The Future of Access Points

Authorized access point — Here’s where we REALLY get to the fun stuff! You’ll note that in current RDA/MARC authority records there is no separation between the preferred title and the authorized access point.

I said this in an earlier post — and I thought it was worth expanding on. This is that expansion.


As I continue to RIMMF my way along through comicbook-land, and as I continue to create name authority records in the Hebraica NACO funnel, I am also continuing to make access points.

Authorized access points (AAP) and variant access points (VAP) serve important roles in our bibliographic retrieval systems, so we should talk about them.

What are we even doing again?

It’s crucial that we (as catalogers and also the people who design our systems) think about what the heck we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. Why do we have AAPs?

A brief answer:

We have AAPs so that we can uniquely identify Agents (people/families/corporate bodies) Resources (works/expressions/manifestations/items) and Subjects. Furthermore we have them to serve as human-readable (and understandable) names for those same Agents, Resources, and Subjects.

Notice that that’s two entirely unrelated things that our current AAPs are supposed to be doing. Uniqueness, and human understandability are different!

Of course, it’s because card catalog.

(I’m trying to turn that into a stock phrase to represent why we do so much of what we do)

The Library of Congress has always recognized that we’re attempting to serve two masters and that using the strings as the unique identifier wasn’t ideal. That’s why every name authority record (NAR) has a unique ID in the 010 field in addition to the string found in the 1XX field.

So how will we decouple these in the future?

The AAP of Tomorrow

Some of this is based on what I heard Gordon Dunshire say at the RIMMF-a-Thon at ALA Annual. Some it is my own pie-in-the-sky guessing.

  1. The AAP of tomorrow will not be carried in the same field as Preferred name of the person, or Preferred title of the work. These are separate elements from the AAP and will be treated as such.
  2. While current instructions for RDA do provide guidance (some tighter than others) on creation of AAPs, it won’t always do that. It will provide guidance on the construction of each potential piece of an AAP, the preferred name/title, significant dates, form/content types, etc. But the construction of the AAP itself will be left to the application profile of your local system.

Let me say #2 again in more/different words because it is so crucial.

RDA (or whatever content standard we’ll be using) will help you identify and record elements in authority records

  • Names
  • Dates
  • Forms
  • Everything

But the unique identifier that you will not have to look at or even care about will be system generated. Since it will be unique, the AAPs will not have to be, and we will use our best judgement (helped along by well-vetted research as to what patrons find useful) to make the authorized access point for display.

Whatever link is generated for patrons to click to collate all the resources associated with that person, it will be based on that unchanging unique identifier, whether the text they click on says

  • Jackson, Michael, 1958-2009
  • Michael Jackson (Singer)
  • Michael Jackson, and there’s a picture of him next to the name

Should be left to what patrons find useful. The requirement “add X element to the AAP if necessary to distinguish” will be irrelevant because no element will be necessary to distinguish – -the unique identifier will do that.

What we’re going to do as future catalogers will be to record as much data as we can about agents and resource and provide identifiers for those agents/resources from other systems if they exist.


The Implication

I can see that some of you have already realized the implications. But I’m going to spell it out anyway.

Variant access points won’t exist.

Okay okay, maybe that’s taking it too far. But return to the questions above — why do we have VAPs? What purpose are they intended to serve?

VAPs provide alternative entry into the catalog for when an agent or resource is known by another name.

Well again, as above — RDA (or whichever content standard) will provide guidance on how to identify and record variant names and titles.

That’s it. That’s all you have to do!

Because there no longer will be the notion of a single authorized access point, thou shalt not have any other access points before me — there aren’t tiers of them either.

Systems (either local or shared) will generate access points for display and can generate hundreds or thousands hidden access points which can be matched on in case a patron searches differently than you expect. They are all equal to one another — and none have to be created individually by you, the cataloger.


Pretty cool, right?


2 thoughts on “The Future of Access Points

  1. Alternatively, out of one there shall be many: individual libraries/institutions,possibly even an individual person, may use the potential of graphic databases to locally re-designate the “authorized” access point to one that suits them better, a la VIAF. As long as we’re stepping away from card catalog toward that pie in the bibliographic sky, why not step big?


  2. Absolutely! say you login to your library account as a patron, in your settings you could set up your own application profile for how *you* like names.



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