It occurs to me that I didn’t do a great job of defining authority records previously–and even though a lot of what I do as a music cataloger is incomprehensible to non-catalogers, I thought I would record here a quote from Jean Harden’s Music Description and Access: Solving the Puzzle of Cataloging:
“…information about the work, expression, person, or corporate body appears in both bibliographic or authority records. The authority record carries the description of the entity.”
That is to say, if a person or work (or expression, or corporate body, or subject…) has an authority record, there is (or should be) enough information in that record for another user to identify that person or work. For instance, I was just handling a work by composer David Ward-Steinman. His authority record lets me know that he is a composer, a college teacher, a pianist, and an author. It also records where that information came from, and who created the record, related places, gender, language, and other information. Since Ward-Steinman is an uncommon name, I probably didn’t need all off these details, but any John Smith would have pages of names (distinguished primarily by dates) to sort through.
By creating an index of authority records, we can aggregate works by creator or title or even subject matter. What is interesting about this phenomenon is that the way we can use authority records depends in some respects on how we access it. Obviously cataloging a record in OCLC or WorkFlows is different than searching a record in IUCAT (and I wouldn’t expect most IUCAT users to understand what an authority record is anyhow). In IUCAT, clicking on a hyperlinked (that is, authorized) name, title, or subject will bring up a new search featuring results of other authorized versions of that name, title, or subject. In OCLC, clicking on that authorized name (or any other authorized access point) brings me to the appropriate authority record, where I can see (and use) the information there.
Anyways–authority records, am I right?