I frequently contact authors to ask for information needed to complete their name authority record.
Before calling I try to exhaust all available published sources. At my library we use any published personal information we can find. We do not consider birth date, birth year, or full name information "private" and unusable if it has been published in a newspaper, directory, etc. The very definition of "published" means that the information is not private. (A directory distributed by an institution, organization, etc. only for its members and not intended for outside distribution is not quite the same, I realize. We do not encounter those items often.)
I prefer contacting an author by e-mail, but I have called as well. On occasion I have sent a written letter by regular post. In the latter cases I have always written on official university letterhead. In my initial contact I explain that I am a cataloger at University of Memphis, that I have been creating or updating records for a book that they have written, and that their name is confused with others of the same name on various library databases (i.e. our catalog and OCLC). I pre-empt concerns about information security by telling them that while we prefer to use birth year information, we understand that they may not want to give it. I explain that we can use middle name information, etc.
When I contact them I also take the time to ask several other important questions. I ask whether they have ever published under other names, and if they have ever used another name that they believe people might try to type into catalog author search boxes when looking for their works. If I have found bibliographic records on OCLC with headings that I think *might* be the same person as the person I've contacted, I explain that another person of their name wrote a book called such-and-such. I ask if they are the same person as the author of that book. This proves really interesting, as many times I find the author I've contacted happens to be same person as an author of the same name and of a work in a very different genre or on a very different subject. Conversely, I have had in hand bibliographic records of a book on nearly the same subject only for the person I've contacted to tell me something like "no, that's not me! Wow, there is another so-and-so writing on that topic? Wow...but, no, that's not me....."
I also ask if there is a particular way they wish their name to appear. I do this because I recall from NACO training materials that "author's preference" trumps cataloging rules. I tell them how their name will appear according to the cataloging rules, and ask if that is OK. (I assiduously avoid mention of the details of AACR2 and LCRI and just say something like "it would appear as such-and-such if I just do it the way we'd normally do it.") Almost all authors I've contacted have no problem with their AACR2/LCRI form of name. On occasion an author will say something like "oh, I've always disliked my real first name, I never use it. Can you use my first initial plus my middle name?" Sometimes this creates additional conflicts to resolve when making the NAR, but the person has usually given me information needed to resolve them by that point.
I have never had an author refuse to give information. Occasionally an author who did not respond to one form of communication will respond to another; in none of those cases did they even hint that they felt intruded upon when I finally did get ahold of them. One author did give a birth year and then call the next day to say she had security concerns, but we had a middle name to use so it was fine. She was in fact quite helpful in identifying other works she had and had now written.
We have had only one case in which personal security was a major issue. An author contacted several times to request that the form of name be changed on the bibliographic record for a thesis she completed at our institution. She explained that she had been threatened and stalked by a potential assailant. She preferred a form of name on WorldCat using just initials and surname. There were no conflicts, so we set up the NAR in the form she preferred. I included a note in the 670 for the personal communication with her that "author prefers first and middle name do not appear on heading." She also asked that no reference be made from the form with the first and middle name. I explained to the author that the first and middle name would still appear in the NAR itself (in the 670 for the original thesis, which cited the form on the title page.) I explained also that technically that NAR was publicly available in the LCNAF. The author nevertheless said her security concerns were satisfied if the first and middle names were just off the bibliographic record and no reference made from them. So we set up the NAR as described.
I have also called the offices of non-government and government corporate bodies to learn about the histories of their names. Even with busy corporations I have always gotten a helpful response. On one occasion (a major architectural firm) I got shuffled around until the corporate lawyer came on the phone. He proceeded with quite good cheer to detail all the instantiations of the company's name that had appeared on documents they issued. The 670 and 675s were a little complicated on that NAR, but the work did result in cleaning up a good slew of bibliographic records on OCLC. Government bodies also raise some interesting cases. We have done a good bit of work on Tennessee state government agency names here. The major state agency names and name changes are documented in the Tennessee Blue Book, or in the statute or executive order that created them. It is usually the divisions or sections that cause the most trouble. Those are the ones I usually have to call. Oftentimes the office manager will have to track down some old-timer who has been there for 30 years and remembers when they stopped putting one name on documents and started putting another name on them. Once or twice a director, office manager, etc. has admitted that they never have been clear on their official name! In that case, I just ask them for the best information they can give on forms of names that they've used on documents their body issued.
