Classifying authors

A difficult task librarians often face in the classification of items is determining whether authors with similar names are the same person. Indeed, bibliographic records are most of the time very limited in author identification. Take the case of Adam Smith. He may be listed under his full name, which is by no means unique, or worse only as A. Smith, which is easily confused with others. Librarians then rely on context and additional information gathered outside of the bibliographic record to attribute the work to the right person, hopefully without error.

With the large numbers of works now available, such laborious categorization becomes unfeasible, and automatic classification makes numerous errors. Within RePEc, we rely on the authors themselves to perform the classification. When they register in the RePEc Author Service, they have the opportunity to enter all the possible name variations in they may be listed in a bibliographic record. For John Maynard Keynes (who is not registered), such name variations could be:

John Maynard Keynes
John M. Keynes
John Keynes
J. M. Keynes
J. Keynes
Keynes, John Maynard
Keynes, John M.
Keynes, John
Keynes, J. M.
Keynes, J.

In addition, an author may have changed names (through marriage), be listed with a title (Prof., Sir) or with a suffix (Jr, Sr, III). Variations multiply if names have accents, which some publishers do not take into account or encode in the wrong character set. The possibilities are numerous. The registered author is then offered first suggestions of works that match the name variations and then suggestions that offer some close match to name variations (typographical errors happen). The author can then accept these works or reject them.

The RePEc Author Service has so far managed to collect data from close to 16,000 authors who have claimed over 300,000 works as theirs. Such data is in particular used to increase the accuracy of various rankings. And within this set of authors, there is already a large number of homonyms, even when one looks beyond the initial of the first name, which is the precision that some other services have.

If you know of other homonyms in the profession, encourage them to register!

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