A Closer Look at Authority Control in MARC Records

By Scott Piepenburg, MLIS

shutterstock_367446221Accuracy of data in cataloging records is critical. A misplaced number or value can impact the ability to import a record into your system, or a misspelled word can render a title or subject lost or irretrievable by your system. There are even provisions in the MARC record to document “incorrect” information as well as its “corrected” form. This is common when an author or publisher will intentionally misspell or rearrange words in the title so the book stands out in the marketplace.

The cataloging community has long recognized the importance of consistency and accuracy in data, particularly in the areas of subjects and names. This has led to controlled vocabularies for subjects, the most notable of these being the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), as well as Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) and Sears List of Subject Headings (Sears). Through the use of these vocabularies, libraries strive to use consistent and constant terminology for ideas and subjects. This helps to ensure that as users move between public libraries in a geographic area, from school to college, or even online, they will find consistent and definable terms, thereby ensuring successful results.

shutterstock_1275512578This consistency extends to the names of people, organizations, and events. The most notable example in the United States is the Library of Congress Name Authority File (NAF). When catalogers enter the name for the author of a book (or a subject, in the case of biographies), they check the NAF to see if the Library of Congress has defined a name for this person. If so, the library will typically use this name to promote consistency in its catalog, as well as consistency with other libraries using this structure. This also ensures that records created locally will be consistent with those vendors and outside sources that also use this structure.

A classic example of this concept is Samuel Clemens, better known by his nom de plume, Mark Twain. The library will use the form of Mark Twain to ensure that all examples of his work are cataloged under the same, consistent form. The same applies to the names of corporations, governmental entities, and events, such as Olympic Games. The Library of Congress, or other trained and certified catalogers working under the auspices of the Library of Congress, contribute names to the NAF as they need them, oftentimes for works by new authors or events. In this way, the file grows and is maintained by a network of libraries, not just the Library of Congress. This enhances its usability and versatility.

The next time you are looking at a bibliographic record, it’s important to note the effort that has gone into making the headings in that record consistent and able to “play well” with other bibliographic records in your system—and with headings in many of your non-bibliographic resources, such as databases and electronic resources.

 

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Scott

Scott Piepenburg is currently the Cataloging Services Manager at Brodart and is the author of the popular Easy MARC series, as well as articles on the future of library automation, the history of disc-based recording technology, and the role of cataloging AV materials for school and public libraries. Click here for more.

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