Frequently Asked Questions
Access to Authority Records
1) What is an authority record?
An authority record is a tool used by librarians to establish
forms of names (for persons, places, meetings, and organizations),
titles, and subjects used on bibliographic records. Authority
records enable librarians to provide uniform access to materials
in library catalogs and to provide clear identification of authors
and subject headings. For example, works about "movies,"
"motion pictures," "cinema," and "films"
are all entered under the established subject heading "Motion
Authority records also provide cross references to lead users
to the headings used in the catalog, e.g., a search under:
Snodgrass, Quintus Curtius, 1835-1910 will lead users to the
authorized form of heading for Mark Twain, i.e., Twain, Mark,
It is important to note that authority records do not represent
materials in the Library's collection, rather they are a tool
used by librarians to organize the library catalog and assist
users in finding those materials. A recent reviewer (in a library
publication) noted that users may find helpful information in
Library of Congress Authorities, such as an author's middle
name or a company name change. But generally speaking, Library
of Congress Authorities is a service intended for use by technical
services librarians and others interested in using LC authority
records in their catalogs.
21 Format for Authority Data defines the authority record
a carrier for information concerning the authorized forms of names
and subjects to be used as access points in MARC records, the
forms of these names, subjects and subdivisions to be used as
references to the authorized forms, and the interrelationships
among these forms.
A name may be used as a main, added, subject added, or series
added access entry. The term name refers to:
- Personal names (X00)
- Corporate names(X10)
- Meeting names (X11)
- Names of jurisdictions (X51)
- Uniform titles (X30)
- Name/title combinations
A subject may be used only as a subject access entry. The term
subject refers to:
- Topical terms (X50)
- Geographic names (X51)
- Names with subject subdivisions
- Terms and names used as subject subdivisions
For more information on MARC 21, see http://www.loc.gov/marc/
2) Are authority records available free of charge?
Yes. All authority information in Library of Congress
Authorities is available free of charge via this Web site
(authorities.loc.gov). Users do not have to register or request
permission to search, save, print, or email the LC authority records.
The only limitation is that authority records may only be saved,
printed or emailed one at a time.
3) Are authority records up to date?
Yes. Library of Congress Authorities are updated
every night, Monday through Saturday. The nightly update includes
records newly created and updated the previous day by LC catalogers
and contributed by NACO participants. Any records deleted during
the previous week are removed on a weekly basis early every Monday
4) Are bibliographic records and holdings
No. The current release of Library of Congress Authorities
does not provide
access to LC bibliographic records or holdings information. Bibliographic
records and holdings information are available via the Library
of Congress Online Catalog at: http://catalog.loc.gov/
5) Does the Library of Congress provide Z39.50
access to authority records?
No. Z39.50 access to authority records is not currently
available. LC does expect to be able to offer Z39.50 access to
authority records in a future release.
Searching Authority Records
6) Can authority records be searched by LCCN?
No. In this pilot release of Library of Congress Web
Authorities, searching by LCCN is not available. The four
possible searches in this release are: Subject
Authority Headings, Name Authority
Headings, Title Authority Headings,
and Name/Title Authority Headings.
7) Can name and subject authorities be
searched in a single query?
No. Although most name, title (includes series), and
name/title authority headings may be searched using the Subject
Authority Headings search type, it is really necessary to
select the appropriate search type to ensure retrieval of ALL
relevant records in these categories.
8) Can authority records be searched by keyword(s)?
No. Authority records cannot be searched by keyword(s).
The available searches, Subject, Name, Title, and Name/Title Authority
Headings, are "left-anchored" -- search words must be
entered in order starting with the leftmost word (omitting initial
articles and initial punctuation).
9) How can I search for headings with diacritics
and special characters?
Diacritics and special characters need not be included in authority
headings searches. Some characters, like #, etc., are not considered
"special characters" and should be included in searches.
For example, Gabriel García Márquez
may be searched as: garcia marquez gabriel
10) Is it possible to search subject subdivisions
and the display of full subject heading hierarchies?
