Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Metadata and Authority Control

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Metadata and Authority Control

Article excerpt

A variety of information communities have developed metadata schemes to meet the needs of their own users. The ability of libraries to incorporate and use multiple metadata schemes in current library systems will depend on the compatibility of imported data with existing catalog data. Authority control will play an important role in metadata interoperability. In this article, I discuss factors for successful authority control in current library catalogs, which include operation in a well-defined and bounded universe, application of principles and standard practices to access point creation, reference to authoritative lists, and bibliographic record creation by highly trained individuals. Metadata characteristics and environmental models are examined and the likelihood of successful authority control is explored for a variety of metadata environments.


As the Internet becomes an accepted source of electronic information, librarians and information specialists around the world strive to improve methods for description, organization, and retrieval of remotely accessed documents and other electronic objects. They are not alone in this endeavor, for within many other sectors of our society the creators and providers of electronic resources are also engaged in attempts to manage this vast body of information. This has resulted in the simultaneous and parallel development of a wide variety of metadata schemes. Each group has approached the problem of organization and access from its own frame of reference, and included in its metadata model the type of information that best serves the needs of its own user community. It remains to be seen whether this proliferation of metadata schemes will improve description and access for library users, or only compound current problems. Much will depend on the ease with which metadata can be incorporated into current library systems and the compatibility of imported metadata with existing online catalog data. In other words, the successful use of multiple metadata schemes in the library environment will depend on authority control.

In this article, I offer a starting point for future discussions and research on metadata and authority control within the library profession. I provide an overview of metadata and discuss a few of the more popular metadata schemes associated currently with libraries, museums, archives, and information centers. These are examined within the context of authority control and its role in the future metadata environment.

Metadata: What Are They?

The most common definition of metadata is "data about data." While accurate, this definition is so simplistic that it adds very little to our understanding of the concept. Further elaboration of the origins and use of the sword will provide a framework for this discussion. Early use of the term "metadata" goes back to the 1960s, but it began to appear more frequently in the literature on database management systems (DBMS) in the 1980s. The term "metadata" was used to describe the information that documented the characteristics of information contained within databases (Phillips 1995). In this DBMS domain, the computer was the setting for both the information being described and the descriptive data, and, therefore, metadata operated within a totally electronic environment.

The parallel world of library cataloging traditionally used the terms "bibliographic data" or "cataloging data" for this type of information. Catalogers used these terms when both the objects they cataloged and the bibliographic records were in a nonelectronic form. Catalogers continued to call this type of information cataloging data when the bibliographic record migrated to the MAchine Readable Cataloging (MARC) formats. They even called it bibliographic or cataloging data when they began to organize and describe local computer files. But when catalogers began to describe networked electronic resources using the same type of bibliographic data, the terminology changed. …

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