Update on VIAF’s Linked Data

I recently had a chance to return to the Virtual International Authority File, or VIAF. Actually I was looking for another name instead of Eddie Santiago. As it turned out, I didn’t find the name I was hoping to find. I did however see some changes to VIAF in terms of linked data. I searched again for Santiago, Eddie out of curiosity to see if the results where any different from last week. Unfortunately, Eddie Santiago still had 3 distinct VIAF records. However, I noticed that the first search result had grouped in one record different headings from different national agencies.


When I clicked on this first link, the result was very much what one might expect of a linked data experiment.

Unfortunately, the bottom of the diagram was cut off. Despite this, this diagram still illustrates the hope to link information from one source of information to another.

But, I was again led to the same question. How is this helpful for libraries and in particular catalogers?

I came across this post to AUTOCAT by Allen Mullen.

Commentary on this by Jennifer Eustis:


"How will this help libraries? Essentially, instead of an authority record
being tied to one language,headings can be accessed according to a unique
identifier. In that way, the information associated with that identifier
can be displayed according to language. More importantly, this allows
those searching for records to have a larger pool within to search.
Especially for digital libraries, the VIAF, given the recent addition of
the Getty List of Artists Names, could be extremely useful since it is
almost like a federated search."

"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most
intelligent, but the one most responsive
to change."   Charles Darwin 

Is VIAF the strongest of such authority file species? Is it the most intelligent? Is it the most responsive to change? When I first wrote my post on VIAF and linked data, I did not think of VIAF in terms of strength or intelligence. I think Allen brings up an important point by quoting Darwin. In my post, I mentioned that VIAF is a pilot project from OCLC, which is one of the only players in terms of bibliographic data. The spread of their influence seems to be increasing and this project, VIAF, is an example. However, does this make VIAF strong? Furthermore, I mentioned that the service provided by VIAF could be helpful to libraries and librarians. But, does this make VIAF an intelligent service?

Perhaps a better way to phrase these questions are: What are the strengths and/or weaknesses of VIAF? Is the way in which VIAF links information between national agencies done in an intelligible manner? What’s more, is the way in which VIAF links information between national agencies an intelligent thing to even undertake?

As to the last point from this quote from Charles Darwin, I have to say that the VIAF is already making changes as to how various forms of authorized headings are linked in terms of which national agencies use which authorized form of that heading.

But again, are these changes adding to the strength and/or overall intelligence of this project?

2 thoughts on “Update on VIAF’s Linked Data

  1. Allen Mullen

    I’m pleased that my Autocat post inspired your thoughtful musings. I’m hardly an expert on linked data/Semantic web, nor on the instances that may exist as alternatives to VIAF (if they exist) other than the parallel, LC project, LCSH.info.

    You pose many questions and again, I’m hardly qualified to address them. I can only posit that the ability for these records to transcend silos, whether institutional or national ; the capability of these records to reflect all of the entity’s associated works (apparently in a wiki environment so that various people may have access to keep it up to date) and the ability to represent the entity flexibly are all aspects of this project that catalogers and libraries will find useful, not to mention the many ways that associated data such as book covers, ISBNs and other identifying numbers, etc. may be useful.

    The heart of Darwin’s quote is adaptability. Change for the sake of change is not a plus, but change that adapts to an environment that is ever-changing is essential to the survival of species according to Darwin. This is instructive for libraries. Is this the strongest or most intelligent of the possible changes. It doesn’t matter if it is among the most adaptable. It’s too early to tell but it’s a promising start.

    1. jeneustis

      Thanks Allen! I really enjoyed reading your comment on AUTOCAT because it gave me the opportunity to think of VIAF a little differently that I had started out doing. Actually, even though VIAF is still in its pilot stage and is hosted by OCLC, I like using it now and again. What I’ve seen is that VIAF is changing rapidly. I’m wondering if these changes will also force libraries to change in terms of searching for headings beyond LC. It might also open doors to some of what Karen Coyle is talking about in terms of using a unique identifier to access authorized headings and then set up local displays for the preferred form of the heading. I agree that this type of pilot project is useful. I’m also curious to see where it will go next.

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