Respect My Authority!: Behind the Curtain of Cataloging

by John Williams, Head of Cataloging

Authority control in the cataloging world is the process that catalogers use to provide proper indexing and consistency to the library catalog.

The Fordham University Libraries are a Name Authority Cooperative Program (NACO) contributing institution. What this means is that the Head of Cataloging currently has authorization to create or edit a name authority directly into Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), which can then be used by all member libraries. By create, this means we can create a unique record for a personal name under which all their works can be linked.

For example, the author Wallace, William has this as an authority record:

Image of OCLC Catalog record.
William Wallace’s Authority Record

This is what is known as an undifferentiated record. In layman terms, there are/were several authors out there named William Wallace. These are some of the books that they wrote. That’s all we know.

Taking a look at the William Wallaces that we have in our catalog shows this:

Fordham’s Catalog Search Function

In order to create the authority record, I need to look at the title page of the book, in this case “Asklepiades of Samos”, located in the Rose Hill stacks, PA3936 .A6 1941:

From this, I learned that when the book was published, he was an Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of Colorado. Now I can start creating a unique name heading for the author.

I found his death notice in a 1966 article in the journal Phoenix. From the article, I learned that he died on December 14, 1965, was associated with University College, University of Toronto and had briefly worked at the University of Alberta, McMaster University and the University of Colorado. Also, in addition to “Asklepiades of Samos”, he had written at least one other book. I also found on Rutgers University’s Database of Classical Scholars, more information regarding date and place of birth and his employment history.

I was then able to create his authority record:

The Name Authority Record

I then clean up the catalog record and export the newly formed authority record into our system. Now when there is an author search for Wallace, William, the search results display as:

The updated library catalog view.

The author of the book “Asklepiades of Samos”, has been moved to the new record.

The new author record.

Authority work is one of the most important facets of cataloging as it helps keep our catalog indexed properly, provides cross-headings and facilitates the ability to search.

Imagine wanting a book on the former Soviet republic of Georgia (Georgia (Republic)) and having your search include searches about Atlanta, the U.S. Civil War or peach trees. Or wanting to read a book by horror novelist, Stephen King (King, Stephen, 1947- ) and having your search include books on marketing (King, Stephen, 1931-2006) and reggae music (King, Stephen A., 1964- ). This is how we can keep all of the names straight in a jungle of information.

If you would like to find out more about the inner workings of the library, check out our research guide on library science and resources, and as always, we are available to chat for any of your library needs.

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