22 December 2009

Names in Australian repositories: I'd say you want a revolution ...

Have you ever wondered how your colleagues manage the storage and display of author names in their repositories? Well, wonder no more! A few months ago the NicNames Project surveyed Australian repository managers to discover more about the way they store and display names in their repositories. The results are a snapshot of the metadata stored in Australian repositories, and we think they're really fascinating.

For starters, 50 percent of respondents say they record an author's name exactly as it appears on the publication:

Did you expect that? Given how many repository managers are librarians (and therefore schooled in authority control), plus how far we already distort our repositories to meet the requirements of ERA, I'm surprised that well under half of repository managers are not using either the HR name and/or another method of authority control.

Then again, perhaps that's because we only asked about the display of names in the repository. When we asked what other variants were being collected, the figures tipped a little:

Many people are wondering whether the NicNames Project is building a national authority file for researchers. My answer is no. That's a job for someone else. Our brief is to help you find practical ways to manage names in your repositories. And authority files are not practical for IRs. Here's why.

1. Think about what you need to build a traditional authority file. One of the first match points is date of birth. But it's generally not stored for authors in Australian repositories:

I'd love to know why. Is it that you feel it's inappropriate to record the date of birth for living people? Or would you like to record it but the data isn't available to more than 2 of you?

2. Between the absence of dates of birth and the increased trend towards recording authors' names as they appear on publications, it looks as though we're not storing much of what's expected for standard authority files. This sounds to me like resounding support for the idea that repositories are moving away from conventional attitudes of 'control' and 'authority' towards a more flexible idea of versions of names appearing within a particular context.

To give you an example, here's something that repositories store that other (more controlled) systems don't:

3. FORs may not be a perfect classification scheme, but they do provide a controlled vocabulary of Australasian research disciplines. And when they're read in conjunction with details about co-authors (recorded on every publication) and affiliation (recorded in over half of Australian repositories), they tell us a lot about a person's research identity.

And this may well be far more valuable to help us tell people apart in a scholarly publishing context than their dates of birth. Any thoughts, anyone?

'You say you got a real solution, well you know ... we'd all love to see the plan'
- Lennon/McCartney