Weekly Response: Valerie Ramshur

Thesauri and  Controlled Vocabulary

Defining terminology of thesauri and controlled vocabulary is a big issue in this weeks reading.   As opposed to the “Roget’s “ type thesauri that works as a companion of sorts to the dictionary,  a familiar reference tool of word classification that arranges according to similar concepts in a systematic manner.  We explore the Reference Thesauri of the Information world, a tool that is used for “indexing databases and a great source of subject meta data” (Broughton).   Subject content, concepts, synonym and antonyms are used in addition to a system of cross-references in information retrieval.  The history of the subject heading as the precursor to the thesaurus was interesting. The development from the 19th century of subject headings into the more formal standards of the early 20th century heading lists -both the pre and post coordinated systems. On up through the mid 20th century with the combining of alphabetical and systematic display creating a “faceted thesaurus. These new systems provided and continue to build upon each other a much needed and a more uniform way to work. Hard to imagine how confusing and complicated it must have been prior to these systems.

The natural inclination for human to make sense and patterns of what we take in is explored in the development of Controlled Vocabularies (CV). The topics of taxonomy and hierarchical relationships is clearly laid out in ‘What Is A Controlled Vocabulary?’ by Fred Leise, Karl Fast, and Mike Steckel. I appreciated the widening of the angles on view here and showing usage in websites and online sources how to connect the public and what they seek with what you have and can offer. How the title of Taxonomy creates discomfort for some” …this term makes traditional librarians a little uncomfortable” and yet the use of hierarchical relationship terms like NT (narrower term) and BT (broader term), etc.…are once again creating necessary and uniform ways of working within a system.

Opening Artist’s Books to the User….Myers and Myers…:

Controlled Vocabularies again rear their collective heads in the ever growing and confusing world of collecting and cataloging books made by artists.  The experience special collection catalogers trained in book cataloging and not art find it most frustrating and confusing .  The creative process already quite mysterious is more so when one is dealing with limited guidelines and standards let alone poor definitions and vocabularies. Materials that are not easily categorized or described. So much information is left out of “ Every aspect of the book- from content, materials to format – must respond to the intent of the artist and cohere to a work that is set in motion with a readers touch” (Bright 2006). Catalogers must use words to describe visuals, interpretation and intent. Without a background in art or technique certain controlled vocabulary (CV) can cover only so much. Genre, mediums, art assistants, creators, so many access points. The examples of both brief and full records were interesting in that the depth one has to go into in order to accurately describe the artist’s book.   The crux of the piece to me is artist’s intension and cataloger’s interpretation. The need to find middle ground and national standard for cataloguing such unique items.


About Valerie R.

Head of Costume Design, Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University. Freelance Professional Costume Designer, and Archivist.

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