What's in a name? - and how you can help
18 January 2012
If you’ve ever tried Googling your name, and it happens to be something like John Williams, then you’ll know how frustrating that can be. Millions of results and no easy way to distinguish John Williams the guitarist from every other John Williams out there, both contemporary and historic figures. Useless! Well, librarians have been coping with this problem for ages, long before the days of the Internet, and we came up with a solution years ago. We call it “authority control”. No it’s not some totalitarian gang of librarians laying down the law, just our way of calmly bringing some order out of chaos, distinguishing between different people and making sure that their creative endeavours and also works about them are correctly attributed. So, how do we do this? Well, if we have two authors with the same name, but who are obviously different (they write about different topics and/or their works are from different time periods) then we look for a way of identifying them – what we call “qualifying information”. It may be their dates of birth/death, or their middle names, or if we can’t find these we might use the dates when they were actively publishing (what we call “flourish dates”, abbreviated as fl.) or if we can’t find any of these we can also use their profession, (e.g. photographer, engraver, merchant, zine creator), or even their place of residence. Here are just a few examples of people called John Williams from our authority file:
Librarians also have a way of dealing with people who have several names, or nicknames so we can link them all together. We settle on one as the preferred form of the name and then put in what we call “see references” to direct you from other variations back to the favoured form. For example, you might have heard of Lawrence of Arabia, but his real name was Thomas Edward Lawrence. Has much less flair, but is rather more accurate! Here is our reference for him:
So, that’s all very well, but what if we can’t even find the author’s name? Sometimes we have to create a catalogue record that doesn't include an author, just the title and other publication details. But we do make a real effort to try and find the person responsible, however this is often a challenge for zines! If there is an email address then we may try sending a message asking for information. Please don't be alarmed! We are not trying to breach your privacy, merely attempting to ensure that your work is correctly recognised. We've catalogued a number of "anonymous" zines recently and would love to know the creator's name. For example, Squeaky sneakers, Zinelove, Lark, Valet of the dolls, Well balanced and friendly. If you are the zinester responsible, or if anyone else knows who they are, please tell us so that we can update our records and give the creator the credit they deserve!