Category Archives: identity

Authority control and identity management

Kathleen’s comment on my last post made me realize that “identity management” and “authority control” are actually two faces of the same coin. It’s just using two expressions (the first scoped “information technology” and the latter “library”, maybe) for essentially the same thing, although implemented differently. Library identity management has some flaws, the major one probably being that for the most part the identification system has not been brought up to speed and transferred into the digital age.

Moreover, I can think of a number of entities that would be better off with a more stringent IM / AC instead of string matching: serials (which in the German and Austrian cataloging community do have identifiers that are linked to from the records and are treated as kinds of authorities), publisher or place of publication (collocating different names of the same place, e.g. Wien, Vienna, Vienne, Beč, Виена etc.).

Librarians / Catalogers have gathered a lot of expertise in this particular area over the years, we just need to take it a few steps further to fit the online digital environment and build authority control / identity management platforms that can make a real contribution to all kinds of efforts (semantic technologies, digital libraries, digital humanities etc.). One such entity authority tool set that moves beyond traditional library authority practice is EATS, developed and used by the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre. Jamie Norrish anticipated my wanting to bring it up in his comment. 😉 I’ll mention it anyway: see his paper for more in-depth information about EATS (the paper is especially compelling because of its comparison between existing authority control mechanisms and EATS) and another paper he co-authored on the topic maps approach to authority management underlying EATS.

Extending our notion of authority and identity management beyond authors, titles and subjects to other entities in library data creates the opportunity to share links and identifiers with outside communities or across collections and increase search quality through consistency.

Consistency and identity management

Consistency is a strange thing. We are in dire need of it to give computers something reliable to work with, yet we are unlikely to achieve the necessary level of consistency in our data due to various reasons. First, we are human, and inconsistency can be said to be part of human nature; second, there are different catalogers entering data into the same pool who don’t do things exactly the same. We can (and as catalogers, should) strive for as much consistency as possible in our own work, but factors such as the ones just mentioned get in the way.

Current ILS match strings for indexing, so it’s hard for them to tell whether “Oxford UP” and “Oxford Univ. Pr.” and “Oxford University Press” (I’ll spare you other ways to write this – which exist!) are the same or not. Users wanting to browse titles of a certain publisher are left to click through lists of variant names (typos and such included…). Or even worse, failing such an index, they have to search for all kinds of variations.

Why not cluster / merge these under one term? The technical possibilities are there (the freely available Google Refine, or topic maps, for that matter), I’m sure it could be implemented into library systems. A simple list of values to choose from while cataloging would be another, although limited, option. Here software can help straighten out human errors or inconsistencies (which, let’s face it, will continue to exist) and users will benefit from a more time-sparing and useful display. Identity management, anyone?