Posting to Autocat
Concerning the death dates, I think the real issue is whether it is worth the effort. It is still quite a bit of work for a library to change/update a heading. When an entire network decides to adopt the same heading, this means that every library in the network must change too, so it complicates the task substantially. This is one of the reasons for changing the old rule that said, “use the fullest form of the name”, to the rule of “use the form of the name found on the first item entered into the catalog” (or in very rare cases, change the heading following the 80% rule). The number of updates would be limited to the minimum.
To adopt fullest form, it entails a lot of extra work, almost always necessitating some sort of research in various reference works. Different libraries have a different number of resources, and transferring this method into a union catalog, where hundreds of other libraries were to use the same forms of heading, meant that an update to the heading resulted in changes of perhaps thousands of headings in hundreds of catalogs. Now that OCLC has grown so much (see the latest statistics at http://www.oclc.org/worldcat/statistics/default.htm) updating a heading must be considered a very serious matter, and in fact so serious that it justifies the hundreds of man-hours (and woman-hours!) to do the update; man/woman-hours that could be used in better ways to help our patrons, such as cataloging new materials.
I was against updating the death dates, not because I enjoyed seeing Pope John Paul II or Leonid Brezhnev still walking around, but because we must face up to the fact that we have (and will continue to have) diminishing resources that must be put to their most productive uses and to me, since these headings were not “incorrect” and still fulfilled their *function* i.e. to bring together someone’s works, and rarely led to any misunderstandings on the part of the users (there are far more difficult parts of a bibliographic record to understand than this), it is not worth the effort to update the headings and is actually like swabbing the decks of the Titanic while it is sinking. While no one should doubt that the practice of cataloging is in deeply serious trouble, lack of death dates is more of an annoyance and is of very minor importance. No one will improve their opinion of the library catalog just because a date of death is updated or not. Things have changed too much.
Besides, with the use of more modern formats and tools, updating a heading could be done automatically, by changing the heading quite literally *one time* in the NAF, where the change there could permeate automatically into each catalog.
Therefore, building that kind of system could *definitely be worth the effort* since it would simultaneously save time and increase accuracy in a number of ways. In fact, we could even return to the rule of “fullest form” which I think everyone would agree, is a much better form than what we have now.
There are lots of possibilities out there if we decide to create and adopt the correct tools.