By SUSAN R. MORRIS
The Library of Congress has entered a cooperative agreement with OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. and Die Deutsche Bibliothek, the national library of Germany, to test the concept of a Virtual International Authority File (VIAF) on the Internet. The VIAF will provide open access on the Web to approximately 2 million records for personal names from Die Deutsche Bibliothek (DDB) and more than 3.8 million personal name records from the Library of Congress. In cases where both national libraries have a record for a personal name, the VIAF will link the two records so that users can view the information in both, using the search techniques they prefer. The VIAF project offers immediate benefits in making cataloging more efficient and catalog searching more precise. The VIAF also holds long-term promise as a basic building block of the "semantic Web"—a future version of the Web that will permit human-to-human, human-to-computer, and computer-to-computer communication.
The cooperative agreement for the VIAF was signed on Aug. 6 in Berlin, Germany, during the World Library and Information Congress (the 69th General Conference of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions). Acting Deputy Associate Librarian for Library Services Beacher Wiggins signed the agreement for the Library of Congress. Signing for DDB was its director general, Elisabeth Niggemann. Jay Jordan, president and chief executive officer of OCLC, also signed.
Wiggins expressed his pleasure over the cooperative agreement: "Making authority records freely available via the Web promotes more efficient cataloging and helps ensure that library catalogs are part of the mix of information tools used by Web-conscious researchers."
Technical leadership for the VIAF project is shared by Edward T. O'Neill, a consulting research scientist with OCLC; Christina (Christel) Hengel-Dittrich, head of authority files at the DDB; and Barbara Tillett, chief of the Cataloging Policy and Support Office at the Library of Congress.
Tillett recalled, "I have devoted much of my 33-year career as a cataloging manager and theorist to the whole question of authority control—explaining why it is needed, making it more effective and seeking ways to provide it more efficiently. The arrival of the World Wide Web makes authority control on a global scale both feasible and essential. It is feasible because we can use the technology of the Web to link authority records from many sources for the same person or entity. This will preserve the cultural, national and regional perspectives of individual users worldwide and will also present the authority information consistently and efficiently. And global authority control is essential because for many information seekers, the Web is now their preferred information resource. But searching the Web can yield frustrating and even misleading results. We librarians know that introducing authority control to the World Wide Web will make it easier to navigate, improve the precision of searches, and provide explanations for inconsistencies and variations found in names and terms."
Authority control—the use of standardized terms and names—is the foundation of library catalogs. Since the name of an individual can appear in many different forms in various publications, expert catalogers establish a single authorized form of name for each individual appearing in a library's catalog. The authorized form is used for all occurrences of the person's name in the catalog, whether as an author, editor or subject; cross-references lead the catalog user from variant forms of the name to the established form. Authority control enables all publications that are authored by the same individual to be grouped together and retrieved in a single search.
The German and English-speaking library communities apply different rules to establish forms of personal names, with the result that an individual may have different established forms of name in the Library of Congress catalog and the DDB catalog. Tillett said, "Over the past decade or so, we in the international cataloging community have come to understand that differences in established forms are not necessarily bad. Seekers of information should be able to follow their own preferences for language, script and spelling when they search a library file. With the VIAF, a searcher at the Library of Congress will be able to learn, in a single Web search, the established forms of an author's name used by both the Library and DDB. Records in authority files include a wealth of additional information such as career details and dates of birth and death, and users will be able to view such information from both libraries' authority files."
Under the terms of the cooperative agreement, the project will proceed in four phases. In Phases One and Two, OCLC will use its proven matching algorithms and software to match and link the personal name authority records of the Library of Congress and DDB and will build a server for the linked authority files. This work will generate the initial VIAF. In Phase Three, OCLC will provide a continuing maintenance capability, based on Web metadata harvesting, to update the VIAF automatically when changes occur in the Library or DDB authority files. Phase Four of the project will construct an end-user interface that supports multilingual searching. The two national libraries will contribute staff resources for testing, evaluation and project management as well as their personal name authority records. The first phase of the project will be complete by the end of December 2004.
Susan R. Morris is the assistant to the director for cataloging.