Most individuals and representatives of organizations understand that we are trying to increase access to information resources and are happy to help. The greatest lesson for me as a NACO Cataloger has been to realize that two authors of the same name who I would have bet money were different people turn out to be the same person more often than I would have ever guessed. The experience of contacting authors has really changed how I scrutinize conflicts and potential conflicts when searching the OCLC bibliographic file. Yet when the work ends up collocating an author's publications in a way that could not have been achieved without it, we believe it worthwhile and in concert with the objectives of our catalog and the NACO program.
Mark H. Danley, Ph.D.
Catalog Librarian/Assistant Professor
University of Memphis
126 Ned R. McWherter Library
Memphis, TN 38152-3250
From: Program for Cooperative Cataloging [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Adam L. Schiff
Sent: Wednesday, August 06, 2008 12:45 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: [PCCLIST] Asking people for personal information
I haven't made a phone call to someone to ask for dates or middle names in
many years, but I wouldn't hesitate to if I had the phone number and
couldn't find an email. I have called publishers (or state agencies) a
few times when I couldn't get a direct phone number. Mostly of course, I
use email. Even if the author's email isn't on their publication, it's
usually not difficult to find one for them on the Web, particularly those
at government agencies and academic institutions.
Like Bob Maxwell, I've never been turned down when I explain who I am,
what it is I'm cataloging of theirs, the fact that I need further
information to distinguish them from someone else with the same name (and
I confirm that they really are not the same person who wrote on the other
topic), and that the data will go into an international shared database
that libraries use. They are almost always forthcoming with a date
(sometimes just the year, sometimes the complete date, that's up to them)
and/or their full name. And it's surprising to me how many people DON'T
have middle names!
I almost always email back to thank them and point them to our OPAC to see
how their name now appears once I've finished cataloging their resource.
Like others have said, most authors are very happy to provide the
additional information. I can't remember anyone refusing to help, even
state agency employees (maybe Washington State employees have a different
attitude than New York State ones?).
Adam L. Schiff
University of Washington Libraries
Seattle, WA 98195-2900
(206) 685-8782 fax
[log in to unmask]
On Wed, 6 Aug 2008, Robert Maxwell wrote:
> I have approached authors by e-mail many many times asking for birth dates and/or middle names and have NEVER been turned down, and have never been accused of running a identity theft ring-even in New York :-) Most authors are flattered to know that their book is being cataloged in an international database and if you explain why you need the information, people are forthcoming. I usually explain that when we catalog a book (or whatever it is the person produced) we like to make access points in the record for names of all significant persons, but in order to do that the name must be unique (not identical to anyone else's already in the database). Then I say that there is unfortunately already another Jacob Smith in the database and so we need to make the person-I'm-writing's form different, and that we usually do this by adding a birth year or middle name. Most authors are familiar with the way names appear in library and other databases, and so this request is not thought inappropriate. At least nobody has refused to help me yet, much less got mad at me. So please do not hesitate to contact people for information.
> Robert L. Maxwell
> Head, Special Collections and Metadata Catalog Dept.
> 6728 Harold B. Lee Library
> Brigham Young University
> Provo, UT 84602
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Program for Cooperative Cataloging [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Whitsitt, Kathleen S
> Sent: Wednesday, August 06, 2008 7:15 AM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: Consulting the Collective wisdom (Levity)
> This kind of touches on an issue I've been wondering about. I am just
> now learning how to make NARs as a Texas NACO Funnel participant. I
> have not approached any authors for personal information as yet. I'm
> very hesitant to do so, and don't have a clue as to the best approach.
> Do you just introduce yourself as a PCC cataloger, and explain the need
> for additional personal information in bibliographic databases? And do
> people understand what any of that means? Do catalogers usually consult
> with the legal departments of their institutions for policy
> clarifications on requesting personal information from people this way?
> Personally, I would be very wary of anyone calling or emailing me for
> personal information, if I didn't fully understand why it was needed.
> It would be good to hear any guidelines or advise about that.
> Kathleen Whitsitt
> Authority Control Librarian
> Automated Library Services
> Lone Star College System
> 5000 Research Forest Drive
> The Woodlands, Texas 77381-4356
> 832.813.6614 (fax)
> [log in to unmask]