Why is Authority Control Important?

Why is Authority Control Important?

A basic definition of Authority Control is the process used to maintain consistency in access points and the process of showing the relationships among names, subjects, and works.

Some basic goals of authority control go back to Charles Cutter’s goals for a library catalog:

  • To enable a person to find a book
  • To show what a library has in its collection
  • To assist patrons in their choice of a book

Using Cutter’s goals for a catalog, we can go further by saying that the purposes of authority control are to help patrons:

  • find an item from known information
  • identify an item with limited information
  • collocate items using a controlled vocabulary
  • evaluate and select an item
  • locate synonyms to aid subject searching

To achieve these goals, authority records need to bring together related terms for the specific name, subject, or work.   Many times, the name of a person, place, or thing is constantly changing.  For example, the artist currently known as “Diddy” has had several name changes over the years.  Without a current authority record, a patron may not be able to find all of the items by this artist if they are searching on his former name of Sean Combs.  With the following authority record, the patron would be able to search for any of the artist’s former names and find all relevant items.

010 $a no 97057848

100 $a Diddy, $d 1969-

400 $a Puff Daddy, $d 1969-

400 $a P. Diddy, $d 1969-

400 $a Combs, Sean, $d 1969-

400 $a Combs, Puffy, $d 1969-

400 $a Puffy, $d 1969-

400 $a Diddy, P., $d 1969-

400 $a Combs, $d 1969-

400 $a Combs, Diddy, $d 1969-

Authority control is also important when a well-known name has been translated into several different languages.  For instance, the authority record for William Shakespeare has ninety-seven alternate forms of his name translated into multiple languages.

In order to increase access for the library’s patrons, it is important to use authority control to standardize the forms of search terms and increase the likelihood that the search will return the items that the patron desires.


Taylor, A. G., & Joudrey, D. N. (2009). The Organization of Information (3rd ed.). Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited.


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