Unique authors

Jonathan Rochkind, in his post “How do name authorities work anyway?“, wonders if catalogers will confuse him with another writer of the same name that has an LC authority record, whereas he does not have one.

I guess the relevance of this problem depends entirely on the question: do you think it’s important to know that an author of a specific work is the same as the author of another work? A former colleague of mine whom I respect very much, used to say that it does not matter, as long as the correct name appears with the work in question. This was only six years ago, before the emergence of web 2.0 and library 2.0 type services. It is just like looking at a printed book: you read the author’s name, and if there is no further information on the back cover, or a list of publications by the author inside, then that’s all there is to it. In normal life, if you read a book or an article for pleasure, or even for business, study or research, that is no problem. No need for author authority records at all.

However, the picture is completely different from the point of view of the authors, especially in the case of professional scientific and research staff, where the exact number of publications and citations is crucial. For these authors it is vital that the correct authority record is used for their publications. Here we definitely need authority records with unique identifiers. But of course there are so many different systems in use: LC authority records , WorldCat Identities , national systems etc., they all use their own identifiers.

There is the proposal to develop the UAI, Universal Author Identifier . This system depends on authors registering and maintaining their own personal information in a freely accessible web based database. There was a pilot system for a while, but it is not clear if any results were reached.

In The Netherlands a similar project on a national scale has led to a live implementation: the DAI, Digital Author Identifier . The DAI is based on the identifier used for authors in the OCLC-PICA Dutch National Union Catalog /Common Catalog system “PPN”, and is assigned to every author who has been appointed to a position at a Dutch university or research institute or has some other relevant connection with one of these organisations. The DAI is used in the Dutch university repositories, the Dutch national Research Database and in the national integrated portal NARCIS .
The difference with UAI is that DAI is assigned by catalogers in one of the participating organisations, whereas UAI depends on voluntary cooperation of the authors themselves.

Of course a “universal author identifier” still does not solve Jonathan’s initial question: confusion is still possible if the authors do not have a clear interest in maintaining their information themselves.

Another issue here, about which something more can be said in a future post, is that for a real universal system we should use URI’s, as for unique works (see Owen Stephens’ post “The Future is Analogue “) and subject headings.

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