Contacting people for authority control

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This page contains some boilerplate text for contacting individuals during authority work. Personal communication is a valid source of information for authority records, and is cited in a 670 field, as with print and electronic sources.

While authors, actors, and other people you may contact for authority work will likely appreciate attempts to credit their work, they may also be wary of divulging personal information. By briefly explaining the importance of authority control, without the use of library jargon, these fears may be allayed. Contacting an individual is a good way to break conflicts with similar names after referring to other sources, or to settle conflicting information.

Sample text

I am a cataloger at the Folger Shakespeare Library [if cataloging a specific work, perhaps refer to it here]. Part of my work involves making sure our catalog can distinguish between different authors with similar or identical names; our library does this in cooperation with the Library of Congress and other libraries around the world. In order to distinguish your name, would you be willing to share your year of birth [or any other information needed]? This is probably the most common way of distinguishing names.

Thank you for your time, and please let me know if you have any concerns.

Other considerations

As necessary, modify the above text to suit your needs. If you already have a year of birth or could work with something else, like a fuller form of name, ask for that--maybe an either/or approach.

In those rare cases where you have multiple people with the same name and birth year, it might be worth mentioning this ("Actually, the database already contains a record for someone else named Jane Johnson born in 1962"). Otherwise, asking for a full birth date is probably not necessary and may make the person wary.

You may also be trying to identify the person with an existing authority record, in which case you can ask a question like, "Are you the same John Smith who wrote Book Title?" Do this if in doubt, as this will prevent duplication in the authority file.

Finally, especially under RDA, there's all sorts of information a person could give you about themselves that would enrich a record, such as associated places. Avoid asking for more information than you need to break a conflict, however. Authority control is important, but there's no need to take more of the person's time than is necessary, nor to make publicly available more information than they're comfortable divulging.