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Virtual International Authority File

The Virtual International Authority File (VIAF) is an international service designed to provide convenient access to the world's major name authority files. Its creators envision the VIAF as a building block for the Semantic Web to enable switching of the displayed form of names for persons to the preferred language and script of the Web user. VIAF began as a joint project with the Library of Congress (LC), the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (DNB), the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF) and OCLC. It has, over the past decade, become a cooperative effort involving an expanding number of other national libraries and other agencies. At the beginning of 2012, contributors include 20 agencies from 16 countries.

Most large libraries maintain lists of names for people, corporations, conferences, and geographic places, as well as lists to control works and other entities. These lists, or authority files, have been developed and maintained in distinctive ways by individual library communities around the world. The differences in how to approach this work become evident as library data from many communities is combined in shared catalogs such as OCLC's WorldCat.

VIAF helps to make library authority files less expensive to maintain and more generally useful to the library domain and beyond. To achieve this, VIAF matches and links the authority files of national libraries and groups all authority records for a given entity into a merged “super” authority record that brings together the different names for that entity. By linking disparate names for the same person or organization, VIAF provides a convenient means for a wider community of libraries and other agencies to repurpose bibliographic data produced by libraries serving different language communities.

More specifically, VIAF:

  • Links national and regional-level authority records, creating a cluster record for each unique name
  • Expands the concept of universal bibliographic control by (1) allowing national and regional variations in authorized form to coexist; and (2) supporting needs for variations in preferred language, script and spelling
  • Plays a role in the emerging Semantic Web

In addition to providing Web-accessible identification of entities of interest to libraries, VIAF builds a foundation to enable localization of bibliographic data by making local versions of names (e.g., in different scripts, spellings, or other variations), available for searching and display. For example, German users could be able to see a name displayed in the form established by the DNB, while French users could see the same name as established by the BnF, and English-speaking users could view the name as established by the LC/NACO file. Users in their respective countries are able to view name records as established by the others, making the authorities truly international and facilitating research across languages anywhere in the world.