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A question for the ages

AutoCat (yes, I still lurk about), recently chatted about author birth dates in the authority file and then into the MARC Bibliographic 100 tag, subfield d. You can read the conversation by going to the AutoCat archives for the 4th week of September and looking at the string “Objection to author’s birth year” (I think you will need to register for AutoCat to read it).

I have found the thread fascinating. I can understand the author not wishing easy access to information that could be used in identity theft. Heck, as I accumulate years I really understand not wanting my age readily known (but still want birthday presents, thanks).

The, ahem, “discussion” began with a request from an author to remove her birth information from the files. The individual receiving the request could not do it and thus asked on the list. Then it began. “Everything is already out on the ‘net”. “Information is needed to differentiate names”. For each statement, a counterpoint is posted. OK, actually many, many counter points (we catalogers are not silent…on list servs).

I like Mary Mastraccio’s remarks and the idea of using perhaps “active” date instead. That is, the dates in which the author was most prolific. When I’m looking for other works by an author, I usually am searching for the author, genre, and within the same basic time frame (that is, not 20+ years apart – Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City excepted, of course).

Someone else noted using a pseudonym would “solve” the problem. Uhm, not really. Not only are current ‘anonymous’ authors outed regularly.  Then there was the Diana episode of History Detectives in which the solution was found at the Library of Congress card catalog (am I the only one who’d like to go spend a day roaming thru those cards?).

What is going to happen as we have more robust Authority Files? Gender? Physical Address? Family Information and more – look at the new RDA enhanced fields. Is Occupation needed in all cases? My friend, the brilliant Lucy A. Snyder, is a award winning author but her day job is really not relevant to her writing.  Is it useful to the user? Or should we do as some suggest, record it but use it only in the background to link to authorized versions of the name?

If authority files only worked like they are supposed to…but I’ve nattered about that plenty already.

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