ASSOCIATES (2005, July, v. 12, no. 1) -

*Chronology of Authority Control*


Frank Exner, Little Bear
North Carolina Central University


Authority control is a way of assuring a catalog’s maximum usefulness to both library staff and patrons. It is affected by such factors as how people communicate and the need for standardization. Throughout the history of librarianship, authority control has been practiced in different ways. This chronology describes some of the solutions found.


In 1936 Julia Pettee wrote that catalogs before 1674 were finding lists based on titles. The importance of authorship developed slowly, beginning at Oxford University‘s Bodleian Library which opened its first catalog to students in 1602. Manuscript catalogs were prepared in 1602, 1603, and 1604 and the printed catalog was published in 1605. It was organized first by university faculty (at Oxford there were faculties of arts, theology, medicine, and law), then by document size, and finally by author’s name (if known). The catalog had an index which gathered all keywords into an alphabetic list.

The next printed catalog, issued in 1620, was organized alphabetically by author name. Cross-references were made from any author names to their preferred forms to provide some authority-control-like bibliographic control. The next two editions of the Bodleian Library catalog were issued in 1674 and 1738. An author’s name and document title were paired to uniquely identify each document. New mechanisms supported both the finding and gathering (or collocating) functions (defined by Charles Ami Cutter in 1904). Finally, authors’ names were made individual, so that, with the title, the complete entry was unique.

Each author’s name was entered in direct order with the surname in capital letters (e.g., Claude FRANCIS). In cross-references the entry term was printed in italics. Frost said, “The vogue of Latinizing names, the use of pseudonyms, and the lack of orthographical standardization all contributed to problems of identifying an author’s name.” Authors with identical names (e.g., John SMITH) were made individual by adding descriptive titles (e.g., John SMITH, M.D. formerly of Brazen-Nose Coll. Oxon.). Titles, on the other hand, were “transcribed with considerable paraphrasing and abbreviation; description, rather than transcription, [was] very often the case.”

The next development in ways of providing authority control came in 1838 when Sir Anthony Panizzi published his Rules for the Compilation of the Catalogue (Panizzi, 1841). In 1985 Michael Carpenter said of Panizzi‘s rules, “all modern codes descend from them”.

Sixteen rules referred to the selection of what is now called an authorized name. Rule II (all of Panizzi’s rules were given Roman Numerals) told the cataloger to enter author’s name under his or her surname in the English alphabet (whatever the order of the alphabet in its original language). Then Rules III through XVII told catalogers how to form names that do not easily fit Rule II (e.g., titles of nobility or Ecclesiastical titles).

Sixteen rules defined cross-references and their formation. Rule LV sets the basic framework for the three kinds of cross-references in Panizzi’s system: name-to-name cross-references, name-to-book cross-references, and book-to-book cross-references.

Rules LVI through LXVIII specified when cross-references are needed (e.g., from titles of nobility). Rule LXIX prescribed the order in which cross-references should appear. And Rule XI added four more conditions when cross-references should be added (e.g., an author whose name changes).


The next cataloging code that advanced authority control was the fourth edition of Rules for a Dictionary Catalog (Cutter, 1904). This was the moment when authority control moved from ideas implied by a catalog code to a set of practices separate from the associated catalog code.

Charles Ami Cutter (1904) wrote that a dictionary catalog should be ordered alphabetically by authors’ name written in full form with a notation of the sources consulted and of the variations found. He said that this organization would minimize the effort required from the cataloger, and, as Larry Auld noted in 1982, there was a need for authority control if Cutter’s collocation function for the catalog was to be fulfilled.

Changes in authority control during the first three-quarters of the twentieth century occurred in catalog codes, catalog handbooks and manuals, and authority control automation.

The important twentieth century cataloguing codes influenced by Cutter were:

Authority control supports the cataloging; it is not an objective itself. So much of the literature on authority control is in cataloging handbooks and manuals that are written for specific libraries. Larry Auld lists the following examples:


Two important directions of authority control automation were the capability of networking among libraries and Machine Readable Cataloging (MARC) formats. Since 1982, much has been done to take advantage of computerization and make authority control a truly international effort. The most important agent is the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).

