Historically, libraries have focused not only on building collections, but on creating a means of describing these resources to make them discoverable and useful. Over time, cataloguing – or, more broadly, metadata creation – has been standardized in various structured ways to ensure consistency at a local level and the ability to easily share resource descriptions among institutions. Within these structures, authority control functions as a key component for usability by enabling optimal search and retrieval of relevant resources by users. Simply defined, authority control is the process of identifying a single preferred or ‘authorized’ format of a value that should be used in place of alternative spellings or synonyms to create consistent entries. There are a number of areas in which authority control is important for libraries, including subjects, locations and names of organizations, events and persons.
Name authority tends to pose a particular problem, because a metadata creator may need additional information associated with an authority heading to determine whether a name applies (particularly in the case of multiple persons with similar names). This may require a separate database of authority entries with contextual information, rather than a list of authorized terms or thesaurus, which are sufficient for some forms of authority control. Tillett (1989) notes that authority work generally involves research of names as well as documenting information in a name authority file such as ‘the authority data of preferred form, variants, history, scope, and links to other authority records.’ A number of initiatives in the library environment, both historically and in the present, have attempted to generate and share name authority records, and to address the challenge of keeping these systems up to date and relevant. Typically national libraries throughout the world take responsibility for names that are important to their national domain, including authors and organizations from their country that create resources of interest to their users. In the USA, this work has been carried out for decades by the Library of Congress (LOC) with their Name Authority File (LCNAF). Containing over eight million records, this dataset comprises names of people and organizations that appear in the LOC catalogue. In the past decade there has been an asserted effort to move