From the webpage:
VIAF, implemented and hosted by OCLC, is a joint project of several national libraries plus selected regional and trans-national library agencies. The project’s goal is to lower the cost and increase the utility of library authority files by matching and linking widely-used authority files and making that information available on the Web.
The “about” link at the bottom of the page is broken (in the English version). A working “about” link for VIAF reports:
At a glance
- A collaborative effort between national libraries and organizations contributing name authority files, furthering access to information
- All authority data for a given entity is linked together into a “super” authority record
- A convenient way for the library community and other agencies to repurpose bibliographic data produced by libraries serving different language communities
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. At the beginning of 2012, contributors include 20 agencies from 16 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.
If you were to substitute for ‘”super” authority record,” the term topic, you would be part of the way towards a topic map.
Topics gather information about a given entity into a single location.
Topics differ from the authority records you find at VIAF in two very important ways:
- First, topics, unlike authority records, have the ability to merge with other topics, creating new topics that have more information than any of the original topics.
- Second, authority records are created by, well, authorities. Do you see your name or the name of your organization on the list at VIAF? Topics can be created by anyone and merged with other topics on terms chosen by the possessor of the topic map. You don’t have to wait for an authority to create the topic or approve your merging of it.
There are definite advantages to having authorities and authority records, but there are also advantages to having the freedom to describe your world, in your terms.