Authority (information science)

Article

November 28, 2021

In information science, an authority (or authority record or form of authority) is used to unambiguously identify persons or other concepts, and to facilitate searching in library catalogs. An authority is made up of at least one retained form, "authoritative", hence its name, modeled on the original English expression, "authority control".

Origin and evolutions

The origin of the authorities goes back to library catalogs, first in the form of printed books, then in the form of cards (cf. catalogs on cards). In these two cases, the documents are generally accessible by three indexes: title, author and subject. The author and subject indexes in particular group together concepts that can adopt various names: “Molière / Poquelin, Jean-Baptiste”, “bicycle / bicycle”, etc. In order that all the documents of an author or a subject are filed in the same place in the drawers of the catalog for the user, cross references have been introduced. Thus, the person searching under "Poquelin" must find a note indicating that all the documents are under "Molière". In this way, this prevents the library from duplicating the bibliographic reference sheets in several places, which would pose management problems - the simple fact of having three indexes title, author and subject already implies repeating the same information three times. . With the computerization of systems and the emergence of library management systems (BMS) in the 1970s, this operation was first reproduced identically on virtual interfaces: in a computerized catalog, the user can leaf through specific indexes by formulating a search comprising only the first letters of the concept (eg: "poquelin j"), and see the list of all the persons, with an indication of the forms retained and the forms rejected (cross references). In the back-office, the authorities are managed within specific records by the librarians. Later, in the 2000s, advanced search functions, including search by index, were marginalized by the principle of the single search bar, following the success of the Google model. This can be explained in particular by the democratization of access to information research - a direct consequence of the democratization of the web - as well as the rise of search engines. The role of authorities in libraries is therefore tending to change: the different forms of a name, instead of being presented as references in the interface, are directly and automatically indexed to all bibliographic records linked to the authority. in question. In fact, it is no longer necessary to first find the right form of the name to access the documents: whatever form you are looking for, the documents are directly accessible. With the publication in 2017 of the Library Reference Model, the concept of authority has been completely revised according to an entity-relationship model. Persons, or other concepts related to bibliographic records, can be described like documents in full records (i.e. entities), and no longer only through accepted and rejected forms. A lot of additional information can be entered, such as a person's family members. These entities are identified above all by identifiers. The different forms of names are represented by means of the specific entity nomen.

Content of an authority

An authority consists in particular of the following elements: The chosen form, unique in the system and authoritative (mandatory). Example: “Molière (1622-1673)”. The rejected forms. Examples: “Poquelin, Jean-Baptiste (1622-1673)”, “Molière, Jean-Ba

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