It seems to me that there is some confusion over what authority records actually are. When we came up with our survey it was clear that defining these terms is not always that straightforward and we often make assumptions that are not necessarily shared . We created a glossary for the survey, and defined a name authority record as:
“An entry for a person or corporate body that includes additional elements about the entity, providing contextual information as well as a name index entry.”
However, it is clear that some respondents were thinking of name index entries rather than more complete authority records. According to our survey, which received 93 responses, 34 maintain authority records that follow recognised rules or sources (although comments indicate that the number of these records may be very limited), 14 follow local practice and 29 do not maintain authority records. Bear in mind that responses were not per institution, so the figures can only tell us so much. But what they do indicate is: (i) there is some confusion about what authority records are (ii) some repositories maintain authority records that follow their own in-house practice rather than recognised standards (iii) it is important for archivists that the software cataloguing systems they use support the creation of authority records.
Many repositories use the original records to create authority records, which is one reason why archivists are in the best position to provide this kind of detailed and useful information to researchers. The original records can give a real insight into individuals, particularly lesser-known individuals. Many archivists base their name authority records on ISAAR(CPF), which gives a level of consistency, but many do not, maybe reflecting the fact that ISAAR is a recent standard (first edition 1996), and cataloguing is not a recent phenomenon.
If the authorised form of the actual name is following recognised rules, this provides for effective resource discovery. But in reality we know that there are often many versions of an individual out there. Here are the entries on the Archives Hub for David Lloyd George:
- George David Lloyd
- George David Lloyd 1863-1945 1st Earl Lloyd George Of Dwyfor Statesman
- George David Lloyd 1863-1945 1st Earl Lloyd George Of Dwyfor Statesman And Prime Minister
- George David Lloyd 1863-1945 Emph Altrender Epithet Prime Minister
- George David Lloyd 1863-1945 First Earl Lloyd-george Of Dwyfor Prime Minister
- Lloyd George David
- Lloyd George David 1863-1945
- Lloyd George David 1863-1945 1st Earl Lloyd George Of Dwyfor Statesman
- Lloyd George David 1863-1945 1st Earl Lloyd-george Of Dwyfor Statesman
This illustrates quite nicely the problems of including an epithet, and even more clearly the problems of NCA Rules insisting on using the last element of a surname, even if it is a compound or hyphenated surname. I will never understand that one…sigh.
I love one of the responses to the question of which sources are used for authority records: ‘books, the internet, people’. In a way this reflects the diversity of sources used, which include encylopaedias, directories, books, journals and registers as well as donor knowledge. This shows how important the expertise of archivists is in using various sources to bring together valuable information about individuals, families and corporate bodies. Authority records maximise the benefits of the information archivists gather together for their work, bringing it to researches and giving them new ways into collections.
Archivists have to work with the software that they have, and sometimes this imposes certain limitations. One respondent mentioned the need to avoid using the ampersand, for example. Many repositories use CALM, and this is compliant with ISAAR(CPF), which should provide a great boost to archivists wanting to create authority records.
I do think that archivists should really be starting to think more carefully about the benefits of name authority records, and we need to have a more co-ordinated and collective approach to this. As one respondent put it, ‘We don’t create these at present, and I wonder whether we ever ought to? Surely this is most sensible as a global resource that we can contribute to and share.’ For my part, I would be very keen for the Archives Hub to facilitate this, and I hope that this is something we can look to in the future.
Image: Flickr Creative Commons Steeljam photostream