What is Controlled a Vocabulary?

I though the article “What is a Controlled Vocabulary?” (Leise,F. and K. Fast) very informative.  As an information architect consultant, who specializes in the areas of taxonomy and controlled vocabulary design,” Leise knows people need to find the information they need or the information they did not know they needed as quickly as possible.  I thought the examples he used clarified many points and stressed the importance of using the same word i.e. car V. automotive not only when cataloging but also when creating a website.  However, I am still having trouble with the word Taxonomy as it relates to web design or cataloging.

What is a controlled vocabulary?


I found this article quite interesting, especially given the experience our class has had recently in creating our virtual collections.  Particularly when the authors say, “The most basic, and often overlooked, form of controlled vocabulary is a consistent labeling system.” When creating the virtual collection, I found myself wanting to naturally use different words to describe objects that could be grouped in the same category. However, we had to create a controlled vocabulary of tags to make the collection more accessible to users. I do wonder what is lost from doing this– you cannot be as specific and on point in describing something, which can be a little frustrating. However, ensuring that users can locate items takes precedent. 




controlled vocabularies and thesauri

I think I used a thesauri once or twice in college….back when we had to do our research in the library with physical materials, not on a computer.  I remember thinking it was quite useful, this book of terms, had it been there all along?  Then computers took off, and databases, and online search capabilities.  I don’t think I’ve consulted one since then, although I believe I’ve encountered them online (when the site responds to my misspelled search with, “did you mean xxxx?”).  Its easy to be unaware of the existence of a controlled vocabulary or thesauri online when the site automatically applies it, making suggestions and correcting or suggesting terms.  I wonder how many researchers purposefully consult such sources?  Or if it doesn’t matter, when online searching seems to apply them whenever a search is performed?  The tutorial on constructing thesauri demonstrated how much detail and thought must go into creating these tools that many are so unaware of!  

Katie B.


I thought Broughton’s article Essential Thesaurus Construction brought up good points both about what is valuable in using a controlled vocabulary, and what the challenges are in creating one that is reliable.  On the one hand a controlled vocabulary creates greater access by linking terms so a user’s query more often gets them to the information they seek.  On the other, the value of the c.v. depends on its quality.  If it hasn’t been built with integrity, and isn’t maintained, it can become an obstacle for users.  The article made me realize that what makes a controlled vocabulary effective is evaluating user needs and then creating constancy in terminology to meet them.

Chowdhury – Chapter 6

This chapter outlined the basics of the terminology control readings, which was helpful because I’ve never been really good at this kind of thing and I was getting some high school grammar/syntax test feelings. (I was never good at those but look at me now!) This is an aspect of information organization that is definitely really important, but not really one I’d ever thought about before. It’s one of those things that’s always been there in the LCSH but I never took notice before.

What the chapter reminded me of is how this basically functions a lot like a Google search where if you put in a term pretty close to what you mean, the engine will understand and return results for what you actually wanted. (I couldn’t remember the term ‘cosmology’ while trying to do a search on it but when I did a search for ‘inflation theory’, Google returned results for cosmology.) I know that Google is a much more advanced and powerful system but that’s the parallel I see between the two. The semantically related phrases are all grouped together so that all the items with that information can be found or browsed with ease.

Controlled Vocabulary

I really loved the article on controlled vocabulary. It’s something that most people don’t consider when browsing a website, or using the library. Most of us just go with what we know and if it isn’t there we just give up. I think it is often difficult for users to realize just how much work needs to go into organizing a library. All of these terms need to be added so that search results can be easily found. It is just interesting to think of all of the ways that someone could potentially describe something. As librarians where do we draw the line as to what is associated with what materials?

Controlled Vocabulary Challenge

The article by Fred Leise was very insightul – pointing out the power of a controlled vocabulary  to help a user effectively query a database.  The explanation of the need for authority files and hierarchical relationships (broader term and narrower term) was also quite clear.  However, I question the assertion that the intended meaning of even simple terms can be understood by almost everyone.

The example is given in the article of The Gap (clothing store) with the indication that the controlled vocabulary  (along with the accompanying pictures) make the meaning perfectly clear.  As one reader responded in the comments of the article, there is plenty of room for misinterpretation – even by speakers of the same language.  The Gap uses the term “bottoms and pants.” In the United Kingdom, pants refer specifically to underwear.

As I discovered one evening in London, even a simple request for “cream” for my tea had negative results when Housekeeping arrived with several small containers of “clotted cream.” This product is great for spreading on scones – but of no use to a cup of tea.


What is a controlled vocabulary?

Controlled vocabulary is described as a subset of natural language.  it is not how we speak, but instead a translation of how we speak, in order to understand the actual organization of words.  When initially reading the definition of a controlled vocabulary, I first associated it with the “spell-check” mechanism of Google.  Even when a user is performing a Google search and using incorrect spelling, the search engine will still auto-correct and generate the intended search.  By having the controlled vocabulary, Google is able to ensure that the user finds the intended results, even with errors like misspellings.  I find the idea of a controlled vocabulary particularly interesting when it comes to some other examples that the article listed, such as for synonyms.  I imagine that individuals from different geographical areas who have different dialects would each use unique terms for the same words.  In a normal situation, those words would generate different responses, but with a controlled vocabulary both users are able to receive the same results.


The more I read about the Dewey Decimal Catalog system, the more I am in awe of Melvil Dewey, a genius and a man for all times. I did not realize that he was obsessed with decimals and had organized a committee to study the feasibility of introducing the metric system.  Imagine how much easier our lives would be today, had he succeeded!

This entertaining and “tongue in cheek” article discusses the many problems with the DDC and why it it not possible to “FIX” it. In the event that the Library of Congress does manage to “fix” it

“What would happen next?

“Tens of thousands of librarians around the world pick up their razor blades and scrape the white numbers off the spines of millions of books muttering under their breath about those damn editors who don’t understand that every little change means that librarians inhale toxic white dust….”

In addition to angry librarians, there would be riots all over the world because:

 “The Sunnis and the Shiites are upset because they have been put at the same level.”

“East Somewhere is furious because it doesn’t recognize West Somewhere as a legitimate country.”

To make matters worse, “Librarians are out buying razor blades in bulk and white ink by the gallon.”

The reason “the Dewey Decimal Classification system cannot be fixed is  because knowledge is unfixed!

However, Amazon is neither complaining nor rioting. The company has discovered how to “fix” the system and is laughing all the way to the bank!





Otlet (Forgotten Forefather, Origins of Info Science)

How interesting to read about Paul Otlet and his ideas, creations and visions with respect to information classification and retrieval (among other related topics).  Its amazing that someone would undertake such a comprehensive task of creating a “master bibliography” of the entire world’s books and documents!  And for him to envision it as a faceted system so that topical relationships are interconnected, something that we seem to still be discussing and perfecting today.  Its quite fascinating that someone can propose concepts that are not fully appreciated or comprehended for nearly 100 years.  

I’d love to know more details about how Otlet’s work (or what was left of it) was more or less abandoned for fifty years at at University?!?  How does that happen?  It was the 1940s, and while I suppose the war going on in Europe likely had something to do with it at the time, what about afterwards?  No one bothered to clean out that room until the 1990s?  I thought space in Europe was at more of a premium than that, especially at a University!  It seems to say a lot about Otlet’s fall from recognition for his contributions, although as is the case with many big thinkers and creators, the value of his ideas seems to be more appreciated now than during his life.  

Katie B.