The Purpose of Authority Control

So I’ve been not blogging for a while–I managed to arrange my job so I could devote myself to some serious software development, and have been reminded of both what I liked AND what I didn’t about how obsessive I can get about coding. I get really caught up in it. Hopefully some news on what I’ve coded soon.

But meanwhile, I’ve been wanting for a while to write about authority control and identifiers, a topic I have written about before. There are some points I’ve really wanted to make, but I’ve had a bit of writer’s block on it, because it is so hard to talk clearly on this subject—it’s hard to even think clearly on this subject. But I think it’s crucial, and I think there are some important things to be said, that I’m getting a bit clearer thinking about and saying.

After trying to figure out how to say these things clearly, I decided that first we need to establish some basic agreement about the purpose of authority control. I’m sorry that this ends up being so lengthy, but I think it’s necessary to be clear.

The Purpose of Authority Control

The purpose of authority control is to make sets of objects. The typical library examples are the set of all works written by author X; the set of all ‘editions’ (aka ‘versions’, aka expressions/manifestations in FRBR terminology) of a given work; the set of all works reprsenting a given subject. The need to assemble these traditional sets is expressed (not entirely clearly) in the current version of our traditional cataloging principles as: “to locate… all resources belonging to the same work… all works and expressions of a given person, family, or corporate body… all resources on a given subject”. Of course, the sets to be assembled may go beyond these traditional primary ones: “all resources defined by other criteria”

So that is a fundamental purpose of cataloging, according to the principles.

But why should we also considered the primary purpose of authority control? Because you need authority control to accomplish this goal with the degree of accuracy we want. To guard against things ending up in in the same set that ought to be in different sets (the problem of dealing with polysemy); and to guard against things ending up in different sets that ought to be in the same set (the problem of dealing with synonymy).

So far this should be fairly uncontroversial. This is indeed the traditional understanding of the purpose of authority control, right? But it’s important to say it clearly.

Another way of describing the purpose of authority control

There’s another of describing this purpose.

We can also say that the purpose of authority control is in establishing un-ambiguous relationships between entities–or in practice, it’s really more clear to say between our records for given entities. For instance, to establish a precise and unambiguous relationship from (the record for) a work to (the record for) an author; or from (the record for) a version of a work to (the record for) the work as a whole; or from (the record for) a work to (the record for) a subject.

It is important to understand that this is not a second purpose of authority control, it’s in fact just another way of saying the same thing, using different language to describe the same thing. The two ways of describing this purpose are in fact ‘logically’, ‘mathematically’, or ‘semantically’ identical.

“To put things into sets” <=> “to create relationships”

“To create the set of (the records for) all works by a given author” <=> “To establish a relationship between (the record for) an author and (the record for) each work by that author”

“To create the set of all editions of a given work” <=> “To establish a relationship betweeb (the record for) a given work and (the records for) each edition of that work”.

Etc. If you’ve accomplished the left-side goals above, you’ve necessarily accomplished the right-side ones too, because they are logically equivalent. Just different ways of saying the same thing. [Incidentally, the whole theory of relational databases is built on the mathematical/logical equivalence of these two languages.]

So we still only have one single Purpose of Authority Control we’ve discussed, but we have two different ways of talking about/understanding it. Both those ways are useful. Either one may make more sense than the other in a particular context, and if we can be comfortable talking in both languages and switching from one to the other as convenient, we can be more powerful in our understandings and communication with each other.

But it’s still just one purpose we’ve identified. Which I claim is in fact THE purpose of authority control.

With me so far? Is this still uncontroversial?

Traditional means of accomplishing authority control

So, traditionally, through AACR2 and it’s predecessor practices and rules (as well as similar rules and customs internationally), we accomplish authority control using what used to be called ‘headings’. I think we are best to still use that term, heading, to refer specifically to that traditional system of strings.

These traditional headings are strings formulated to represent a particular entity. For instance, “Burroughs, William, 1914-1997” represents a particular person—and a particular (authority) record for that person. That heading, by attaching it to records for works (or editions of works) can be used to accomplish the purpose of authority control: To establish the set of all works authored by that person (aka: To create a relationship between the record for that person, and the records for each work or edition).

Another example heading, this one a”name-title heading”, is “Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. Antony and Cleopatra“. This heading represents a Work, and therefore, referencing this heading in a record for an edition of the work can be used to establish the relationship between that edition and the overall work—that is, in the alternate language, to establish that editions membership in the set of all editions of the work.

