Panning for Gold: Utility of the World Wide Web for Metadata and Authority Control in Special Collections

Article excerpt

This article describes the use of the World Wide Web as a valuable name authority resource and tool for special collections analytic-level cataloging and the specific goal of "fully discovering" the names of people who lived in the past as well as those from the present. Current tools and initiatives such as the Name Authority Component of the Program for Cooperative Cataloging (NACO) and the Library of Congress Name Authority File have a specific mission and are partially helpful. Web resources encompassing special collections are often intricate and require global and enhanced resources to continue what have been the guiding principles, tradition, and value of cataloging: to discover works via many points of entry; to find works by or about the same person, topic, or title; and to continue the great cataloging legacies of standards and cooperation.

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From August 2000 through January 2002, the Historical Collections and Services Department of The Claude Moore Health Sciences Library (TCMHSL), along with the guidance of the Head of Intellectual Access at TCMHSL, used the Web as a tool for name authority work with the digitization of The Philip S. Hench Walter Reed Yellow Fever Collection. Specifically, authority data for names of persons were created and supplemented with information obtained via resources found on the Web.

Russell and Spillane (2001) presented a synthesis of the function of authority control in general cataloging practice and the utility of the Web in obtaining information on authors. They focused on the benefits of the NACO initiative and presented a case for using the Web for contact information for authors. This Web information would supplement the authority record in the 670 field. Author and company Web sites and catalogs of the world's national libraries are two examples of sources. In addition, they discussed the evaluation of this contact information mined from the Web. Web sites created by the author or institution are considered as authoritative as corresponding print reference sources, whereas Web pages or sites created by "fans" need to "be treated with a healthy degree of skepticism" (78).

While Russell and Spillane concentrated on contemporary authors, this article will show how the use of the Web, in a very focused and specialized way, can be extremely valuable for special collections cataloging and metadata creation for fully discovering the names of people who lived in the past as well as those from the present.

While the NACO initiative and the Library of Congress Name Authority File (commonly known as the NAF) are unsurpassed, they were designed to include names based on items of "literary warrant" as they are added to library collections and therefore serve a very specific purpose. Our project, while involving both famous and little known people derived from analyzing a manuscript collection fell outside the mission of the NAF. As more and more institutions (i.e., libraries, archives, and museums) in the United States and around the world process special collections of unpublished materials on an analytic level and make these resources available on the Web, an enhanced and global system for authority records will become essential. It is interesting to note that in almost ten years the NAF has increased an astonishing 667%. In 1992, the NAF contained 500,000 name authority records (Library of Congress Information Bulletin 1992); as of April 13, 2002, the total was 3,835,384 (Sturtevant 2002). Additionally, in 1994 the Library of Congress Name Authority File became the Anglo-American Authority File (Library of Congress Information Bulletin 1992) and in 2001 19.43% of the new Name Authority Records (NARs) were contributed by international sites. (1) We were surprised to find that even with this amazing expansion of the NAF, many names of prominent persons were not found, including United States Congressional Gold Medal honoree Aristides Agramonte, Surgeon General of the United States Army Raymond W. …