Monday, March 28, 2016

Authority Matters

By Marliese Thomas, Solutions Architect, Ex Libris

How do you know that searching for a name will give you results about the one you intended? For instance, searching for “John Green” on Wikipedia directs you to a “disambiguation” page listing seven men in the arts, five in the military, seven in public service, six in sports, and eight others, not including references to John Deere and alternate nicknames.

In a library system, it all comes down to the Authority Record. This master reference has a level of detail that can differentiate between John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars, and all others that may come along. When a new item is added to the system, that bibliographic record links back to the appropriate authority, creating a relationship between that item and all others connected to that person.

There are also authority records for subjects, locations, corporate entities, and even genres. As something happens to affect that authority record, the librarian only has to update the authority, which will then pass that update to all the linked items.

Think about the recent passing of David Bowie. While there may not be many with such a distinctive name, you would want to be sure any audio recording you request is for THE David Bowie. By placing the birth and death dates on those authority records, librarians are ensuring a certainty beyond anything a keyword search could offer.

Maintaining these records is time-consuming in legacy library systems. A library would have to pay a third-party vendor to send them all records that have been updated by the authority creator – Library of Congress, National Library of Medicine, Library Archives Canada, to name a few. Someone would then have to oversee the import of these records, checking as they overlay existing records, then establish the links between the authority records and their bibliographic counterparts.

In Ex Libris Alma, such things are now managed by the Community Zone. Instead of sending records to each library individually, these authority creators send them to Ex Libris directly. As those records are updated in the Community Zone, all bibliographic records linked to them will receive the updates. No muss, no fuss (for more information, see this article in the Ex Libris Knowledge Center).

This frees up a librarian’s time to do more intensive work, such as original cataloging of special collections, building authorities specific to the institution or region, or enhancing student programs.

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