I submit that the purpose of our traditional system of headings is authority control, that is, to establish sets of things (aka, to establish relationships between things). That was the motivation for creating the system of headings, and that is the purpose of the system of headings.

Are you still with me? Is this still uncontroversial?

Other Subsidiary Purposes

Note that if the purpose of authority control is to establish sets/relationships, this doesn’t say anything about labelling these sets or entities in the user interface, whether that is a bound catalog, a card catalog, or a computer monitor.

We have traditionally used our traditional headings to provide these labels. This next is important: This is not just another way of expressing the same purpose, this is a different purpose. In the computer age, it would be possible to accomplish the purpose of authority control with ‘dumb identifiers’. Let’s say the OCLC number, or LCCN, or even better yet, let’s imagine that the DOI system were somehow extended to all bibliographic items of concern to us, no matter how old, no matter electronic (yet) or not. By recording this DOI (in place of our traditional headings), we could still establish sets/relationships in exactly the same way–we could still accomplish the purpose of authority control. Without accomplishing the subsidiary purpose of providing a label to show the user (whether cataloger or searcher). This demonstrates that they are two different purposes.

Ah, you say, but we need to accomplish that second purpose too! We need to label these sets and these entities (at the end of our relationships) somehow, we need to show the user something! That is certainly true. You may even argue as to the qualities and characteristics required of that “somehow and something”, and those may be more debatable among us. But my point here is simply to understand that these are seperate purposes.

Purposes at cross-purposes?

Why does this matter? Well, one reason is because we must recognize that these purposes sometimes are at cross-purposes to each other, and if The Purpose of authority control is establishing sets/relationships, then whenever accomplishing one purpose well and efficiently comes at the expense of accomplishing another as well and efficiently as possible, that primary purpose ought ideally to win out.

For example, for the primary purpose of authority control, it is highly desirable that those heading (our current mechanism of accomplishing the purpose) never change. The heading is used to establish a relationship, and if the heading is ever changed, all the records recording the old heading have to be found and updated–it would be better if this never had to be done (because many will invariably slip through the cracks, leading to harm to the very purpose of authority control–as most of our catalogs demonstrate).

However, if you are also using this traditional heading as a label to the user, it may be desirable that it DOES change. For instance, to add a death date (a practice that I understand has fallen out of favor—evidence that the community realized it harmed the primary purpose of authority control, and therefore was undesirable). Or, say, if you discover that there was a mis-spelling in the original heading!

Likewise, for this primary purpose, it would be desirable that all catalogers and systems across the planet use the same heading for a given entity. That way, we could all easily share information on set membership/relationships to that entity. However, of course it is highly undesirable and impractical for us to all use the same display to the user. In China, Chinese script must be used for an author’s name, in Saudi Arabia Arabic script is highly preferable, etc. What if it were possible to take a large step toward us using the same headings internationally, a step which could give us all much greater efficiency at creating these sets/relationships (the purpose of authority control), and therefore better and more complete data for us all—but we couldn’t take that step, because it would mess up our displays? We would be sacrificing the primary purpose of authority control (and thus of headings) for it’s secondary one! But we’d have little choice–we can’t make American patrons read headings in Chinese script.

Another reason that we recognize that these purposes are separate purposes is that as we try to conceptualize what we do in a way that allows us to ‘inter-operate’ (conceptually and actually) with other communities, we will encounter other communities that do separate the accomplishment of these two purposes, perhaps using a system or device that accomplishes one without accomplishing the other.

Then and Now

So, there is some significant inconvenience in the nature of our traditional heading system as used for two purposes, one primary and one secondary. So how did we end up with it? In the pre-computer days, the inconvenience was outweighed by a huge convenience to us to use a heading to accomplish both these purposes.

The way we accomplished the purpose of authority control was by putting records in alphabetical lists—quite literal, physically ordered lists, originally in a bound catalog, then a card catalog. Ordered by those headings. If we instead used a ‘dumb identifier’ like a DOI to exersize the purpose of authority control, we would have STILL had to put records, very physically and concretely, in lists, because such a very physically ordered list was the only good way we had of searching a file. And in the pre-internet (and even pre-telephone!) days, how would these ‘dumb identifiers’ possibly be efficiently communicated to everyone who needed to know them? It would be virtually impossible. In the pre-computer era, changing a label would be huge impractical anyway, so the difficulty of doing it was irrelevant. Likewise, international cooperative cataloging, or providing different labels for different contexts (Chinese speaking user vs. English speaking user), all were hugely impractical anyway.

