Home > Authority > Respect my Authority (files)

Respect my Authority (files)

Ana over at Open Source Software and Rhetorical Questions about the Internet’s Future keeps making me think (ow! ow!)

Ana and I were having a little chat between Scrabble games about standardizing data and I wondered “Is she talking authority files for subject headings or the metadata entry types (such as we have in cataloging for Title, Alternative Title, Author, etc.)?” Because using something like LCSH (Library of Congress Subject Headings, sometimes called red books) for standardizing terms is one thing, having standardized entry points is another…

First let’s look at Authority Files.  As it is now, only catalogers really use LCSH (and not all use LCSH, as a medical librarian I primarily used MeSH and there are other controlled vocabularies such as Sears) – and use them to standardize the terms used in the catalog.  What authority files SHOULD do is auto-refer when someone types in a “see” or “see also” term.  Tragically in most ILS this does not happen.  The primary thing the authority file is utilized for is the cataloger to standardize language and know which term to use. What a waste…

Many (look at the RDA list archives, summer 2009) are talking about LCSH identities and using URIs in the future for subjects. It’s a good idea but needs to be expanded. Check out http://lcsh.info/ and read the info listed there about the attempt for the semantic web.  The idea is to create URIs for the individual subject terms so you can link to the term rather than hard code the term.  I like this but it is not enough. It needs to work more like current search engines (such as when I type into yahoo or google and it asks ‘do you mean’ when I misspell BUT to also include alternative terms). Or link to something like the WorldCat Identities project which serves a page with information on that term and links to more – you know, a definition of ‘automobile’ and then alternative terms, etc.  WC Identities is not nearly that far along but I think this is the intent. They are currently only doing this for authors (so you’d get information on Mark Twain along with what he wrote, what was written about him, etc.). It is not yet comprehensive and still needs work – I see this as a work that will continue forever and ever, like a Wiki.

OCLC has resolved some of the authority file issues with “controlled headings”  in WorldCat.  Basically this is a link between the LCSH (names and subjects) to the Authority file. It only works on LC headings and it is not yet perfected but the idea is sound. They will use this link to automatically update headings when the headings change – it will globally populate all the affected headings in all the bibliographic records (as linked). This again is a step in the right direction and should have been happening pretty much ever since we were able to link information. But it is a beginning.  As far as I know, there are no ILS that do this currently. Also, the only way we know a heading has changed is by reading the weekly list from LC then going into our own ILS and making the change.  Very manual and it should not be.

Finally, there are such projects as VIAF http://viaf.org/ out there trying to consolidate and organize all the various world-wide authority files.  Again, a good step in the right direction.

Now, about standardized entry points … have you seen http://metadataregistry.org/? This is trying to define the types of metadata and what would go into that, for lack of a better term, field. Check out the SKOS for describing vocabulary. This is another great effort out there trying to standardize the terminology we use so that we all have the very same definition of “title”.

Funding is a MAJOR issue. There ARE great projects in the pipeline – OCLC is doing quite a few and there are independents out there (Open Library, The Registery, etc.). To make it all work we all have to back one or another and work on it and find a way to fund it. It needs to live on several servers (lots and lots of redundancy or all is lost) and someone or something has to PAY for it.

What an interesting world we’re in! I feel sort of like the librarians of the 1960s/early 70s who developed and worked on MARC and early OCLC.  Such exciting times!

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  1. Ivy
    May 5, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    >What authority files SHOULD do is auto-refer when someone types in a “see” or “see also” term. Tragically in most ILS this does not happen.

    I just this very evening learned why this never happened. Lynn M. El-Hoshy, 2001, “Relationships in Library of Congress Subject Headings” explains that basically, LC never recorded narrower terms for tracing in authority records, “because of the extra work that would be involved.”

  2. May 5, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    O.M.G. I’m rather stunned. Really. Wow. Huh. Must stop because sarcasm is rising … O.M.G.

  1. September 24, 2010 at 9:01 am
  2. March 15, 2011 at 7:31 pm
  3. March 15, 2011 at 7:31 pm
  4. September 29, 2011 at 7:40 pm

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