Treatment of Authority Records for Undifferentiated Names under RDA

ANSS Subject and Bibliographic Access Committee
Question/Answer on cataloging issues – July 2014

By Isabel del Carmen Quintana, Harvard University

Question:  How are authority records for undifferentiated names treated differently now that the national authority file is committed to RDA?


RDA, Resource Description and Access, is the new set of cataloging rules being adopted by most US Libraries. The US national libraries have all adopted RDA, and our national authority file is currently being converted to RDA.

The move to a new cataloging code and the needs to reassess our authority records for personal names, has led to a discussion and new guidelines as of February 20th, 2014.

In the past we were allowed to create what we called “undifferentiated” personal name authority records. These were authority records for multiple persons, and we created them when we had no other information to distinguish two people with the exact same name.

For example, there are many authority records that look like this:
100 Taylor, Elizabeth
670 [Added entry for Directory of art & antique restoration]
670 Porter, A. Direct. of art & antique restor., 1975? (a.e.) ǂb t.p. (Elizabeth Taylor)
670 [Joint author of Watcham’s Office practice]
670 Watcham, M. Watcham’s Office practice, c1979- (a.e.) ǂb CIP galley t.p. (Elizabeth Taylor, Cert. Ed.)
670 [Author of Kings Caple in Archenfield]
670 Kings Caple in Archenfield, 1997: ǂb t.p. (Elizabeth Taylor) BL AL sent 21 Sept. 1998
675 WW in art., 1977; ǂa Women artists in Amer., 1973; ǂa Int. direct. of arts, 1979-80; ǂa Amer. art direct., 1978; ǂa WW in educ., 1974.

This authority record covers three distinct people. In AACR2 we could, in most cases, only use a fuller form of name (for example a middle name) or a birth or death date to create a unique authority record. Therefore, we were forced to create these undifferentiated authority records in many cases.

In RDA we are technically still allowed to create undifferentiated name authority records, however we are now allowed to use many other factors to create a unique name. For example, we can now use a profession or occupation, a period of activity, or an “other designation” to make each entity unique. Therefore, in February of 2014 the Program for Cooperative Cataloging, PCC, issued guidelines instructing catalogers to always make a differentiated, unique authority record for each person.

Here are a few examples of RDA name authority records qualified by various factors.

A name with a profession used to make it unique:
100 M’Donald, A. ǂc (Surveyor)
4001 Mac Donald, A. ǂc (Surveyor)
4001 McDonald, A. ǂc (Surveyor)
670 His An essay upon raising and dressing of flax and hemp, and winning their seeds, &c., 1784: ǂb t.p. (A. M’Donald, surveyor, raiser, and dresser of flax)
670 MdU/G-K files ǂb (hdgs.: McDonald, A.; Mac Donald, A., surveyor)

A name with a period of activity to make it unique:
100 Johnston, Anne, ǂd active 2012
670 Pioneer among the gum trees, 2012: ǂb t.p. (Anne Johnston)

A few names with any other data to make them unique:
100 Adams, Chris ǂc (Writer on local history)
370 ǂc Great Britain ǂc England ǂf Nottinghamshire (England) ǂ2 naf
372 Local history ǂ2 lcsh
374 Authors ǂ2 lcsh
375 not known
377 eng
670 301 amazing, rare, funny Nottinghamshire facts, 2012: ǂb t.p. (Chris Adams)

100 Anderson, Eric ǂc (Author at Cheng & Tsui (Firm))
372 Writing
373 Cheng & Tsui (Firm)
374 Author
375 male
377 chi
670 Anderson, Eric. You and I, c2013 : ǂb p. 2 of cover (Eric Anderson) p. 2 of cover (Cheng & Tsui)

100 Bishop, John ǂc (Author of A journey along the national trails of England and Wales)
372 Hiking ǂ2 lcsh
375 male
377 eng
667 Previously on undifferentiated record: n 77000433
670 A journey along the Grand Union Canal, c2009: ǂb t.p. (John Bishop) p. iii (aged 50 in 1998; his wife, Barbara Bishop, illustrated the book with paintings of waterfowl)
670 Bishop, John. A journey along the national trails of England and Wales, 2013: ǂb title page (John Bishop) page iii (after a long career in business had to retire in 1998 at the age of 50; does regular long-distance treks; lives in the Chiltern Hills)

As you can see, since a cataloger can now use any additional data to make an entry unique, there is no need to continue to make undifferentiated headings.

In fact, one of the goals is to have unique identifiers and unique authority records for each entity as we moved away from MARC, and into a cataloging schema that will utilize linked data to connect an author to his/her work.

So what will happen with all of those undifferentiated records that we created in the past?

As catalogers create new bibliographic records for some of these names, the cataloger may create a new authority record for the entity that was previously on an undifferentiated authority record. This is exactly what happened in the John Bishop example above. The 667 has a note “Previously on undifferentiated record: n 77000433.” This 667 note will always be added when a name has been removed from a previously undifferentiated authority record.

Of course, this will correct some but not all of these. There will probably be some concentrated effort in the future to clear up the remaining undifferentiated headings. However this has not yet been decided, since there is still much work to be done to the millions of others records in the authority file to bring them up to RDA guidelines.

That being said, we are moving in the right direction, in as much as new authority records must each be unique since February 2014. This is not only helpful to the patron, who will be able to easily identify his desired author from a list of authors, but also helpful to staff who need to identify who is the correct author for a work.

For example here is a part of the index currently under “Taylor, Gary:”
Taylor, Gary
Taylor, Gary, 1931-
Taylor, Gary, 1945-
Taylor, Gary (Rock music fan)
Taylor, Gary (Teacher)
Taylor, Gary (Vocalist)

In closing, it is important to remember that RDA authority records may also contain additional coded information that can be used by patrons and staff to select the correct entry. The fields that start with 37- in the authority records above all contain information relating to that entity. This information can include their gender, where they work, where they live, what is their field of activity, etc. This information will be valuable in order to identify entities with common names.

In the near future we will hopefully be able to reap some of the benefits of the changes that RDA has enabled in authority records