Does GND define authoritative headings?

I already wrote about authority files. In that post I said about Integrated Authority File (GND) which is "operated cooperatively by the German National Library, all German-speaking library networks, the German Union Catalogue of Serials (ZDB) and numerous other institutions" (source):

In the Integrated Authority File a numeric ID (GND ID) is used to identify an authority record. Likewise, each bibliographic record that references this authority record uses the GND ID.

Furthermore, I would even say that this ID is kind of the authoritative "heading" that enables searching for resources about Princess Diana in every data base that uses GND. But a heading in the sense of an authoritative string that all GND users use to refer to Princess Diana does not exist.

On the verge of an edit war ;-)

In December 2013 I had already edited the Wikipedia entry on "Authority Control" to reflect this practice (Edit 1).

Wikipedia user Gymel (Thomas Berger) doesn't agree as you can see by his reverts of my changes (Edit 2, Edit 4 after I put the GND ID back in Edit 3). As this topic can hardly be discussed in Wikipedia commit messages I am writing this post to provide some evidence for my thinking in the hope that the Wikipedia entry will be corrected (once again) soon.

What are "headings", anyway?

Wikipedia says:

In library science, authority control is a process that organizes library catalog and bibliographic information by using a single, distinct name for each topic. The word authority in authority control derives from the idea that the names of people, places, things, and concepts are authorized, i.e., they are established in one particular form. These one-of-a-kind headings are applied consistently throughout the catalog, and work with other organizing data such as linkages and cross references.

In short, headings are authorized names that

  1. are applied consistently throughout the catalog and
  2. are used for linkages and cross references.

With regard to GND (and many other authority files), one would have to adjust point 1: As there is no one catalog GND is maintained for, it should rather read "applied consistently throughout catalogs". Accordingly, below I will have a look at many catalogs from different GND users to see whether there is consensus on one authoritative heading across these different catalogs.

With regard to Geman-speaking cataloging practice, I argue that

  1. no authoritative name strings exist that are applied across catalogs of all GND users, but authoritative strings may only exist within a single catalog
  2. linkages and cross references are exclusively managed by using the GND ID and not a string.


Below I am providing some evidence for the two points I made above.
Usage of different headings for presentation purposes

Taking our example Princess Diana (GND ID 118525123), I looked at several data sources to see which heading they use. Interestingly, you just have to look at different representations of the authority record from the German National Library (DNB) alone and will already find different headings in use:

The DNB-OPAC uses Diana, Wales, Prinzessin. We might think that this is the authoritative string. The GND RDF provided by DNB using the GND ontology defines both a "preferred name entity" and a "preferred name". We can already find a difference here – at least in punctuation:

        gndo:preferredNameEntityForThePerson [
            gndo:epithetGenericNameTitleOrTerritory "Wales, Prinzessin"^^<http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema#string> ;
            gndo:personalName "Diana"^^<http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema#string>
        ] ;
    gndo:preferredNameForThePerson "Diana <Wales, Prinzessin>"^^<http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema#string> .

Taking a look at the DNB-MARC, we can see that birth and death date sneak into the heading (I may be wrong here as I am not very familiar with MARC, really):

        <datafield tag="100" ind1="0" ind2=" ">
            <subfield code="a">Diana</subfield>
            <subfield code="c">Wales, Prinzessin</subfield>
            <subfield code="d">1961-1997</subfield>

We will also find headings for Princess Diana (GND ID 118525123) that include birth and death dates in data bases of other GND maintainers:

hbz union catalogue: Diana, Wales, Prinzessin, 1961-1997"

GBV union catalogue: Diana <Wales, Prinzessin> *1961-1997*

SWB union catalogue actually has two different headings: Diana, Wales, Prinzessin [1961-1997] and recorded as "Ansetzung Landesarchiv BW": Wales, Diana; Prinzessin; 1961 - 1997 | 118525123

Kalliope (for example this record): Diana <Wales, Princess> (1961-1997)

At last we have two entries that follow the different punctuation versions of the DNB.

HeBIS (e.g. this record): Diana, Wales, Prinzessin

BVB: Diana <Wales, Prinzessin>

Usage of GND IDs for linking

This should be clear to everyone that name strings aren't used for linking to GND entries. As example, I only point to the wide-spread practice of creating beacon files to point to ones catalogued resources on the basis of GND IDs: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:BEACON.


The Integrated Authority File (GND), operated cooperatively by a large group of libraries and library service centers in German-speaking countries, does not define authoritative name strings (= headings) to be used across the different catalogs of GND users.