[The traditional system of headings has the theoretical advantage of allowing different people in different places to come up with the same heading for a given entity without communicating with each other. At one time, that was crucial, but that was a very long time ago. A cataloger today who assigned such a heading without looking it up in the NAF/SAF/etc would be guilty of cataloging negligence! Cheap, fast and easy communication between catalogers (via central authority files) is crucial to the contemporary actually existing practice of cooperative cataloging, notwithstanding that the traditional heading system can, sort of, in theory, make do without it.]

Conclusion

My primary purpose in this discussion is to establish an agreement about the fundamental purpose of authority control–what authority control is, and what it is for–to allow me to go on to my next step, which is discussing the nature of the concepts of ‘identifiers’, ‘access points’, ‘headings’, ‘main entries’, etc.–how they overlap, how they are distinguished, how they ought to be understood. With the goal of a critique of the FRAD document, which I think has confused some important things. So if anyone has possibly made it this far, do you agree with me on what is the primary purpose of authority control, and thus of our traditional headings? Do you agree with labelling as a secondary purpose (if one that must be accomplished somehow, and to certain standards), which the primary purpose should not be sacrificed to?

If so, I believe logic will inexorably lead you to some somewhat more controversial claims about how we understand identifiers et al that I will lay out in the next part. Which may have to wait until I’m back from my imminent vacation, at the end of August.

I will leave you with one thing. Recognizing the inconvenience of the combination of purposes of our headings, I will describe one possible system of exersizing authority control which could escape these problems—while (this is important) still providing the exact same interfaces we have now for users (and almost exactly the same for catalogers).

Instead of using our existing heading to record a relationship from one record to another, we could use a ‘dumb identifier’ such as an oclc number or a DOI. But we could also record the traditional heading as being related to that very same ‘dumb identifier’ (for instance, by recording it in the authority file). Our primary purpose of authority control is still accomplished, but now we can change the _displayed label_ (the heading itself) whenever we want (to fix a spelling error, to add a death date), without interfering with that primary purpose—without requiring us to change that ‘dumb identifier’. Likewise, we could have _several_ label headings hanging off the authority record (one for Chinese, one for English, etc.), to allow display of these headings in the appropriate local script, but we could all still participate in one big cooperative cataloging environment by all using the same mechanism to establish the primary purpose of authority control.

And if desired, the exact same interfaces (actual and imagined) could be provided under this new system. Those headings, hypothetically displaced by ‘dumb identifiers’ for accomplishing the primary purpose of authority control, could still be displayed in EVERY place you could display them in the system where the headings are in fact themselves used for the primary purpose of authority control.

It is important for the next step to understand that this is possible, and that some systems we want to inter-operate with will likely seperate things in this way. Whether it is desirable to us to do so is kind of a separate discussion (although an interesting one, and it’s probably clear that I think it is).

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18 Responses to The Purpose of Authority Control

  1. Dan Scott says:

    Great post. I was with you all the way, anticipating most of your discussion throughout. The idea of an identifier as an abstract thing separate from labels makes perfect sense. Maybe it’s my relational database background framing my view of the bibliographic world.

    So, let’s take it for granted that the world says “Hey! Right, we’ll figure out a way to associate permanent abstract identifiers with these mutable (death dates, for example) textual things that might be represented in different languages (add $2 subfields to the MARC 700 fields in the MARC21 standard if you are MARC-oriented).”

    What’s next? Well, how about representing relationships between entities. Let’s take ISBN FRBRizing services as an example. Right now, given an ISBN as input, xISBN and ThingISBN spit out a list of ISBNs as output. You know that these output ISBNs are related to your input ISBN in some way. But the relationship isn’t encoded. We need to encode relationships between works and manifestations at a much more granular level than current practice allows today. How about a chapter of a book that critiques an essay collected in another book? How the heck do you find that with our current tools?

    You and Tim Spalding both arrived at the subject heading + weighting approach as one possible way of solving this sort of a problem. Another approach would extend tagging beyond tagging a single object (and grouping by using the same tag) to tagging relationships between objects. I envision something as simple as a user being able to drag a representation of one item over another item and naming that relationship. Maybe this happens in the Open Library. Maybe this will be useful on an aggregate basis. Or maybe it’s a pipe dream. You tell me. Maybe after August.

  2. GeekChic says:

    A very clear discussion of what authority control is and its two purposes. Many European (particularly German) catalogues already disambiguate the two purposes and use identifiers rather than the actual character string. Bernard Eversberg (and I hope I’m spelling his name right) can speak more to this than I can.

