Name Authority Challenges for Indexing and Abstracting Databases

Denise Beaubien Bennett, Priscilla Williams


Objective - This analysis explores alternative methods for managing author name changes in Indexing and Abstracting (I&A) databases. A searcher may retrieve incomplete or inaccurate results when the database provides no or faulty assistance in linking author name variations.

Methods -The article includes an analysis of current name authority practices in I&A databases and of selected research into name disambiguation models applied to authorship of articles.

Results - Several potential solutions are in production or in development. MathSciNet has developed an authority file. The method is largely machine-based but it involves time-consuming manual intervention that might not scale up to larger or multidisciplinary databases. The use of standard numbers for authors has been proposed. Solutions in practice include author-managed registration records and linking among several authority files. Information science and computer science researchers are developing models to automate processes for name disambiguation, shifting the focus from authority control to access control. Successful models use metadata beyond the author name alone, such as co-authors, author affiliation, journal name, or keywords. Social networks may provide additional data to support disambiguation models.

Conclusion - The traditional objective of name authority files is to determine precisely when name variations belong to the same individual. Manually-maintained authority files have served library catalogues reasonably well, but the burden of upkeep has made them ill-suited to managing the volume of items and authors in all but the smallest I&A databases. To meet the access needs of the 21st Century, both catalogues and I&A databases may need to implement options that present a high degree of probability that items have been authored by the same individual, rather than options that provide high precision with the expense of manual maintenance. Striving for name disambiguation rather than name authority control may become an attractive option for catalogues, I&A databases, and digital library collections.

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