by Nicola Mantzaris, White House Photographs Metadata Cataloger
In May of this year, several colleagues began specialized training in name authority cataloging under the tutelage of Jerry Simmons from the National Archives and Records Administration’s Office of Innovation. Early instruction covered the basics of personal name cataloging in NARA’s Description and Authority Service (DAS), as well as core principles of the descriptive cataloging standard that we use, Resource Description and Access (RDA). Our most recent course, an immersion in MARC 21 coding for authority data, has set us on the path to creating new records for submission to the Library of Congress through their Name Authority Cooperative Program (NACO).
Archivists generate and maintain a vast amount of information about the individuals, families, and organizations that created or are referenced in the records in their holdings. Archival authority information constitutes an important part of that knowledge creation and management. At the Kennedy Library, authority work occurs on a regular basis as part of archival descriptive practice. Processing archivists and metadata catalogers contribute person, family, and organization name authority information to DAS – the centralized system through which description and authority records are created, edited, and stored – to be shared and reused by the NARA community. One of the objectives of the RDA and NACO training is to make NARA authority data accessible to the wider information services community. As we learn how to transform DAS records into approved NACO records for inclusion in the Library of Congress Name Authority File (LCNAF), we are helping to realize that goal.
At the time of this writing and following a period of review under Jerry Simmons, several of our NACO records have been published to the LCNAF. One such contribution is the personal name authority for Howard Wayne Warner, a young printing industry executive featured in the White House Photographs collection.
JFKWHP-AR7326-A. Presentation Ceremony of First White House Guide Book to President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
Mr. Warner (pictured left of President Kennedy in the photograph above) attended a ceremony at the White House on behalf of Judd & Detweiler, Inc., the Washington, D.C.-based printers of the first White House guide book: The White House: An Historic Guide. In a collection as large and as rich in information as the White House Photographs collection, Howard Wayne Warner represents just one of the many hundreds of people referenced in its photographs. Identifying and describing people in this collection provide both access to and information about the administration officials, members of Congress, foreign dignitaries, military officers, business leaders, religious figures, journalists, scientists, educators, artists, everyday citizens, and all the other individuals who shape the historical record of an American presidency. Read more about the ongoing digitization and cataloging of the White House Photographs collection here.
Authorities perform a variety of functions in an online digital collection environment. In the Kennedy Library digital archives, authorities establish the preferred form of an individual’s name for consistent use across archival descriptions. They are the standardized names that pop up in a drop-down list when typing in a keyword search.
Maintained as separate records, authorities are linked to various types of descriptive records (a digitized photograph, a folder of textual documents, or a collection’s finding aid) during the cataloging process. They facilitate the search, browse, and retrieval of meaningful results. Clicking on the person name authority for Warner, Howard Wayne, 1931-, for example, returns all of the material in which he appears. Authorities provide connections between different resources within the Kennedy Library’s holdings, capturing relationships among objects, people, and collections.
Apart from their operational value as access points, personal name authority records also contain detailed biographical descriptions, illuminating the broader contexts in which a person worked and lived. If we look at the NACO authority record for Mr. Warner, we can uncover more information about this particular person in President Kennedy’s orbit and identify productive connections beyond the photograph described in the Library’s digital collections.
The RDA descriptive standard uses new elements to provide a more flexible and dynamic framework for describing persons, families, and organizations. MARC coding is optimized for the linked data world, structuring source citation data to link out to finding aids and other archival materials. In the record above, expressed in both natural language and in MARC, we can connect Howard Wayne Warner to other organizations (University of Maryland at College Park), other collecting institutions and finding aids (Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum), to geographic places, areas of expertise, and occupations. We can also discover additional biographical information, including birth year, middle name, or alternate names by which he was known.
The NACO record for Mr. Warner is not extensive, but it demonstrates how archival authority data has the potential to open up new possibilities in access and research. Participation in RDA and NACO training will enable the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library to share authority information more efficiently and effectively while increasing exposure to our archival resources. Establishing a name authority can be a time-consuming task, especially when one does not already exist in authority files such as, LCNAF, DAS, or OCLC’s Virtual International Authority File (VIAF), and, more specifically, when creating a fully-formed NACO record. We will reap the benefits of pooling resources and expertise, not only for our users but also for the professionals that serve those users. Our training also sets the stage for incorporating many of these personal name authorities into the innovative research tool and international authority cooperative, SNAC (Social Networks and Archival Context Cooperative).
President Kennedy understood the virtues of knowledge sharing among information professionals. In July of 1963, he spoke to a group of international medical librarians in Washington for the Second International Congress on Medical Librarianship.
JFKWHP-ST-320-3-63. President John F. Kennedy Speaks to Delegates of the Second International Congress on Medical Librarianship.
In his remarks, the President recognized the challenges posed by an ever-expanding world of medical and scientific advancements, and that access to this knowledge could not be achieved without the diverse group of collaborators standing in front of him on the South Lawn. Click here to listen to the full remarks.
Collaborative authority work brings out the best in what archivists do, which has always been to support the discovery, use, and understanding of the records they collect and preserve. Archivists at the Kennedy Library look forward to completing the RDA and NACO training. In the spirit of improving access to shared knowledge, we will continue to add more records to the Library of Congress Name Authority File in the meantime.