In various conversations lately I've been struggling to explain my feeling that authority records contain more than the data they display, and that when they get deconstructed as linked data, this something more needs to be represented in the linked data results. Generally I think of it as an implicit "definition." Some records include more defining information than others, but even those which contain very little are nevertheless asserting the uniqueness of a certain entity--but how can that assertion be explained when the data is minimal and not particularly distinguishing?
The answer is that authorities are embedded in a larger system of information. It is routine to cite a bibliographic source for a name, and early authority control conventions kept the citation minimal on the assumption that the source bib record would also be present in the system and could also be consulted for evidence of the nature and specificity of the entity being established. Thus there was no need to note such useful identifying facts as the publishers and places of publication for a given author's works, since that information was accessible within the larger system. Recent MARC21 authority format changes to support RDA have made places for more of this data in the authority record, but it is important to realize that this penumbra of definitional data found in bib records also belongs to the data set that defines an established entity. As we move authority records into linked data, we need to be sure that data from bibliographic records is also carried along, not simply as information about a given manifestation, but also as information about the manifestation's authors, editors, etc. This is by no means a new idea--OCLC has long been in the business of building augmented versions of LCNAF authorities to enable more sophisticated algorithmic matching between bib records and authorities and more recently between authorities from different authority files in the VIAF. But people new to working with authority records need to be aware of the way many authorities depend on information found only in bib records which contain the authorized heading to define fully the entity they establish.Posted by s-hear at January 28, 2011 12:26 PM