I would like to present an idea to the catalogers assembled here.
A version of this message has already been posted to Autocat. I sincerely
apologize for any duplication, but I thought that this list would have a
high proportion of people actually doing name authority records and I did
want to make sure I got comments from PCC members and maybe reach some
that are not subscribed to Autocat.
Now that we are in a new century, it might be a good time to reconsider
how we use dates in name headings.
Right now AACR2 22.17 recommends using dates to distinguish identical
names, or, optionally, to include dates whenever they are known. LCRI
22.17 says to apply the optional provision, that is, add a date or dates
whenever they are known.
Both AACR2 and the LCRI make a distinction between names for persons who
are dead (or presumed dead) and persons who are living (or presumed
living) *at the time the name heading is created.* LCRI 22.17 is even more
explicit, making a distinction between "twentieth century persons" and
"pre-twentieth century persons." Now that we are moving into the
twenty-first century, I would like to reconsider the usefulness of this
First let us admit that we often don't really know who is living and who
is dead anyway. We are making assumptions. For example (these examples are
Smith, John, 1921-1988.
We know that this person was born in 1921 and died in 1988, so we include
both dates since they are known to us.
Carter, Sara, 1934-
We know that this person was born in 1934. That is all we know. And she
could still be alive (and was presumably alive close to the time her work
was published). So as a twentieth century person who could theoretically
still be alive, we use a dash.
Bell, Jim, b. 1855.
We know that this person was born in 1855. But that is all we know, and
since it is unlikely he is still alive, we say "b. 1855." But technically,
we don't know that he is dead, we just assume that it is so.
Gregory, Mary, d. 1981.
We know that this person died in 1981. We don't know when she was born,
but we do not say "-1981", we say "d. 1981" no matter what century she is
And it is LC's policy not to add birth or death dates to a name heading
already coded for AACR2.
In my opinion the use of the open-ended birth date creates a couple of
1. Catalog users (including other, non-cataloger librarians) expect these
dates to be biographically accurate, that is, when someone dies, they
think surely this information will be updated. The use of the hyphen
encourages people to think this way--the format is definitely misleading.
2. The original purpose of the distinction between b. DATE and DATE- (that
is, living vs. non-living persons) is lost as time goes on. In the not too
distant future we will no longer be able to presume that the "twentieth
century persons" LCRI 22.17 refers to can all be still alive. Headings
Vidmar, Josip, 1895-
Schmitt, Carl, 1888-
and so on, no longer represent living persons. Though their death dates
are known in these cases, they will not be added to the headings because
of present policy. And for the vast majority of names with open birth
dates, we will never run across the death dates.
I cannot imagine how catalogers would be able to systematically track all
names with open birth dates in order to research and supply the
individually appropriate death dates as they occurred. Adding death dates
does not count as a practical solution in my mind, unless we really intend
to systemically "kill off" a *significant* proportion of the
"bibliographically undead" (and assuming this can be achieved without a
lot of costly research effort).
However, as we continue to establish names over the years, we (and our
users) will know that it would be unlikely for persons to live to be 150,
200 years old and so on. Think what headings like "Jones, Mary, 1885- "
will look like in another 60 years! (Or even what "Brown, John, 1961- "
will look like 200 years from now.)
I would like to propose that maybe a change be made to AACR2 22.17. That
is, just as when only the death date is known, regardless of the century,
we use "d. DATE", we should also use "b. DATE" for cases where only the
birth date is known for whatever reason--because the person is still alive
(and therefore eventual death date is unknown), or because we don't have
the information about the death date, regardless of any presumption about
whether the person is still living. Since we know in most cases we will be
unable to go back and add a death date anyway, why use the open-ended dash?
Surely we expect to create a few more centuries' worth of name headings,
why continue using open birth dates? Maybe starting now, we should
establish new name headings with "b. DATE".
And while I would argue against adding death dates to open birth dates as
an incomplete/unpractical maintenance solution, changing "DATE-" to "b.
DATE" could be done automatically by a machine flip to retrospectively
"correct" headings already created with open birth dates.
What do people think? If it seems like there is some kind of consensus in
the cataloging community about the need for a change to 22.17 and how we
should change it, I would offer to write a rule change proposal to CC:DA.
Diana Brooking (206) 543-8405
Cataloging Librarian (206) 685-8782 fax
Suzzallo Library [log in to unmask]
University of Washington
Seattle WA 98195-2900