    About the only statement you made that I disagree with is: “A cataloger today who assigned such a heading without looking it up in the NAF/SAF/etc would be guilty of cataloging negligence! Cheap, fast and easy communication between catalogers (via central authority files) is crucial to the contemporary actually existing practice of cooperative cataloging.” I don’t doubt that many feel this way, but…. it just doesn’t work that way for many libraries.

    I worked with 14 libraries in the US and 3 in Mexico for around 7 years (ending in 2004). Only 1 library of those 17 had access to a central authority file – and then not regularly. 12 others had reasonable internet access so they could share records but any original records were done to the best of their ability and full authority work would be done by someone else or not at all. The remaining 4 libraries had such poor internet access that they really couldn’t share cataloguing so all authority and bibliographic work was original cataloguing for them. Having said that, all of these libraries worked very hard and gave the best service possible despite that lack of access to what others see as common tools.

  3. dchud says:

    I see what you’re getting and generally agree with your ultimate point about re-engineering the data structures and process. But I’m not sure I get your statement of purposes – I think you’re mixing up two things as alike which are actually different.

    It’s one thing to create sets of things that cross-reference name forms or concepts – it’s wholly another thing to enable relation operations on those sets, even if those operations produce additional sets. The fact that both produce sets isn’t exactly coincidental, but I don’t think we should confuse the two types of sets or the work of producing either. An authorized name or subject collocates name forms from various sources into a set of strings and a preferred display format (or several) which may then itself be used to create your “sets of things” like “all the works by author so-and-so”. One is the work of preparing reference information – the other is the use of reference information to create (as Fred Kilgour wrote about elegantly) “specific mini-catalogs” to suit the needs of any individual querying a catalog.

    So, I guess I’m saying that one important function is to create fixed reference sets for concepts and names; another is to ensure that these sets are useful for ad hoc operations on bibliographic data. The latter are indeed also set-producing operations, but they’re done by different people for different reasons, using the reference sets as input.

    These two functions, along with choosing preferred forms for display, seem to me to be three separate purposes. Technically you’re right that saying “to put things into a set is to establish a relation”, but, there’s creating sets/relations, and then there’s operating on them, and they’re not the same thing, especially if they’re done by different people using different input and output sets. Sorry if it sounds like I’m repeating myself here, I just wanted to state this more generally, too, aside from the question of authority control, to see if you agree.

    Doesn’t change your conclusion, though, eh. :)

  4. jrochkind says:

    GeekChic, thanks for the reality check about how actual cataloging often works. I am not actually a cataloger, so that’s interesting, and does complicate things somewhat, unfortunately.

    Dchud, I’m afraid I’m not following your point. To the extent I follow it, I think you are in fact confusing what I consider the two purposes of authority control! You write An authorized name or subject collocates name forms from various sources into a set of strings and a preferred display format (or several)—my point, which I hope was informed by the way cataloging theory itself has thought about things–is that the “collocating name forms” is in fact incidental (or maybe instrumental would be a better word) to the primary purpose of authority control, and thus of headings. The actual primary purpose of these headings is to create sets—by creating and assigning a heading, you achieve that purpose.

    If you are saying that there are two distinct actions involved there (creating a heading, and then assigning the heading), I agree completely. But that’s not two purposes, that’s two actions necessary (at least under the traditional heading system, but perhaps in the abstract more generally) to accomplish what I suggest is the primary purpose of authority control.

    My main intended audience was catalogers, and I tried to base this argument on my understanding of accepted cataloging theory held by catalogers, in a way that would make sense to catalogers. The point of this essay was to establish some basic assumptions to prepare the ground work for a critique of FRAD, which will come in a few weeks when I’m back from vacation.

  5. jrochkind says:

    Discussion with Dchud and jbrinley in IRC leads me to make one clarification.

    The assigning of headings in order to add records to sets (ie, establish relationships) is apparently considered ‘authority work’, but not usually actually ‘authority control’, which is reserved for the creation of those headings.

    So to be clear, I should say that the primary purpose of authority control is to provide tools to support the creation of precise sets (aka, the creation of precise relationships).

    Rather than that authority control itself creates those things, if the act of _using_ those headings is not considered ‘authority control’. But of course the purpose of those headings is in their ultimate use, so I believe my point withstands this correction. I used the word purpose very intentionally.

    I also should have thanked Nancy Fallgren for a lunch discussion that helped me double-check that the way I was thinking of saying these things made sense.

