Selecting Your Authority Control Vendor and Requesting RFPs

LTI’s recommended approach to selecting an authority control vendor is to read carefully each vendor's documentation and then clarify issues and questions via telephone or email. Email has the great advantage of allowing the vendor to make a thoughtful response, and gives both parties a written record of the vendor's responses. Speaking with the library's local system vendor, as well as other libraries that have used the authority control vendor's services, always adds valuable insights.

Libraries should keep in mind that in some ways purchasing authority control services is similar to selecting a local system. While customers have a number of options from which to choose within the framework of the vendor's product, vendors are not able to re-write their software to each new customer's specifications.

Authority control projects sometimes involve a Request for Proposal (RFP), Request for Quotation (RFQ), Request for Information (RFI), etc. While, on occasion, this is a legal or administrative requirement, creation of an RFP by the library, as well as the vendor's response to it, are both time-consuming and expensive to all parties. Libraries tend to "borrow" heavily from other library RFPs or a suggested set of specifications prepared by a particular vendor. RFPs sometimes include specifications that are no longer current, or adopt a pre-ordained approach which, while offered by another vendor, may be less effective than their competitors’.

For example, “Multiple match” reports are often listed as a requirement on some RFPs. By definition, an authorized heading must be unique. Such reports, therefore, must be composed of headings which link to several identical cross-references. The bibliographic heading may be represented by one of these authority records or may represent a different entity entirely. If staff are examining unlinked headings based on a list, no time is to be saved by indicating that there are two or more possibilities, especially since none are necessarily correct.

Some RFPs require a vendor to provide numerous reports upon completion of authority work. However, unless a report presents summary data, its very existence implies that someone on the library’s staff is going to have to review the information, either as a requirement to fix ambiguous or unlinked headings, or because the library believes it necessary to quality check the vendor’s processing. Regardless, library staff are being asked to do work which the institution contracted with the authority vendor to do. Authority control processing quality is not improved by the effort required of staff to clean up the database from reports, but from sophisticated processing on the part of the authority control vendor.

Similarly problematic, is accepting one set of “Highly Desirable Requirements” on the assumption that the identified requirements define the playing field. LTI offers unique capabilities, such as returning the library’s updated bibliographic records for overlay, editor review in backfile authorizations and rapid (under one-hour) turnaround for authorizing new cataloging records. If libraries are not aware of these advantages, they would not know to include them in their list of requirements.

Tests

Should a library submit a test database to several vendors and compare the results? Asking vendors to run a test on several thousand sample bibliographic records prior to selecting a vendor can be a useful tool in deciding which vendor to use.

To be able to draw useful conclusions it is important that test records be selected in a random fashion—e.g., every Nth record from the database. Once test records are extracted, staff may want to include special interest records to see how vendors handle problematic headings. Keep in mind that, up to a point, the larger the database, the larger the sample should be. It is also advisable to specify a short turnaround time for the test, to minimize the opportunity for vendors to devote extraordinary attention to the test database. Note too that the library must have the resources to analyze and evaluate the work returned from the various authority control providers.

Pre-authority control tests can also help to determine if:

  1. the library is able to extract its bibliographic records in MARC format
  2. the local system ID or control number appears in every record (this will be the necessary match or overlay point when the bibliographic records are re-loaded after authority control)
  3. the library can send and receive files of bibliographic and authority records via FTP
  4. the necessary load tables are in place that will allow the library to re-load the post-processed bibliographic and authority records back into the library's local system.