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Dates are of interest to us mainly because they're one of the few ways we're
allowed to differentiate one name heading from another. If we were able to
differentiate entities and their relationships to resources and to each
other without finding happenstance bits of information about them, then our
interest in birth dates might fade. I'm more interested in information that
would help me determine whether author X wrote resource Y, and in being able
to identify resource Y with author X uniquely, than I am in knowing when
author X was born.

What's really needed is the implementation of a distinguishing piece of data
that's always available (e.g., the LCCN) in a structured identifier so that
we no longer need to build undifferentiated personal name authorities for
persons we would happily distinguish if only we had a birth date, fuller
form, etc. Once the uniqueness of a person's authority record is switched to
a machine-processable identifier rather than the current name heading, that
identifier can be used more successfully to locate information about the
person via linked data stores--e.g., affiliation, other authored titles,
etc.--thereby making the decisions about who likely wrote what simpler.
Authority records could move from being sketchy, stand alone records that
often don't tell us enough for the decisions we need to make to being the
focus of a richer range of information drawn from disparate sources through
use of a unique, structured identifier.

We need to keep our eyes on the ball, and I don't think birth dates are the
ball.

Stephen


-- 
Stephen Hearn, Metadata Strategist
Technical Services, University Libraries
University of Minnesota
160 Wilson Library
309 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Ph: 612-625-2328
Fx: 612-625-3428