No. However, many searching enhancements are now offered
in Classification Web, a fee-based web online service,
combining Library of Congress Subject Headings and Library of
Congress Classification, available on subscription from the Library
of Congress Cataloging Distribution
Viewing and Saving Authority Records
11) Is it possible to view and save records
with the full MARC 21 character set?
Yes. Library of Congress Authorities offers
two MARC formats for saving records: MARC-8/non-unicode and UTF-8/unicode (see http://authorities.loc.gov/help/savemail.htm. To view the authority record showing the MARC fielded information, be sure to select the "MARC Display" tab (which is the default record display).
12) In the Headings List, why do some
headings display without icons?
The Headings List is an alphabetical list of all headings
found in the Library of Congress
Online Catalog that fall nearest alphabetically to the first
words of the search, whether the headings have authority records
associated with them or not. The headings that do not have an
icon come from bibliographic records found in the Online Catalog.
13) Why don't all headings have a corresponding
authority record, reference, or note?
Not all headings on bibliographic records in the LC Database
have a corresponding authority record, reference, or note. Users
will not find an authority record for every access point for the
- The 12 million bibliographic records in the LC Database were
created over the course of more than a century of cataloging
at the Library of Congress. Many of these bibliographic records
were cataloged before the Library began creating MARC authority
- Some new bibliographic records, by policy - e.g., minimal
level cataloging -do not have authorities created unless conflicts
require them. Therefore not all access points on LC bibliographic
records have corresponding authority records in the LC Database.
- LC's current cataloging policy does not call for every subject
heading with a free-floating subdivision to be represented by
a separate authority record in the LC Database. Some examples
would be Twain, Mark, 1835-1910 - Homes and haunts
or Live oak - Seeds - Testing. Similarly, not
all titles used as access points have associated authority records.
For example, works about the magazine entitled The New Yorker
do not have an associated authority record for that title.
- Also, LC has many non-LCSH subject headings, primarily for
audio/visual materials, that are not represented by authority
records. MESH headings are an example of non-LC subject headings
on LC bibliographic records that do not have associated authority
records in the LC Database.
- The LC Database includes bibliographic records that are in
process, that is, the cataloging has not been completed. As
LC staff complete these records, they create the relevant authority
records according to the current policies described above. As
soon as authority records are added or updated in the LC Database
they are available online via LC Authorities.
14) Why are there two entries, non-series title
and series title, for many headings listed in the search results
of a Title Authority Heading search?
A heading represented by a series authority record will appear
as two entries, non-series title and series title in the headings
list for a Title Authority Heading search. This is a result of
treatment of the 008 coding for bytes 14 and 16 in the authority
record. The authority record can be viewed via either entry.
Example: a Title Authority Headings search for the title
"Theoretical chemistry." The Headings List shows the
heading first as a non-series title; one bibliographic record
is associated with that use of the heading (a serial with a 130
field: Theoretical chemistry (London, England : 1965)). The second
column indicates that nine bibliographic records are associated
with the heading as a series title. These are analytics with the
series heading in 830 fields: Theoretical chemistry (London, England
Series authority records may be retrieved by a Title or a Name-Title
Headings search, as appropriate. For these searches (as for Name
Heading searches), LC Authorities presents a heading in the Headings
List when byte 14 or byte 16 of the 008 field contains value 'a'.
- byte 14: value "a" indicates heading is appropriate
for use as a main or added entry (as a 1XX/7XX field in a bibliographic
record; i.e., not as a series entry)
- byte 16: value "a" indicates heading is appropriate
for use as a series
Comments and Reporting Problems
16) How can I report errors in bibliographic
or authority records to the Library of Congress?
The bibliographic and authority records presented in the Library
of Congress Online Catalog and Library of Congress Authorities
represent the different cataloging practices employed by the Library
over time. Some records do not follow current practice.
Users should check headings carefully to make sure that they
have not made an error in searching, or that a missing diacritic
or special character cannot be displayed due to the present limitations
of the software.
If you have confirmed an error in a Library of Congress authority
record, you may report it to the Policy and Standards Division at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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