Authority work

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Authority work is a generic term describing the work done by librarians individually and cooperatively, to establish Authority control over names, geographic entities, subject headings, and uniform titles. It is considered by some professionals to be one of the most time consuming tasks for a library cataloger and is not undertaken without careful deliberation.

In the normal workflow of original cataloging as well as copy cataloging, author names are consistently checked against national and local authority records to confirm a unique match. If the work in hand contains a name not found already existing in the authority record, Authority work is in order to create a new Name Authority Record (NAR) and submit it to a higher authority, usually Library of Congress, for review. Even if a matching name is found, the cataloger must ensure that the individual named in the existing authority record really is the same individual mentioned in the work in hand. If the cataloger has reason to suspect that there is a conflict (identical names refering to two distinct individuals), then Authority work is called for yet again to resolve the conflict and make two unique and distinct Name Authority Records for the two distinct individuals, either by determining author preference, adding birth and/or death dates, if known, etc.

In all Authority work, usage is normally key; in other words, the work-in-hand. But, in the case of Name Authority work for personal names, Author preference trumps all other considerations, even usage. This is ascertained either by email or telephone conversation, initiated by the cataloger if necessary. Some authors will volunteer this information, but most often it is incumbent on the cataloger to contact the author in the event of a conflict where resolution is needed.

Authority work is most often a collaborative enterprise. The Library of Congress directs the Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC), which has a Name Authority COmponent (NACO) to coordinate Authority work between all NACO participants. New authority records and changes to existing NARs approved by Library of Congress are shared with OCLC and RLIN and the British Library within 24 hours.