Becoming an Authority on Authority Control: An Annotated Bibliography of Resources

By Wolverton, Robert E., Jr. | Library Resources & Technical Services, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Becoming an Authority on Authority Control: An Annotated Bibliography of Resources


Wolverton, Robert E., Jr., Library Resources & Technical Services


Authority control has long been an important part of the cataloging process. However, few studies have been conducted examining how librarians learn about it. Research conducted to date suggests that many librarians learn about authority control on the job rather than in formal classes. To offer an introduction to authority control information for librarians, an annotated bibliography is provided. It includes monographs, articles and papers, electronic discussion groups, Web sites related to professional conferences, additional Web sites related to authority control, and training offered through the Name Authority Cooperative Program and the Subject Authority Cooperative Program. A summary of possible future trends in authority control is also provided.

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Authority control, long an integral part of the cataloging process, has been defined as "the process of maintaining consistency in the verbal form used to represent an access point in a catalog and the further process of showing the relationships among names, works, and subjects." (1) It helps provide structure and uniformity to information, which can make it more accessible and valuable to the library user. As the amount of information available to the public continues to expand, the effective use of authority control concepts can greatly assist library users by making information more accessible and help catalogers in formulating access points for the bibliographic records they prepare for public access.

The ongoing development of computer technology over the past several decades has made authority control easier and more efficient to implement for many libraries, either as an in-house process or by using a vendor. With the development and evolution of authority control and online public access catalogs (OPACs), library users can now be directed automatically from an earlier or alternative form of a name, title, series, or subject to the authorized one. While this may appear to be a seamless process for the library user, catalogers behind the scenes must ensure that the authority work is done properly so the entire information retrieval process continues to be seen as seamless.

Despite the importance of authority control, few studies have been conducted examining how librarians learn about it. A 2002 study of how librarians learned about authority control and authority work was conducted by Mugridge and Furniss, using replies to a four-question survey that they posted on the Autocat cataloging and authority control electronic discussion list. (2) The results revealed that of the forty-nine survey respondents, the majority learned about authority control and authority work on the job rather than in library school. The authors further noted that, even when exposed to authority control concepts in library school, some respondents felt they received only a minimal amount of information and perceived a lack of hands-on, practical training in authority work. In their conclusions from the survey, Mugridge and Furniss suggested that regional workshops or conferences should be offered as a way for librarians at the local level to learn more about authority concepts and practices. They also recommended that library schools review their courses and consider offering courses dedicated to authority work or discussing authority work in detail in advanced cataloging courses. Employers were encouraged to invest in continuing education activities and to allow the use of work time for further study. Mugridge and Furniss concluded by stating that librarians responsible for authority work need to keep themselves updated on developments in the area through additional reading and education.

To further ascertain how authority control is learned, Taylor conducted a survey of 114 people whom she identified as teaching in the area of organization of information in schools of library and information science in the United States and Canada. …

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