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Authority control is a way of associating a unique identifier to articles on Wikipedia. This is useful to disambiguate different items with similar or identical headings, as well as establish a single standard title for an item that is commonly known by two or more titles. When used, authority control data links can be found near the bottom of Wikipedia pages, linking to bibliographical records on worldwide library catalogs. Authority control is often used on biographical articles because it is quite common for more than one person to share the same name. It is commonly used in other subject material, as well.
Authority control enables researchers to search more easily for pertinent information on the subject of an article, without needing to disambiguate the subject manually. For example, authority control is used on music articles so that the information in the article can be easily cross-referenced with the popular MusicBrainz database. This enables many media applications to display information about an artist from the relevant Wikipedia article when one of their songs is played.
More generally, authority control is a method of creating and maintaining index terms for bibliographical material in a library catalogue. The links produced by the authority control template on Wikipedia go to authority control data in worldwide library catalogues. As an example, the Wikipedia authority control information for Alexander Graham Bell looks like this:
WorldCat is a global cooperative union catalog which itemizes the collections of 72,000 libraries in 170 countries and territories. What follows are four authority control records: Virtual International Authority File (VIAF), the second is the Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN), then the International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI), and last the GND is the Integrated Authority File (in German).
Supported authority files on the English Wikipedia include, among others:
- Integrated Authority File (Gemeinsame Normdatei or GND)
- Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN)
- Virtual International Authority File (VIAF)
- LIBRIS by the National Library of Sweden (SELIBR)
- Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID)
- Outdated: Name Authority File (Personennamendatei or PND), now part of GND
- Outdated: Corporate Bodies Authority File (Gemeinsame Körperschaftsdatei or GKD), now part of GND
- Outdated: Subject Headings Authority File (Schlagwortnormdatei or SWD), now part of GND