When we document our collection objects and related knowledge we use controlled vocabulary to describe the type of objects, the subjects and concepts related, the materials they are made of and the techniques used. We use a couple of excellent thesauri from the J. Paul Getty Trust and Library of Congress, and a few we’ve worked on ourselves.
Using controlled vocabularies means that as curators and collection managers go about their work of researching and documenting our collections, they are using consistent terminology which create relationships between the object they are working with and other objects and topics in the collections without having to know about those other objects. This makes “like” objects much easier to find.
By using these thesauri we are using terminology that makes our data more findable and shareable, nationally and internationally. Of course there are quite a few concepts and words that are peculiar to New Zealand, so we add those into the appropriate place, into the appropriate thesaurus. Thesauri also have broader and narrower relationships between terms which allows you to browse around related content, there’s a couple of examples below. Alternate names and spellings for terms in the thesaurus also means content is more “findable”.
We are also developing our own classification systems for objects from our Taonga Maori and Pacific Cultures collections, and are looking at other existing classifications which could also help refine our descriptions. It’s an ever-evolving area, but the more we work at it, the more accurate and accessible it makes our collections.
For a more in-depth explanation of thesauri and controlled vocabulary, try this presentation from Murtha Baca of the Getty Vocabulary Program, from the Special Libraries Association 2008 conference.
OK, so now onto how this actually translates into Collections Online.
These are thesaurus terms used to describe and relate our objects and topics. In our Collections Information System we use the Getty’s Art and Architecture Thesaurus to describe object types, materials, techniques, periods and styles. We use the Library of Congress’ Thesaurus for Graphic Materials I to describe subjects.
Because the thesaurus is hierarchical you can browse through broader and narrower concepts, possibly finding and learning about categories or ideas you didn’t know about. Interested in rifles? Note they are part of the broader category “long guns”; click on that link and see all the long guns, then browse back down to shotguns, and carbines and muskets. Or maybe try the subject category Theatrical productions. See the descriptive notes from the Getty and Library of Congress, as well as related terms, alternate spellings or names, again making it easier to find the objects you might be interested in.
A few more categories to start you off:
Places. For this we primarily use the Getty’s Thesaurus for Geographic Names. Places cover where people are born or die, and places that objects depict, were made at, or are influenced by. Like Categories, Places are hierarchical, so you can browse through countries, regions, towns and cities, and see objects, people and topics related to those places. Try Hawke’s Bay. From there you can browse down to Napier, Hastings, or some of the smaller places in Hawke’s Bay and see objects from our collection that relate to those places.
Our natural environment specimens aren’t currently available via place browsing, as they have historically used a different place name system. However this is not an uncommon problem, and we (and others) are looking at how best to resolve that. We also we have a few tricks coming up that will help bring the humanities and natural environment collections closer through mapping, more on that later.
Some of you may be asking where tagging fits into this. We’ve got a few ideas that we’ll discuss on the blog a bit later.
Next entry in this Collections Online introduction series: Linking out