IFLA was founded in 1927 in Edinburgh, Scotland. One of its most important publications about personal name authority Control is Names Of Persons: National Usages for Entry in Catalogues, fourth edition (IFLA, 1996a). It is arranged alphabetically by national name and includes the description of the elements and proper organization of personal names found in national imprints, as defined by each country’s national bibliographic agency. Names of Persons: National Usages for Entries in Catalogs is so significant that it is referred to on page 419 of AACR2R as the authority for otherwise unspecified name forms.

International politics can add problems at the levels of national and international institutions. This inhibits name standardization. For example the entry for the United States of America in Names Of Persons: National Usages for Entry in Catalogues notes that most expected names are English or easily converted to an English-like appearance. In fact, the US entry refers to the English name section of the United Kingdom’s national entry and then gives three examples of names of foreign extraction (‘Bernard De Voto,’ ‘Christopher La Farge’, and ‘Mark Van Doren’). As an American, Bernard De Voto’s name is entered as ‘De Voto, Bernard’; had he been French the rules in the entry for France in Names Of Persons: National Usages for Entry in Catalogues say that his name should be entered as ‘Voto, Bernard De’. As an American, Mark Van Doren’s name is entered as ‘Van Doren, Mark’; had he been Dutch the rules in the entry for the Netherlands in Names Of Persons: National Usages for Entry in Catalogues say that his name should be entered as ‘Doren, Mark Van’. Apparently, an assumed part of the US entry is to Anglicize names of non-English extraction. Clearly, international bibliographic control needs a set of rules so that one person’s name will not be separated in various countries' catalogs.

An important effort to evaluate potential international authority control was Project AUTHOR funded by the European Commission. According to its final report, the project had to work with five different languages, five national cataloging codes, five MARC formats, and four bibliographic software packages.

As a result some of the subject national authority files did not include explanatory notes. Different national MARC formats handled the same headings differently. North American Indian personal names require explanatory notes more than other naming traditions. Names in non-Roman languages (e.g., Cyrillic) were transliterated differently in different countries. And some countries participating in Project AUTHOR maintained more than one national name authority file. Though Project AUTHOR involved European countries only, it pointed to the kind of problems that the practice of international authority control must resolve.


So why, you ask yourself, should I care? Because you are an important part of that wondrous institution called the library. We are one of the pillars of the public sphere. And it is incumbent on us to bring people together. Say that I go to the library with my daughter. I want a book about geometry in the nineteenth century, and she, being ten years old, wants a fun fantasy. I pick Charles Dodgson’s Euclid and His Modern Rivals; she picks Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. Dodgson and Carroll were the same person with two bibliographic identities. How should his works be cataloged?

That is the purpose of authority control: to allow diverse people with diverse needs to find information in one organized place. During the last four hundred years it has advanced from a glimmer in seventeenth century Oxford to future developments waiting to happen. And patrons have come from their various places to our collections and have left more informed. And that is a good thing.


Cutter, C.A. (1904). "Rules for a Dictionary Catalog: Selections." In Carpenter, M. & Sevonius, E. ed. Foundations of Cataloging.
Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1985.

Frost, C.O. The Bodleian Catalogs of 1674 and 1738: an Examination in the Light of Modern Cataloging Theory. The Library Quarterly, 46(3)(1976):248-270.

IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions). Names of Persons: National Usages for Entry in Catalogues (fourth revised and enlarged edition). Munich: K.G. Saur Verlag GmbH & Co., 1996.

Panizzi, A. (1841). "Rules for the Compilation of the Catalogue." In Carpenter, M. & Sevonius, E. ed. Foundations of Cataloging.
Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1985.

Pettee, J. (1936). The Development of Authorship Entry and the Formulation of Authorship Rules as Found in the Anglo-American Code. In
Carpenter, M. & Sevonius, E. ed. Foundations of Cataloging. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

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