Sunday, March 13th, 2011

LC AuthoritiesThing: Permanent links to LC Authority records

Library catalogs are notorious for their URL structure. More than a decade after the rest of the web decided on solid, permanent links, most library systems continue to generate ephemeral, usually session-based ones. Sometimes catalogs have a syntax for permanent links, but they’re a special, added feature.

The problem is at its worst with the Library of Congress Authorities system, used by catalogers and librarians the world over. The core of authority control is a stable identifier, in this case the LCCN, but the LC Authorities catalog can neither be searched by nor linked to by that identifier. No matter what URL you find, it dies when the session dies. You can’t even link to searches. What ought to be a rock is a puff of smoke.

The problem was been solved for Subject Authority files when the Library of Congress released the Authorities and Vocabularies website, which allows linking to subjects by their LCCN (eg., sh85026719). But name-authority files (ie., authors) have received no similar treatment.

LC AuthoritiesThing is a partial and tentative solution to that problem, a window into the Library of Congress Authorities catalog that allows permanent linking. Search for a name (or subject) and, when you find it, the page will have a tiny link icon () which serves as the permalink for the page.


It took a little magic to get it to work, but it does.* For now at least, you can’t link to records you haven’t found. If there’s interest, I will inject Simon Spero’s ingenious screen-scrape dump of LC Authority files, which will give me the necessary link between 001 and 035 fields.

For now, it’s just an experiment. Will anyone find it useful? Is it worth putting on its own domain? What would make it better? I know, anyway, that it can be of some use to LibraryThing. In the near future I plan to bolt it to LibraryThing itself, so members can link authors to their LC Authority number, when the link will help clarify things.

If you have any thought, discuss them here.

Update: It’s been objected that LC Authorities has or will be superseded by VIAF, the Virtual International Authority File, an aggregate of authority files from libraries around the world. Unfortunately, VIAF is another OCLC project, studded on every side by copyright assertions, EULAs, use restrictions and licensing terms. As with most everything else OCLC does, the core information was created at taxpayer expense, and is legally impossible to copyright. The rest was created by libraries with no intention of creating a proprietary resource. And the result is another proprietary, restricted and nigh-inescapable data monopoly.

*Behind the scenes it’s doing both proxied requests and stepping through pages as if it were. If anyone can come up with a better way, I’m all ears.

Labels: cataloging


  1. Shrew says:

    I love the idea. Many many thanks for this! I was just getting frustrated at the LC’s website the other day for their non-permanent links, so this is a delight!

  2. Drom John says:

    A push in the right direction.

  3. Jan Elkins says:

    I say it again, You ROCK!!!

  4. Shawne Miksa says:

    Dare I even mention this–afraid I might get beat up–but perhaps one helpful and useful thing would be some basic name authority control principles and processes and a link to the MARC21 Authority data format ( )?

    Just my two-cents.


  5. David says:

    When I follow your link to authority no2010139263 and subsequently click on the “Labelled display” option I switch to another authority (no92068029) altogether.

  6. Thom Hickey says:

    VIAF is a project led by LC, the French and German national libraries and OCLC. Their are no restrictions on its use. Dumps of the complete file are available, but need the approval of the project leaders.

    VIAF is not designed to replace the LC/NACO authority file, but rather is built from it and a number of similar files.

    Probably the closest URI for LCCN no2010139263 in VIAF is|no2010139263 which redirects to

    For many years OCLC Research has maintained a copy of the LC/NACO file in lieu of LC putting it up. See, e.g.


  7. Thom Hickey says:

    Tim, feel free to correct ‘their’ the ‘there’ in the second sentence!


  8. Jami says:

    Thom, thanks for the info.

    I’m very curious… How does one go about accessing dumps? And why, if they’re open and available for use, is approval required? I’d be very interested in the dumps (as I’m sure others would as well). Please send details on how to access them!