Vital Statistics for Authority Control

Nate Cothran, PMP
Vice President, Automation Services

At Backstage, we want our clients to know what to expect from our authority control service.

To master the technical details, we work with librarians to fine-tune the profile options and test batches of records until the results mirror their ideal outcomes.

To understand the process, we thought it might be helpful to look at the big picture by sharing some statistical data.


On average, Backstage brings 30 new authority control clients on board each year.

Backstage serves all types of libraries. Here’s a breakdown of the major categories, from the largest number of institutions we serve to the smallest:

  • Academic libraries
  • Public libraries
  • Consortia
  • Law libraries
  • Federal institutions
  • Other special libraries

Collection sizes over the past three years have ranged from 40,000 bibliographic records to databases of several million records.


Hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Years. It’s up to you.

Once a project is approved and the paperwork is signed, we can begin right away.

The computer processes for authority control are fast. We would proudly pit our servers against any other authority control service in a fast-and-furious street race, any day of the week.

It’s not just about the automation, though. Decisions and communications — people, essentially — are what take time. And that’s not a bad thing.

Making thoughtful decisions and building team consensus do take longer than simply pressing a button to run the system’s default settings. But a longer, more careful lead-in can also produce better outcomes.

Our record for fastest turnaround of a client’s records was a return delivery the same day that we received the signed contract. If a client has a bibliographic file ready to go, we can start processing within hours of a pen sweeping across the dotted line.

Our longest gap between inking the contract and processing the bibliographic file was 45 months! Nearly 4 years is an unusually long lead time. But it’s not uncommon for the process of preparing for authority control to take several months, or even a year.

The average lead time between when a client signs and when they’re ready to have us begin processing their records is 5 months. Somewhat surprisingly, this average timeframe has remained consistent for each of the past 3 years.

Of course, it’s not important that you fit the mold. Each library has its own timetable, its own deadlines and milestones to fulfill. We work to make our processing schedule fit your timeline.


So, what are these librarians doing during that time when they are not sending in their records for authority processing? It turns out, any number of things can delay the project. Here are some examples:

Getting the Timing Right

  • Coordinating the calendar with an upcoming ILS migration
  • Taking care of a separate cleanup operation, such as an OCLC reclamation project
  • Addressing record de-duplication first, either with Backstage or internally

Clearing the Plate

  • Juggling multiple duties, obligations, and expectations within the department
  • Taking time to get your head above water, operationally, before tackling a project that will upend (in a positive way) the library's cataloging ecosystem

Changing of the Guard

  • Dealing with turnover in key personnel
  • Getting a new arrival up to speed on their position within the library
  • Negotiating with new supervisors, directors, or deans on priority of services

Fine-Tuning the Process

  • Coordinating with other staff members or branches on a unified approach to authority control
  • Making decisions for the online authority control and enrichment profiles
  • Reading through our exhaustive wiki and planning guides
  • Running through test scenario after test scenario, to avoid surprises
  • Working through customization requests with Backstage


The biggest concern for many librarians is this:

How long will my records be out of the system and a cataloging freeze enforced on those records?

In most cases, it takes 5 to 7 days to handle the full processing of a library’s database. Of course, this is wholly dependent on the number of records submitted. For small files, it may only take a day or two. For processing a collection with millions of records, it may take us up to 2 weeks.

We also recommend setting aside at least 4 to 6 weeks before processing to run through a few cycles of profiling, testing, and discussing the results. However, librarians usually think in terms of months rather than weeks for this phase.

And that’s okay. We’re here for you when you’re ready.