  6. GeekChic says:

    Technologically deficient and poor libraries (which are not necessarily the same thing) will always be a challenge. Some of the libraries I used to work with would receive authority control and cataloguing help from nearby universities or more distant urban centers (both within the Americas and more international). More co-operative efforts of this type will be needed if already poor communities are not to fall even further behind.

    Nevertheless, change is necessary. Updating authorities is too much of a pain with the current North American model. As well, the constant, global duplication of effort is simply not sustainable.

  7. Hi Jonathan, This is a really helpful post. Just wanted to add that in traditional cataloging we would say that the creation of headings is “authority work” and that “authority control” is the result of “authority work.” So, establishing the form of a name and its accompanying cross references is authority work and the application of that authorized form for all in the “set” (to use your term) is authority control.

    I look forward to reading more on FRAD!

  8. Ed Summers says:

    DOI’s, harumph — how about we start with URLs? Relationships between URLs, hmm sounds familiar somehow. Where have I heard of that before?

    Great post Jonathan…happy vacation!

  9. Nathan says:

    Jonathan,

    I really appreciate your taking the time to do this – being the bridge-builder you are between comp sci folks and traditional catalogers. Thank you. I do find it a little rough going though – quite abstract. In my mind, its just hard to separate these two things, as perhaps Christine’s post might suggest.

    When I think about all of this “on the ground”, I think about all of the entities (persons, places, things, ideas, etc.) that LCSH covers for example. Since these are all things in our world, I imagine them being all connected in various kinds of *overlapping* taxonomies, with some kind of hierarchy, etc. I know there is hierarchy, they are all related, and that there is purpose, order, meaning, bound up in there, though apart from God telling me specifically :), I am not sure exactly how. In any case, my point is that it is difficult to think about being able to compose this order in one’s mind apart from the usage of meaningful words and language. We are humans after all!

    So, in my mind, authority control is something that can be achieved when people purposely use meaningful worlds to describe the world – this is in fact what catalogers do when they interact with the materials produced by the creators who have all made contact with the world and represented it in various fashions – they “map it” in this or that way in their particular works. Catalogers then try to faithfully “map” these “mappings”, into yet another map – namely an order (again not a perfect one) that of course necessarily involves words and language (I’d argue words themselves are an “order”) that describe and define realities as they are encountered on the ground (this goes beyond the world of “pure thought” – correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that in the virtual worlds created by comp scis, there are at least *potentially* as many meanings as one can imagine – the “reality on the ground” is not necessarily in play – so there are infinite ways to not only “skin a cat”, but remix cats and everything else in virtual reality – again so long as the programmers share a common coherent philosophy with meanings they understand) that must necessarily be agreed on beforehand – though they can be changed as understandings change.

    Now in order to work beyond local and regional constraints, computer folks need to agree on things up front beforehand just like catalogers do! – but I hope you are getting a sense of how for catalogers it is a little bit different.

    Please do not think that I am saying that computer sci folks aren’t “on the ground” in any sense. But you guys primarily, it seems to me, have to deal with realities like physical hardware (arrrrgh!)… as well as the fact that the programs you make need to be functional primarily with the end that they are perceived as being useful to the person who uses them. And if a person likes a virtual world as much as the real world or more, more power to them.

    So… lib systems ought to be as useful as well, I admit – right now, they seem so backwards and pathetic. But the libs also need to veer from the temptation to enter the realm of “pure thought” too much, lest the realities of the “world out there” gets left behind (which of course is particularly important for folks like doctors, dentists, rocket scientists, bridge engineers, lawyers, historians etc. – and *us to*!)

    So this separation is awesome in one sense, full of marvelous potential that ought to be pursued, I think. And yet – it seems to me to come with many a temptation. Does this make sense?

    Finally – could people change not only the labels but also the order and the relationships too if they wanted? (I’m not saying this would necessarily be a bad thing, although it seems to me that libs who want to work together would want to be consistent here)

    ~Nathan

  10. I was dealing primarily with the controlled vocabularly of ‘bibliographic description’, but it applies to subject as in LCSH too.

    The two different things there are still creating sets (or relationsihps) vs. providing labels. In this case, the first purpose, the primary purpose: to create the set of all things on a given subject—-or, in the other language, the relationship between a (record for a) work/expression and (the record for) a subject.

    The secondary purpose is again providing a label for that subject.

