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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.

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.

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.

[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. For more information see the OCLC news announcement: