Representative Expressions in Bibliographic Collections
Peter Organisciak, Assistant Professor
Research Methods and Information Science, University of Denver   @POrg


  • traditional approach in providing bibliographic information in cataloging was to collocate multiple expressions and in this framework all expressions are equal; but in the digital environment, end users are presented with an overwhelming amount of expressions and must choose for themselves the best expression for their purposes

Representative Expressions in LRM

  • FRBR and its related standards have been recently consolidated into the IFLA Library Reference Model (LRM) (Riva, Le Boeuf, & Žumer, 2017)
  • LRM maintains the FRBR entities and refines them further by defining attributes and relationships. In addition, LRM introduces a new attribute of a work – representative expression. The LRM framework states that end-users perceive works as having certain inherent qualities, and in order for an expression to best represent a work, it must include those qualities (LRM, p. 91).
  • Users may choose expressions based upon how closely an expression demonstrates the qualities defined as essential to a certain work and thus how representative an expression is.
  • An acknowledgment in LRM is that there are grades of canonicity, rather than a single correct expression. They suggest a 'distance' between canonical and other expressions, where the universe of a work is realized through clusters of related expressions.
According to IFLA LRM (2017, p.91), representative expressions refer to “the perceived distance between a given expression and the image of the ideal expression.” 

Digital Libraries

  • Aligning with LRM's revival of the discussion of representativeness is a practical prompt that makes the topic more pressing: the emergence of large-scale digital libraries.
  • The biggest bibliographic DLs - Google Books, Internet Archive, HathiTrust Digital Library - have grow through multi-institutions scanning projects
  • By virtue of this manner of creation, they hold a great deal of duplication and repetition

Different Approaches to Representativeness

Context-Based Factors
Authorial Intent
  • What did the author consider their cononical expression?
  • What about works that change authors, like text books?
Status Quo
  • Did Greedo shoot first?
Critical Judgment 
  • Does the first edition of Frankenstein capture the subversive ‘franken-essence’ better than the more common second one?
Content-Based Factors 
Revisions and Editions
  • Whose edits? e.g. The neverending edits of Robinson Crusoe
  • Expectation of abridgments as less representative

How do we instrumentalize representativeness?

  • Metadata Approaches
  • Content Approaches
  • Subjective or Expert Opinion

Continuing the discussion

  • Discussion of a 'best' expression of a work should consider, 'for whom'?
  • Codifying 'representativeness' requires ways to convey disagreement
  • The discussion of 'representativeness' expands beyond expression-level decisions