    A good way to illustrate this is again by talking about different human languages. A library in Germany might find it useful to use LCSH too—but they’d provide labels for subjects in German, not English! That catalogers in Germany would be using the same “indexing langauge”, they would be assigning things to the very same categories, the very same list of possible sets—but the labels would be in German.

    So this is a reconceptualization—-don’t think of it in terms of ‘using meaningful words’—think of it in terms of assigning things to a defined list of possible categories or concepts—right now this is _done_ by assigning from a defined list of ‘meaningful words’–and then using the _same_ list of meaningful words to provide labels for end-users. But these are in fact two different purposes.

    This is even more clear ifwe consider traditional ‘classification’ languages instead of LCSH. THERE, you assign by using ‘classmark’ codes instead of English (or German) language terms, but you could (as NCSU’s catalog illustrates by doing!) use _different_, more end-user friendly English (or theoretically German) labels to display to the user.

  11. Nathan says:

    Jonathan,

    Before I venture to comment again, could you direct me to something describing the “classmark codes” (or do so yourself) that you mention – I am not familiar with this term. It seems almost amazing to say that a Google search on the term doesn’t turn up any results.

    Back on Monday, I hope.

    ~Nathan

  12. Just the term I was using to describe the notation representing the class in the classification. You know, “KK1261.5” or what have you. I’ve seen the term ‘class mark’ used for this, as well as ‘class number’, even though it’s not exactly a number in the case of LCC as above! I don’t know what is preferred, sorry if my language was confusing.

  13. [Looks from Googling like the term ‘classmark’ may be more popular in the UK than here. Not sure where I picked it up. Anyway.]

  14. Nathan says:

    Jonathan,

    No, I got you. Thanks again. Also, post #10 (esp. para 5) was very helpful. I think I get what you’re saying now.

    I also hope to read your paper soon from Dec. 2005 which explores the historical purposes of classification and subject cataloging specifically.

    I find it interesting the amount of folks who don’t seem to like hierarchy, formal taxonomies at all, or don’t see them as useful. I understand the concerns about voodoo ontology and such, but think we all will make some trade-offs. The structure of taxonomies – or even the concept of taxonomy itself – may be even more controversial than the “label” someone puts on something.

    I found this post and the response on Weinberger’s blog fascinating: http://tinyurl.com/334kua

    Thanks again.

  15. Pingback: Free Range Librarian » Blog Archive » links for 2007-08-16

  16. Martha M. Yee says:

    While I agree with you that we can separate these two purposes and possibly carry them out in different ways in a completely networked environment, I think it is important to realize that this idea of having identifiers for computers (as opposed to humans) is still somewhat utopian. We still function in a shared cataloging environment with thousands of different catalogs, each of which is assigning a different identification number to the authority record representing a particular entity. The strengths of our current system of labelling are:
    1. The label is understandable and comprehensible to human beings, not just to computers.
    2. Because of cooperative cataloging, it has a good chance of identifying the same entity in each of the thousands of catalogs without any further human intervention at the time the record arrives.
    3. The label can be used to identify the entity it stands for in all kinds of lists in response to all kinds of search, including searches that did not initially target this entity (for example, a work identifier can display in a subject search or a keyword in record search that produces a list of works).
    4. Our current work identifiers, which use both author name and work title when a work is a work of single personal authorship, serve to organize all the works on a subject into subgroupings of works by a particular author, subgrouped again by language (or by other categories, such as those used in music uniform titles).
    These four functions are extremely useful and we would need to ensure that they continued to be carried out in any new environment into which we might move. I fear that many of those who wholeheartedly embrace a migration to ‘dumb identifiers’ fall into the camp of system designers who assume that every user is capable of doing a search that would retrieve the single correct record. The myth of the single, correct record has done a great deal of damage to our OPAC software design already. Contrary to the myth, our databases are growing larger and more complex daily, users are being overwhelmed by search results that number in the millions, and what they really desperately need is an identifier that organizes these results–like the human-readable identifiers we have been using in libraries all these years…

  17. Darlene says:

    Jonathan–great to see someone trying to understand how catalogers think! I think there is one factual error in your posting. Death dates were formerly not added except to break a conflict, but over the past year or so LC has begun killing authors off. If I read about the death of a well-known author in the morning paper, chances are he or she will be dead in the LC authority files the next day. LC is now coming out with lengthy lists of name headings to which death dates have been added, thereby creating new conflicts in library databases around the world. You can read more about this if you go to the AUTOCAT archives, as it has been discussed a great deal.

  18. Pingback: Identifiers and Display Labels again « Bibliographic Wilderness

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