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What is a Controlled Vocabulary?

What is a Controlled Vocabulary, and how is it useful?

--  Information quoted

Takes the Guess Work out of Searching
A controlled vocabulary makes a database easier to search. Since we have many different ways of describing concepts, drawing all of these terms together under a single word or phrase in a database makes searching the database more efficient as it eliminates guess work. However, arriving at this efficiency requires consistency on the part of the individual indexing the database and the use of pre-determined terms.

A Familiar Concept
It’s likely you are already familiar with the concept of controlled vocabulary. Phonebook Yellow Page listings are arranged using controlled vocabulary. For example, a search for "Car Dealers" leads you to a note to “see Automobile Dealers." At a basic level, this is how a controlled vocabulary system works.

One Search is All it Takes
Conducting a search in a database that uses controlled vocabulary or indexing terms is efficient and precise. The biggest advantage to controlled vocabulary is that once you do find the correct term, most of the information you need is grouped together in one place, saving you the time of having to search under all of the other synonyms for that term.


Controlled Vocabularies for Use in Special Collections & Archives

Library of Congress Authorities

Use for:

-          Subject headings (what an item or collection is about)  [LCSH]

-          Personal names (authors, contributors, artists, etc.)  [LCNAF]

-          Corporate names (binding firms, corporate authors, etc.)  [LCNAF]


Thesaurus of Graphic Materials I: Subject Terms  [TGM I]

Use for: Subject headings (what an item or collection is about)

Thesaurus of Graphic Materials II: Genre & Physical Characteristic Terms  [TGM II]

Use for:

-          Format of a physical item (e.g., “Inkless intaglio prints”)

-          Actions and ‘conceptual categories’ (e.g., “printing”)


Art & Architecture Thesaurus  [AAT]

Use for:  Format of a physical item (e.g., “Daguerrotype”)

Union List of Artist Names  [ULAN]

Use for: Personal names not present in LCNAF (of artists and craftsmen, e.g., binders, lithographers, etc.)


RBMS Controlled Vocabularies

Use for:

-          Binding terms (e.g., “Calf bindings”)  [rbbin]

-          Genre terms (e.g., “Devotional literature”)  [rbgen]

-          Paper terms (e.g., “Marbled papers”)  [rbpap]

-          Printing evidence (e.g., “Composition errors”)  [rbpri]

-          Publishing evidence (e.g., “Advance copies”)  [rbpup]

-          Provenance evidence (e.g., “Marginalia”)  [rbprov]

-          Type evidence (e.g., “Serifs”)  [rbtyp]

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