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The Moving Image 6.1 (2006) 33-65

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Context! Context! Context!

Describing Moving Images at the Collection Level

[End Page 33]


Branding resources as collections is not new; librarians and archivists have all considered the items within their custody to form groupings. However, the manner by which collections are most often described differs among the information professions. As Randall C. Jimerson summarizes, it is common for each information profession to develop its own procedures to collect, organize, manage, and make accessible its resource materials, often borrowing techniques from other fields.1 Moving image archives are no exception. Traditionally, the choice in cataloging moving images has been at the item level, as description favors completed moving image works where titles and credits are transcribed from the film itself. This approach is borrowed from item level descriptive practices common in libraries. With the proliferation of digital content, increased publication and distribution of print and media material, as well as the shift in the way users access information, a reconceptualizing of this strict item level approach, considering the array of emerging standards within a variety of professional communities, is underway.

Chief among these standards is the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR), a conceptual model spearheaded by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). FRBR's entity-relationship model suggests that catalogers relate items (or manifestations) to the expressions (versions) of the work that they represent so that materials that share the same ideational content will be grouped together regardless of physical format.2 An adherence to FRBR potentially can alleviate the frustration end users may have when selecting works that have proliferated into multiple versions and formats, an all-too-common occurrence with moving im ages.

Emerging standards specifically tailored to moving images include MPEG-7 and the ISO International Standard Audiovisual Number (ISAN).3 The ISAN is a persistent work identifier in numeric form that can be embedded into a single exemplar of a digital moving image work so that its identification can be tracked irrespective of the means of access. MPEG-7 is an emerging standard that describes or expresses "the semantic meaning of the information and therefore enable[s] people to discover what is in a set of audiovisual objects without having to access the information itself."4 The concept is that information exchange is semantically linked with reference to a single narrative's components, such as background, participants, and objects, that contextually make up a moving image. MPEG-7 describes audiovisual information regardless of its storage, coding display, transmission, [End Page 34] medium, or technology, addressing the problem of proliferation of audiovisual and media formats in digital form.

What these and other emerging models and standards have in common is an awareness that works do not exist as islands alone at sea, that, in fact, works inspire new works that exist as distinct entities unto themselves but do not exist isolated from each other.

There is a greater recognition that, in today's rapidly evolving information environment, describing cultural objects based on format alone segregates a vast array of materials from the broader spectrum of the information landscape. It is important to acknowledge that each cultural heritage community has its own traditions and vocabulary, that there exists no canonical metadata standard, and that each views its resources differently. As will be illustrated in this article, descriptive practices are shifting away from the isolated silo effect and moving toward a stronger preference for grouping together material containing the same provenance, subject matter, or ideational content with a goal of achieving greater interoperability. Two specific case studies will be presented from the UCLA Film & Television Archive's collections.

What Is a Collection?

Before providing methodologies for grouping moving image materials together, it is important to understand the different types of collections that exist. In the broadest sense, a collection is any aggregate of items. A library catalog is a collection of items held by a particular institution. An inventory is a collection in that it brings a grouping of individual items together either by...


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