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.
Since VIAF’s transition[i] to become an OCLC service in early 2012, the number of agencies participating as VIAF Contributors has grown from 19 agencies in 22 countries to 34 agencies in 29 countries (as of July 2014). Twenty-four (24) of the VIAF Contributors are national libraries, and an additional 11 national libraries provide data to VIAF through federal library agencies, consortia or other arrangements, bringing the total of national libraries represented in VIAF to 35 national libraries from 30 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.
[i] VIAF transitioned from a joint, experimental activity of the United States Library of Congress (LC), the German National Library (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, or DNB) National Library of France (Bibliothèque nationale de France, or BnF) and OCLC to become an OCLC service in early 2012.
- In April 1998, the United States Library of Congress (LC), the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (DNB) and OCLC embarked on a proof of concept project to test linking each other's Authority Records for personal names.
- The VIAF Consortium was formed by written agreement of LC, DNB and OCLC in August 2003. The agreement was signed at the 69 th IFLA General Conference held in Berlin.
- The Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) joined the consortium with an agreement effective 5 October 2007.
- These four organizations—LC, DNB, BnF, and OCLC—assumed the role of Principals in the consortium, having joint responsibility for VIAF with OCLC hosting VIAF and supplying the software, and the participating institutions supplying the authority and bibliographic data content. Additional organizations later joined the consortium as Contributors, providing source files and expertise to advance the state of VIAF.
- With the successful proof of concept of VIAF, discussions begin in earnest among the Principals in 2010 about a suitable long-term organizational arrangement for VIAF. After considering various options, the Principals and Contributors agreed to transition VIAF to an OCLC service. During 2011 details of the transition were discussed and agreed to and, in 2012, the transition has begun.