It’s elementary, dear Watson…or is it?

I was processing my quarterly authorities updates and changes, when I noticed something peculiar. Sherlock Holmes is no longer a fictitious character. Gone is the Holmes, Sherlock (Fictitious character) subject heading, and it is replaced by the simple name authority access point Holmes, Sherlock who wrote a book last year, his (male gender as noted in the 375) fields of activity include criminology and bee culture, and his profession is as a detective.

Is this authority record a joke?!

Sherlock Holmes (r) and Dr. John H. Watson. Illustration by Sidney Paget.

RDA has very clear rules about fictitious characters. Rule 9.6.1.7 to be specific, which states:

Fictitious and Legendary Persons
For a fictitious or legendary person, record Fictitious character, Legendary character, or another appropriate designation.
EXAMPLE
  • Greek deity
  • Mythical animal
  • Vampire
That little 2013/07 is interesting because it points us back to an earlier edition of RDA that didn’t include a rule for fictitious characters, non-human entities, other important designations that can distinguish a person. Holmes’ new authority record was created on July 16, 2013 (according to OCLC Connexion). So did the rule change after his record was created? But even still, if the rule changed why did LoC move ahead with editing the authority record one of the most influential fictitious characters in western literature?
To make it even more confusing, there’s no trace of the non-preferred access point in the new authority record. So, based on this new authority record, how are people supposed to know that Sherlock Holmes in in fact not a real male who enjoys bee culture and criminology? They can’t, and that’s just confusing. At least Harry Potter and Count Dracula are still fictitious…but for how long?! If we follow RDA closely, we could soon have Potter, Harry (Wizard) and Dracula, Count (Vampire)!
I’d love to hear what you think about the loss of Fictitious characters in our authority file! Please post your comments. Until this all gets sorted out, I’m going to keep Holmes in our catalog just as he is – fictitious.

2 Responses to It’s elementary, dear Watson…or is it?

  1. I just checked authorities.loc.gov, and it looks like the “Holmes, Sherlock (Fictitious character)” heading is still there, as a valid heading in LCSH. (The authority record has ID sh85061506, and has the heading in the 150 field.)

    There’s also a new authority record with “Holmes, Sherlock” as a header. That one has the ID no2013039964, and uses the 100 field, so it’s presumably in LCNA.

    My understanding is that you’d use the latter header for books that are “by” Holmes, but that you could still use the former header for books that are about Holmes. Professional catalogers can correct me if I’m wrong, though.

  2. Ah! this is where it gets even weirder. Yes, I checked id.loc.gov too and found the LCSH heading for Holmes, Sherlock (Fictitious character) [sh85061506], and you’re right the other heading Holmes, Sherlock is in the names authority file [no2013039964]. So according to id.loc.gov – there are two valid headings for books about Sherlock Holmes and by Sherlock Holmes.

    Then I checked in authorities.loc.gov and OCLC Connexion — both list the name access point [no2013039964] and both invalidate the subject access point [sh85061506]!

    010 ǂa no2013039964 ǂz sh 85061506

    that subfield z invalidates the older heading. so if id.loc.gov isn’t listing this change, what other changes aren’t it listing? Why is OCLC and Authorities.loc.gov different from the LOC linked data service?