Controlled vocabularies

A controlled vocabulary is an organized set of terms (words, phrases, and names) meant to facilitate description and retrieval of items in a collection. These terms can be in alphabetical or hierarchical order, and are often developed to describe a certain type of collection, such as the Art & Architecture Thesaurus or the Nomenclature for Museum Cataloging (although that does not mean that they can only be used for that type of collection), or a certain type of entity, such as the Union List of Artists' Names (ULAN). For information about different types of controlled vocabularies and how to construct them, see the Getty Research Institute's Introduction to Controlled Vocabularies.

Controlled vocabularies in the catalog

Folger catalogers use the following controlled vocabularies to:

  • categorize the subject of an item (what it is about)
  • describe its physical and intellectual genre and form (what it is , or what is an example of)
  • name a person, organization, or place consistently, regardless of how the name is spelled in the resource
  • describe a relationship with other items or entities using relationship designators

Library of Congress Name Authority File (NAF)

The Library of Congress Name Authority File (officially the "NACO Authority File") provides standardized names and cross references for people, organizations, places, events, and titles. For example, "Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616" is the authorized form of Shakespeare's name. For works by Shakespeare or adapted from Shakespeare, it appears in the "Name" field. For works about Shakespeare, it appears in the "Subject" field.

Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH)

The Library of Congress Subject Headings is a general list, first developed by the Library of Congress in 1898, and actively maintained and updated since then. At the Folger, it is used to specify topics of both open stacks and vault materials.

 600 10 Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616 ‡x Homes and haunts ‡v Pictorial works 
 650  0 Political corruption ‡z England ‡v Early works to 1800 

(In the two examples above, notice that there is a subfield ‡v present, indicating a genre/form term. Genre subdivisions are gradually being phased out of practice as the Library of Congress develops more specialized vocabularies, such as LCGFT, and library catalogs implement faceted browsing, but for now many are still actively used.)

The LCSH is a broad, generalized vocabulary, and it can describe a variety of materials, but like Library of Congress Classification, LCSH was created to fit the Library of Congress's holdings, and not to encompass all areas of knowledge or topics. It is a subject list, and although the terms found therein may be used for form and genre, it's a clumsy fit. Folger catalogers turn to a selection of smaller, specialized vocabularies for genre and form: the RBMS controlled vocabularies, the Art & Architecture Thesaurus, and occasionally the Thesaurus for Graphic Materials (as well as a small handful of local terms).

Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) Controlled Vocabularies

The Rare Book and Manuscripts Section (part of the American Library Association) maintains six controlled vocabularies relating to the physical evidence, provenance, and genre of rare materials. RBMS terms are used extensively by the Folger as genre and form terms to describe our Vault collections, and some of our open stacks items as well (such as to note the presence of an author's inscription); they are also used to describe items in the Folger Bindings Image Collection. The RBMS vocabularies account for seven abbreviations on the list of source codes for genre & form terms (printing and publishing terms get distinct abbreviations, despite being released as a single thesaurus).

Composition errors (Printing) ‡2 rbpri 
Printed waste (Binding) ‡2 rbbin ‡5 DFo 
Volvelles. ‡2 aat 

Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT)

The Art & Architecture Thesaurus is a true hierarchical thesaurus. (By contrast, LCSH is not, despite its designation of broader and narrower terms.) Maintained by the Getty Research Institute, AAT is much broader than its name implies. Its coverage of art topics is useful at the Folger, but AAT is also designed to describe topics depicted in art. AAT is the Folger's thesaurus of choice for genre access in both bibliographic records and authority control, supplemented by RBMS, LCSH, and LCGFT terms as necessary. In terms related to the book trade, especially, AAT is more granular and expressive than LCSH.

Thesaurus for Graphic Materials (TGM)

The Thesaurus for Graphic Materials was initially created by the Library of Congress to provide subject indexing for pictorial works, and was designed with automated systems, such as machine-readable cataloging in mind. At its creation in 1995, it consisted of two vocabularies: subject terms (TGM I) and genre and physical characteristic terms (TGM II). In October 2007, TGM I and TGM II were merged into a single thesaurus; however, due to their differing uses, they are still designated by two different sources codes in the MARC subfield ‡2. TGM I subject terms usually appear in the 650 field and are designated by ‡2 lctgm, while TGM II genre terms appear almost exclusively in the 655 field and are designated by ‡2 gmgpc.

One of TGM's strengths is its emphasis on providing subject access for both the "of" and the "about" of graphic materials - not just the subjects that are directly depicted, but also the broader meanings or symbolism that those subjects may suggest. TGM does not always have the granularity and deep hierarchical structure of AAT; however, it is a living vocabulary, and is regularly updated.

Folger practice: when cataloging art, use TGM I for subject access (designated with ‡2 lctgm), and TGM II for form/genre access (designated with ‡2 gmgpc).

Local terms

Occasionally, the vocabularies above will not include the most precise term to describe an item, or Folger conventions may describe an item a particular way that does match a controlled vocabulary. For these cases, the Folger maintains a small group of local terms, identified by ‡2 local. While a group of local terms is technically considered a controlled vocabulary (it is a flat list of subject headings and/or genre terms, though it is not hierarchical), the Folger's local terms are not updated systematically, and are used or added to very rarely - only when there is no other option available for to describe a collection item.

Local terms used by the Folger:

Manuscripts from print
Players' parts
Prologues and epilogues

Other controlled vocabularies

Index terms for occupations in archival and manuscript collections (ITOAMC)

Index terms for occupations in archival and manuscript collections (ITOAMC) is a controlled vocabulary maintained as an Excel spreadsheet by Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress for use in authority and bibliographic records. It does not seem to be available on the Library of Congress web site, so the listing on Folgerpedia may be the easiest way to access the controlled vocabulary.

ITOAMC, as its name implies, focuses on occupations (e.g., Archivists, Pianists) and other designations for persons (e.g., Civil libertarians, Quakers). At the Folger, it is used almost exclusively in authority control. However, like LCSH, ITOAMC has an American bias by design. It has terms, such as "American loyalists" and "Chaplains, U.S. Senate", that would rarely come up at the Folger - and none particular to, say, the English Civil War. Thus, ITOAMC is often a third choice for Folger catalogers when doing authority work, after AAT and LCSH.

Language of Bindings

Like AAT, the Language of Bindings database, or LoB, is a highly-structured thesaurus. It is one of the projects of Ligatus, a research center of the University of Arts London, and was released in June 2015. It's a young project, and will continue to develop with community involvement. Eventually, they hope to have pictures. We have not officially adopted the use of LoB at the Folger, but will keep a close eye on what, if anything, develops between LoB and the RBMS Controlled Vocabularies.

External links