Creider, L.S. (2006). Cataloging, reception, and the boundaries of a “work”. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly 42(2): 3-19.
What really defines a “work” in terms of a piece of literature or biography? What are the limitations of a work? How far can a manuscript wander from its original text before it becomes a different work altogether? L.S. Creider decides to dive into this topic and give an explanation for all of the chaos. She begins by stating that research has led to a distinction between a work and its container; in other words, content is separate from its physical manifestation (or lack thereof).
Creider notes that this argument is important because the way a work is categorized determines how a user obtains that information. Magazines and periodicals not only show if a library carries a certain work, but which issues and volumes are available in each one. It is up to the cataloging theoreticians to clear up this issue, and what research has been accomplished in the past hasn’t yielded many concrete answers. There are many different definitions- no one seems to agree on one solid definition of a “work”. Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) has helped to break down the different categories of records for the people who organize them, but tends to stay away from creating those specific boundaries of a work. What has been discovered is perhaps quite different than what those in the LIS field are used to hearing.
A “work” is an abstract entity; a construct that has many different meanings depending on the content. The work is almost a philosophical argument, where it is neither completely unobtainable nor comprehendible by one route. It seems that the main problem with the discussion of a “work” is that it is so difficult to define, and that the closest definition we have to defining it is that there is no definition. A “work” is not something that can be contained or exists in one entity. It is, however, possible to define the limitations of a work. For example, through time different works can change forms so much through physical ways as well as perception of the audience. Theorists and organizers must then decide where the boundary lies between a different version of the work and a different work altogether. If it is a different work, then where an item is organized and the routes to it are changed drastically. In other words, as Creider asks, where does it become “distinct?” FRBR has attempted to cover the definition of what constitutes a new work, saying it could stem from “a significant degree of independent intellectual or artistic effort”, but that definition still allows theorists to struggle with the idea of what “independent intellectual or artistic effort” means. Theorists have determined that defining a work can also be related to defining a text. Moreover, that what constitutes a work is almost completely subjective and relates to how the user obtains the information (s)he needs, and what the information is used for. Each individual’s own experiences, both in relation to the text, as well as their own lives, determine what a work is. And it cannot be comprehended by the entire population.
Creider mentions that her field of expertise lies in European Middle Ages, and mentions two commonplace rules regarding manuscripts from that time: firstly, that every manuscript, because they were hand written, varied a little in its content and layout; however, that characteristic did not make it a different work. Secondly, that manuscripts associated with a specific author were more “stable” over time in regards to copies than anonymous works. In other words, texts without authors were copied with more liberties because there was not a person to attribute to the original text. Changes in these texts were caused by social and cultural factors. Creider states while providing examples from ancient texts, “…what is important is the way in which this example illustrates how the determination of where a work starts and stops is determined not by theory but by the paths of scholarly investigation and the accidents of manuscript survival (10).” Moreover, the “state of reception” of the text is extremely important. How we perceive a text from 200 years ago is completely different from how the people of that time interpreted its meaning. Even those insights can change the meaning of a work. What we may see as many different works may have been intended to be one work, and we must change how we categorize that entity accordingly. Creider even goes so far as to use her own websites as examples, saying that to her, they are two separate works, but to the user (who would have no information on either on the intentions of these works), could interpret the information differently; however, both interpretations are valid, and one does not supersede the other.
Creider’s main point is that in each case, a text must be looked at individually, and researchers must take into account the history of the text, the ways in which it was and is used, and the knowledge that each individual’s encounter with a work is different from another’s. Each person’s viewing of a work, whether it is for the use of scholarly research or one’s own personal enjoyment, is valid. She is exactly correct in her arguments- subjective is the key to understanding the boundaries of works, not objective. So long as information specialists and organizers are clear in their documentations, and we are open to changes that may come for our textual content and order, we can always find a way to make it work.