Cataloging & Classification Quarterly

Volume 26, Number 2 1998

Adding 856 Fields to Authority Records: Rationale and Implications

The 856 Electronic Location and Access field has already been extended from the Bibliographic to the Community Information and Classification Formats (1). The idea of also defining the field to the Authorities Format (2) came as an extension of the labor-saving technique of adding 530/856 fields to print-serial records, mentioning the existence of Internet equivalents.

In practical terms, we catalogers are expected to keep up with all the print-title cataloging customarily on our plates, plus take on electronic resources so that we stay relevant in the information community, all with no additional staff. In theoretical terms, when the definition of seriality is undergoing reexamination (3), it may make sense to bypass entirely the choice between a serial or monograph workform for an organization's web site.

If that site has been designed to represent the body as a whole, if it leads to many or all of the body's publications, one could equate the the site to a corporate author and then reasonably and simply add the corresponding 656 field to the authority record. In treating the site as yet another work by (and about) the body, the more time-consuming-to create bibliographic record may contain an empty title proper like "Welcome to the (name of organization]." The Library of Congress Home Page (4) has had several different title-screen titles, while the URL has remained constant.

It might seem at first thought that bibliographic records are better equipped than authority records to provide a subject approach to corporate web sites. For many organizational web sites, the primary subject heading on a bibliographic record would be the name of the body itself, something already contained in the 1XX field of the authority record. occasionally an additional topical heading is warranted. One can contemplate a subject heading reflecting the body's area of activity, and this is suitable in a bibliographic record, provided the topic is reported on in the work cataloged. Bibliographic records are not an appropriate place for topical headings reflecting the category the body exemplifies or the class to which it belongs (5). The Authorities Format already contains topic-to-name see-also references (fields 550, 551) that can be used, for example, to provide information on what hospitals exist in a certain locale.

Defining the 856 field to authority records will add one more technique of bibliographic control to the cataloger's repertoire. Nothing would preclude institutions from subsequently using a bibliographic record for the same web site, should they desire. This would be no more redundant or objectionable than the coexistence of a serial bibliographic record and a series authority record for the same entity.

URLs might become outdated, but if they are sitting in the same 856 fields as in bibliographic records, then the same link-maintenance software can operate on URLs in both sets of records. Since organizations pay money to reserve fairly mnemonic domain names, the URLs in authority records may have greater stability. The inclusion of more volatile and lengthy URLs in bibliographic records has not been seriously questioned.

Opening authority records to the 856 field will not increase the amount of time required by a cataloger to establish a heading. The 053 field is instructive here: to establish a personal author, one is not required to search to see if that field is applicable. Typically it is another cataloger, aware of the relationship to the classification schedule, who comes along later to add that field. Likewise with the 856: one would not be required to search for corporate web sites as part of establishing a corporate heading.

Mapping relationships is an appropriate role for authority records, Just as the 053 field in a personal name authority record provides users with the beginning portion of all the literary author's LC-based call numbers, the 856 fields on many corporate authority records will indicate the initial segment of all the hierarchically-based URLs associated with the body. The same principle governing inclusion of OS3 fields in subject authority records, namely the existence of a one-to one relationship, can guide the addition of URLs to authority records.

The subfield $3 could be used in 856 fields to point to supplementary material about the body, such as historical information or the latest mission statement for the body. Such access may be more efficient and cost-effective than selecting and inputting excerpts of the same data into the authority record's 678 field.

At least one library is already including URLs in its OPAC display of authority records. An author browse search on "Charleston (S. C. )"  produces a web display featuring clickable headings that can take a user to the bibliographic records totaled to the right of those headings. Sandwiched between a heading and the number of hits is the parenthesized word "about"; when clicked, the resulting public display of the authority record includes the URL for the body's web site, labeled "Electronic Access:" near the top of the screen.

These bibliographic control techniques, including use of subfield $3 and the 8S6's repeatability, appear to be equally applicable to all six types of authority records:

100 10 Van Buren, Abigail, $d 1918-                                                  (n81-103052)
856 4- $u

100 10 Russell, Bertrand, $d 1872-1970                                              (n79-56054)
856 4- $3 photograph

100 00 Leonardo, $c da Vinci, $d 1452-1519. $t Mona Lisa                   (sh89-4553)
856 4- $3 description
856 4- $3 image

110 20 Library of Congress. $b Copyright Office                                    (n79-117971)
856 4_ $u

111 20 International Conference on the Principles and Future Development of AACR
856 4_ $u

130 -0 Amistad (Motion picture)                                                            (n98-8359)
856 4_ $u

150 -0 Presidents' spouses $z United States                                      (sh85-106496)
856 4_ $u

151 -0 India                                                                                       (n80-125948)
856 4_ $3 map $u

When I have used public libraries that have completed retrospective conversion, the online catalogs contain the book and serial records together with the periodical article databases. Often missing is the vertical file material, and it is necessary to know where to find the few remaining card catalog drawers in order to access it.

The inclusion of 856 fields in authority records is a way to get many web equivalents to vertical file material into the OPAC. If a patron finds that all the books and serials on El Ninő in the local public library are checked out, s/he could always follow multiple links from the subject heading authority record to the library's recommended sites on the web. This technique can enable catalogers to provide more-timely access to topics of current interest. This expanded use of authority records opens up a lot of exciting possibilities for extending the reach of traditional bibliographic control efforts.

From time to time, administrators target cataloging activity for budget cuts. They typically see the essence of cataloging activity as being the bibliographic record and the spine label; the authority record is viewed as something tangential, that theoretically, indirectly contributes to bibliographic record quality through consistency in access points. If we added sufficient value to the authority records (turning them into to pseudo-bibliographic records if you will) and subsequently built up new constituencies for those records, among public services librarians and among public library patrons, maybe authority records would be perceived as integral to cataloging activity and finally be safe from the budget cutters!

John J. Riemer
Assistant Head of Cataloging
University of Georgia Libraries


I )  USMARC Format for Community Information, Including Guidelines for Content Designation. (Washington: Cataloging Distribution Service, Library of Congress, 1993- ) and USMARC Format for Classification Data, including Guidelines for Content Designation (Washington: Cataloging Distribution Service, Library of Congress, 1990- )
<URL: gopher://>
Jean Hirons and Crystal Graham, "Issues Related to Seriality" Paper presented at the International Conference on the Principles and Future Development of AACR, Toronto, Canada, Oct. 23-25, 1997. <URL:> 4<URL:>
CONSER Cataloging Manual (Washington: Library of Congress, Cataloging Distribution Service, 1993- ), 15.2.5.
Charleston County Library Catalog and Databases <URL:>

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