Book Reviews

Ethical Questions in Name Authority Control. Jane Sandberg, ed. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press, 2019. 418p. Paper, $35.00 (ISBN 978-1-63400-054-3).


Name authority control represents a central activity of catalog professionals and is essential for the maintenance of library catalogs. It allows users to identify information resources and ensures the collocation of relevant search results. The process of determining the authorized form of a person’s name in a catalog has ethical implications and requires careful evaluation. Further, in recent years, the library community has been reframing authority work within a more comprehensive approach coined identity management. This move toward identities has led to a proliferation of pieces of personal information in authority records raising additional ethical concerns.

Ethical Questions in Name Authority Control is a collection of essays, case studies, and content analyses edited by Jane Sandberg. It represents “the first time that scholars have come together to look at multiple facets of name authority control with the goal of working toward an ethical framework” (2). The book is prefaced by a brief introduction by the editor and comprises 18 chapters grouped into five sections: “Part I: Self-Determination and Privacy,” “Part II: Impacts of Colonialism,” “Part III: Gender Variance and Transgender Identities,” “Part IV: Challenges to the Digital Scholarly Record,” and “Part V: Emancipatory Collaborations.” Each contribution contains footnotes and concludes with a bibliography of the works discussed. Biographical information about the contributors and an index can be found at the end of the book.

The four chapters of part I consider privacy issues that arise from describing individuals in authority records. In “‘My Zine Life Is My Private Life’: Reframing Authority Control from Detective Work to an Ethic of Care,” Violet B. Fox and Kelly Swickard discuss the tensions that exist between creators who do not want their legal names associated with their works and the current national guidelines that instruct catalogers to include real names in authority records. The authors introduce an ethics of care framework to authority work and propose that catalogers “be more mindful of the privacy and safety” of creators and think of them as persons and “not a piece of data that one is entitled to discover” (20).

In the next chapter, “Identity Theft: How Authority Control Undermines Women’s Agency,” Michelle M. Kazmer argues “that name authority control has a disproportionate effect in violating the privacy of women when compared with men” (35). The author discusses specific examples and describes the various ways in which authority control disrupts women’s identities. In chapters 3 and 4, Jennifer M. Martin and Thomas A. Whittaker, respectively, analyze the ethical implications of recording personal information such as birth dates and sexual orientation in name authority records.

Part II focuses on two persisting traces of colonialism in name authority files. The section opens with “This Is the Oppressor’s Language Yet I Need It to Talk to You: Native American Name Authorities at the University of Denver” by Erin Elzi and Katherine M. Crowe. The authors discuss examples of name authority related to tribal nations in the state of Colorado and propose structural changes in the representation of Native American names. The next chapter, “Cataloging Kurdistan: Imagining Liberated Geographies” by Heather K. Hughes, discusses how cataloging practices on Kurdistan and the Kurds reflect colonial subjecthood.

The first two chapters of part III present critical responses to the Program for Cooperative Cataloging Ad Hoc Task Group on Gender in Name Authority Records, which issued a report detailing best practices for recording gender in name authority records in 2016. In “Who Asked You? Consent, Self-Determination, and the Report of the PCC Ad Hoc Task Group on Gender in Name Authority Records,” Kalani Adolpho criticizes the report’s underlying “cisnormative understanding of gender” and makes a series of “recommendations designed to be inclusive of transgender and gender diverse peoples” (113). In “Free to Be… Only He or She: Overcoming Obstacles to Accurately Recording Gender Identity in a Highly-Gendered Language,” Ahava Cohen elaborates on the anglophone bias of the Task Group’s recommendations and discusses their limitations for gendered languages such as Hebrew.

In the following three chapters, Hale Polebaum-Freeman, Naomi Shiraishi, and Travis L. Wagner discuss transphobia, gender identity, and queerness in authority cataloging. The authors question the purpose of indiscriminately including information related to gender in name authority files and encourage catalogers to give ethical considerations priority over the information needs of catalog users.

The three chapters of part IV explore the opportunities and challenges that emerging technologies pose to authority control. In “From Personal to Corporate and from Names to Titles: The Challenges of Iranian Scholars with Scientific Publications,” Sholeh Arastoopoor and Fatemeh Ahmadinasab analyze the challenges of Iranian name authorities for indexing databases. Ruth Kitchin Tillman addresses, in her chapter “Barriers to Ethical Linked Data Name Authority Modeling,” some of the obstacles that exist within the current linked data environment. “The Tale of Three Service Types for Researcher Identifiers and the Ethical Implication on Access to Information and Representation of Authors” by Anchalee Punigabutra-Roberts represents a pilot study that analyzes and compares professional and self-registered services for researcher identifiers.

The final part of the volume consists of four chapters that offer practical solutions to some of the problems discussed in previous chapters and describes community-driven approaches to ethical name authority cataloging. In “What’s in a Name? Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia and the Impact of Names and Name Authorities in Archival Description,” Alexis A. Antracoli and Katy Rawdon introduce the work of the Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia (A4BLiP) group and the challenges of implementing inclusive and ethical name descriptions in archival descriptions. In the next chapter, “Authority Work as Outreach,” Tina Gross and Violet B. Fox recommend reframing authority work as a collaboration between librarians and the subject of authority records.

Carol Rigby and Riel Gallant present a case study that examines the decision of the Legislative Library of the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut to commit to a multilingual and multiscript library catalog to meet the needs of Inuit language speakers. The final chapter, “An Indigenous Global Perspective of Policy, Procedures and Best Practice” by Naomi R. Caldwell, discusses procedures and best practices for a global approach to indigenous name authority work.

This important and timely volume explores ethical issues related to name authority cataloging from a variety of different perspectives and offers a wealth of theoretical and practical insights. It succeeds in its stated goal to deepen readers’ understanding of names and identities in library catalogs. Most of the chapters contain technical references discussing at times in detail cataloging standards, such as RDA name authority instructions and MARC encoding rules. Thus, professionals who create name authorities in their daily work and students who aspire to become authority catalogers will find this encompassing volume of particular interest.—Danijela Matković, Yale University

Copyright Danijela Matković

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