Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto - OCS, 15th INTERNATIONAL ISKO CONFERENCE

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Wan-Chen Lee

Last modified: 2017-12-18


Authorship is a critical topic in knowledge organization. In the Anglo-American cataloging tradition, authorship is often used as a characteristic for arrangement and as an access point for retrieval. Author information serves both the collocating and identifying objectives of library catalogs (Cutter 1876). There is a body of literature in knowledge organization that examines the meaning of authorship. Tracing back to Roland Barthes’s The Death of the Author and Michel Foucault’s response What is an author?, previous studies review the authorship discussion and examine authorship in different times, social and cultural contexts, and across various forms of works. Through examples of superworks like the Seven Epitomes, Abelard’s Works, and The French Chef (Smiraglia et al., 2011; Smiraglia and Lee 2012; Smiraglia et al. 2013; Martínez-Ávila et al. 2015; Lee 2016); as well as contemporary projects like the Europeana, AustLit, the American Civil War: Letters and Diaries, and DBpedia (Moulaison et al. 2013; 2014), these studies explore and identify definitions, characteristics, and functions of the author. From these studies, we can recognize some prominent observations. First, authorship is not a mere attribution, but a complex concept which is cultural, social, and temporal. Second, author information in the cataloging tradition does not present all the author functions in reality. The cataloging tradition treats authorship as a string of characters with a preferred form. The current U.S. standard RDA, which is based on FRAD and FRBR, places more emphasis on relationships; and catalogers are recording more author information. However, the author function, introduced by Foucault (1970), identifies relationships and expansive influences of an author which go beyond the coverage of current cataloging practice. All of these scholars acknowledge the richness of authorship and recognize the limited focus of author in cataloging practice. For example, to realize Foucault’s author function in current knowledge organization systems, Moulaison, Dykas, and Budd (2013; 2014) suggest recording more author information and making them searchable for users.

Based on the literature reviewed, this paper argues that more information is not necessarily better for cataloging in the digital age. To do this, we discuss three challenges concerning collecting and recording author information in the digital age. The first challenge focuses on the recording and representation of authorship. How can we address the cultural and temporal nuances of authorship in a “standardized” manner, so institutions can share metadata? On one hand, we recognize the meaning of authorship differs by time, culture, and social context. On the other hand, we need a modicum of standardization to enable metadata sharing. Lee (2016) identifies six types of authorship presented in the Seven Epitomes (Qilue), which was “the first classified catalog and the one that established the model for bibliography in imperial China.”(1). These six types reflect the definitions of authorship at this time (i.e., the Former Han dynasty, 206 B.C.E. - 8 C.E.), in the Chinese culture, and the social context (e.g., the classified catalog was developed for the imperial library). While some of the types (e.g., composer) may be covered by “author” in the RDA, others may map with different roles contributed to the creation of the work (e.g., sponsor). However, there is no guarantee of a one-to-one mapping. In Lee (2017), the author discusses six mapping issues between Chinese and English role designators. Some of the issues are complicated and can be obscured by translation. The combination of cultural, temporal, and social nuances may be lost or misunderstood in the activities of translation, mapping, and cataloging process. How could we improve the flexibility and hospitality of author descriptions to encompass context-specific expressions?

The second challenge focuses on the collection and recording of author information. When it becomes easier to collect information, make linkages, and specify relationships in the digital age, what are the concerns of collecting and providing author information? Moulaison, Dykas, and Budd (2014) mention ethical concerns of both recording particular author attributes and the challenge of making the author information searchable.

In addition to these concerns, another issue is the sources of information; what author information would be practical and ethical in scope for catalogers to collect? One example case is the Library of Congress Demographic Group Terms (LCDGT), which includes eleven categories of terms to describe the demography of creators and audiences (Library of Congress 2017). The practical and ethical guidance given is that the source of information for LCDGT should be limited to authors’ self-provided information in the piece described. The manual instructs catalogers to use information from other sources with caution. This acknowledges the complexity of author information and how identity may change over time.

We also have a case like Wikipedia, which relies on Wikipedia editors to populate information from a variety of information sources. In the digital age, there is a tension between the ethics of respecting authors’ privacy and providing richer author information. Guidelines which limit the sources of information to published works or publicly available information may not be as clear-cut as we expect.

The third challenge is concerned with the consequences of enriching author information. Does the amount of author information available influence the access of their works? By populating author information and making connections between authors and works, there is good intention to improve the selection and interpretation of works. However, if richer author information leads to higher visibility of an author’s works, it may render other authors less visible. And this can be seen as an ethical issue. We may want to identify the factors influencing the recording and searchability of author information. Does the language and script matter? How does the presentation of rich author information influence contemporary authors and what are the ramifications of this to non-contemporary authors?

The purpose of raising these challenges is not to deter the pursuit of presenting author function in knowledge organization systems. Instead, the goal is to increase awareness of some concerns, and encourage discussions and studies for approaches to ameliorate potential issues. In the digital age, with the ability to share, collect, and link information at a large scale, it is important to ask if providing more information is necessarily better.




Cutter, Charles A. 1876. Rules for a Printed Dictionary Catalog. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Foucault, Michel. 1970. “What is an author?” In Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984, ed. James D. Faubion, trans. Robert Hurley et al. (New York: The New Press, 1998), 205-22.

Lee, Hur-Li. 2016. Intellectual Activism in Knowledge Organization: A Hermeneutic Study of the Seven Epitomes. Taipei, Taiwan: National Taiwan University Press.

Lee, Wan-Chen. 2017. “Conflicts of Semantic Warrants in Cataloging Practices.” In Proceedings from North American Symposium on Knowledge Organization, Vol. 6. pp.231-38.

Library of Congress. 2017. “Library of Congress Demographic Group Terms PDF Files.” Last modified April 27, 2017. https://www.loc.gov/aba/publications/FreeLCDGT/freelcdgt.html.

Martínez-Ávila Daniel, Richard P. Smiraglia, Hur-Li Lee and Melodie Fox. 2015. “What is an Author Now? Discourse Analysis Applied to the Idea of an Author.” Journal of Documentation 71, no. 5: 1094-1114.

Moulaison, Heather L., Felicity Dykas and John M. Budd. 2013. “The Author and the Person: A Foucauldian Reflection on the Author in Knowledge Organization Systems.” In Proceedings from North American Symposium on Knowledge Organization, Vol. 4. pp.138-47.

Moulaison, Heather L., Felicity Dykas and John M. Budd. 2014. “Foucault, the Author, and Intellectual Debt: Capturing the Author-Function through Attributes, Relationships, and Events in Knowledge Organization Systems.” Knowledge Organization 41, no. 1: 30-43.

Smiraglia, Richard P., Hur-Li Lee and Hope A. Olson. 2011. “Epistemic Presumptions of Authorship.” In Proceedings of the 2011 iConference, 137-43.

Smiraglia, Richard P and Hur-Li Lee. 2012. “Rethinking the Authorship Principle.” Library Trends 61, no. 1: 35-48.

Smiraglia, Richard P., Hur-Li Lee and Hope A. Olson. 2013. “The Flimsy Fabric of Authorship.” In Information Science: Synergy through Diversity, Proceedings of the 38th Annual CAIS/ACSI Conference, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, June 2-4 2010, edited by Elaine Ménard and Valerie Nesset.