    bf:annotationAssertedBy <> ;
    bf:dateOfAssertion "20130807" ;

The URI for the Holdings Annotation is in the namespace “”.   The host from which the document was   retrieved is in the domain.

There is a statement claiming that the Holdings Annotation was asserted by .

There is no a priori reason to prefer this assertion  over a claim, in an equally unrelated graph, that

     bf:annotationAssertedBy <> ;

The value of a provenance mechanism that cannot be used without an additional  provenance mechanism is questionable.

Are Annotations Consistently Used For Opinions?

Section 2.1 of the Annotations document states that “Annotations are asserted in order to: [...] express opinions about a resource”.

However, this principle does not seem to be widely applied.  To take the most obvious example, “subject” is treated as a property, despite  Patrick Wilson’s generally accepted arguments that “the subject of a work” is indeterminate.

It is hard to understand the theoretical motivation for  treating subjects as objective, yet regarding cover images regarded as subjective.

Is Provenance Information Needed For All Assertions?

Since  information about a resource is only obtainable empirically, filtered through perception and mind, and  recorded empirically through misperception and typos, without recorded provenance information  we have  weak justification for any bibliographic knowledge we may claim.

The more independent sources for a statement about a sensible property, the more strongly we may be justified in  believing it.

The more trust we have in the expertize of a source with regards to a particular topic, the more we may trust their opinions that a work is or is not about a subject within that topic; however we might simultaneously accept as equally valid the opinion of a specialist in a different field that the work is about a subject in that  field.

If the goal of BIBFRAME is to support the fusion  of  descriptions from multiple different sources, then  provenance  must be supported for all assertions.  If the goal of BIBFRAME is to provide another syntax for storing monolithic records, then the overhead of decomposing these records into individual assertions would seem to require additional justification.

Leave a Reply