What’s in a Name?

I have just been taking a look through the results of a recent survey by the UK Archives Discovery Network (UKAD) Working Group. The Working Group are getting together this week and will be looking at making the results public.
The main thing that struck me was the variety of responses. If we thought that this survey might clarify the situation, I’m beginning to wonder if all that it clarifies is that the situation is not clear!
I’m just going to concentrate on name indexing here, and leave place and subject for another blog post.
It seems that only a small proportion of archivists (as reflected in this survey) do not think that indexing is important. Of the 80 responses, 49 indexed to recognised rules and 23 indexed in line with local practice; 13 did not index and 23 went for ‘other’, which tended to mean they were in the process of creating an index, moving to an index following recognised standards or had legacy data with some indexes.
The survey revealed many reasons to create a name index as a means to access archives:
  • for enhanced resource discovery
  • many users want to search by name (respondents indicated it is a very popular search option)
  • it brings together collections that reference the same people
  • it is a way researchers look for connections
  • it aids interdisciplinary research
  • to identify people involved in particular works and their roles
  • it helps researchers to narrow down larger numbers of hits to just relevant collections
  • it promotes interoperability
  • it addresses problems with variants of the name, name changes, or different people with the same name (aids reliability)
  • it is at the heart of family history research
  • it is useful for answering enquiries
  • it is useful for selecting material, e.g. for exhibitions
When asked why name indexing is not carried out, there were a number of reasons:
  • free text retrieval makes name indexing redundant
  • lack of funding
  • lack of training
  • lack of staff resource
  • the current system does not support indexing
  • it has never been done
  • uncertainty about how to index effectively
  • uncertainty about benefits
Out of 100 responses, 46 felt that name indexing is very important, 33 felt it is reasonably important and 11 felt it is a low priority. The main reason given for name indexing being a low priority was the pressing need to deal with cataloguing backlogs and actually get some kind of description out there. It also seems that archivists do not always feel that they have the evidence to suggest that indexing is of benefit to researchers (or enough benefit to warrant the time involved).
The level at which collections are indexed was often given as ‘whatever is appropriate’ and clearly varied widely. I had expected it to be much higher for collection-level descriptions, but this was not the case.
We asked which sources are used for names, and again the answers were varied. Many people clearly do use the original records, with the National Register of Archives and Dictionary of National Biography coming in close behind. There was mention of Wikipedia, and even Google. In terms of rules, a majority do use the NCA Rules, and more use in-house rules than use AACR2. Several respondents said they use ISAAR(CPF), which is curious, as this standard is for name authority records and states that the main name entry should follow recognised rules (e.g. NCA Rules). I wonder if people were thinking of name authority records rather than basic index entries.
More on the survey to follow. And the UKAD Network will be publishing the results via the listserv, archives-discovery-network@jiscmail.ac.uk Make sure you sign up to this if you are interested in these kind of activities: https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=ARCHIVES-DISCOVERY-NETWORK