identifiers and authority records

Authority files are rather important for unambiguously talking about a person, place or thing. In database lingo they essentially amount to a primary key for a table. Given the time and effort libraries spend in maintaining authority records and assigning control numbers to individuals it makes sense that a URI could be assigned to an individual in such authority files. I realize this idea is nothing new, but until recently I hadn’t seen it put into practice particularly well.

I imagine this has been there all along but I just noticed that OCLC’s Linked Authority File includes PURLs for authors now. For example the following URL contains a LCCN:

http://errol.oclc.org/laf/n79-7035

When you GET this your browser is automatically redirected with an HTTP 302 to:

http://alcme.oclc.org/laf/servlet/OAIHandler?
verb=GetRecord&metadataPrefix=oai_dc&identifier=n79-7035

which you’ll notice is a OAI-PMH request to fetch a DublinCore record with the identifier n79-7035:

<oai_dc:dc 
  xmlns:oai_dc="http://www.openarchives.org/OAI/2.0/oai_dc/" 
  xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance" 
  xmlns:dc="http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/" 
  xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.openarchives.org/OAI/2.0/oai_dc/ 
    http://openarchives.org/OAI/2.0/oai_dc.xsd">
  <dc:creator xmlns:rdf="http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#">
    Borges, Jorge Luis,--1899-
  </dc:creator>
  <dc:description xmlns:rdf="http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#">
    SuaÌrezLynch, B.--nnnc
  </dc:description>
</oai_dc:dc>

So now we know who this identifier is for, and the established heading for the individual. But it gets better (or worse depending on your perspective). Since this is an OAI-PMH server you can issue a ListMetadataFormats request to see what other flavors this record might be available in. If you do you’ll find out that this record is also available as marcxml in all its unholy glory (if you follow that link your browser will use a stylesheet to turn the raw xml into something a bit more presentable). Putting aside my snideness about MARC for a moment, this is a lot of useful data being made available.

You can also search the name authority file and get relevant PURLs via a SOAP/REST service. For example the irc bot panizzi in #code4lib actually has a bit of logic that allows it do lookups in the linked authority file:

06:56 < edsu> @naf borges, jorge
06:56 < panizzi> edsu: [20 matches] [~1] Borges, Jorge Luis, 1899- 
                 <http://errol.oclc.org/laf/n79-7035>; [~2] Macedo, Jorge 
                 Borges de. <http://errol.oclc.org/laf/n82-149895>; [~3] 
                 Borges, Jorge G. (Jorge Guillermo), 1874-1938 
                 <http://errol.oclc.org/laf/n90-681877>; [~4] Sua?rez Lynch, B.                  
                 <http://errol.oclc.org/laf/n82-21644>; [~5] Borges, Jorge 
                 Wheliton Miranda <http://errol.oclc.org/laf/n92-76758>; [~6] 
                 Canido Borges, Jorge Oscar (3 more messages)

All in all it’s an impressive mix of technology, standards and practice. It is not entirely clear to me how this work relates to the Virtual International Authority File. Perhaps LAF wasn’t considered a good acronym? If you are interested in such things Thom Hickey had a really interesting talk at Access2006 which has audio available.

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identifiers and authority records by Ed Summers, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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