Cataloging & Classification Quarterly

Volume 37, no. 3-4, 2004


The Thesaurus: Review, Renaissance and Revision

Sandra K. Roe, Alan R. Thomas

special theme issue guest editors

Introduction by Sandra K. Roe and Alan R. Thomas



The Thesaurus: A Historical Viewpoint, with a Look to the Future
by Jean Aitchison and Stella Dextre Clarke

Abstract: After a period of experiment and evolution in the 1950s and 1960s, a fairly standard format for thesauri was established with the publication of the influential Thesaurus of Engineering and Scientific Terms (TEST) in 1967. This and other early thesauri relied primarily on the presentation of terms in alphabetical order. The value of a classified presentation was subsequently realised, and in particular the technique of facet analysis has profoundly influenced thesaurus evolution. Thesaurofacet and the Art & Architecture Thesaurus have acted as models for two distinct breeds of thesaurus using faceted displays of terms. As of the 1990s, the expansion of end-user access to vast networked resources is imposing further requirements on the style and structure of controlled vocabularies. The international standards for thesauri, first conceived in a print-based era, are badly in need of updating. Work is in hand in the UK and the USA to revise and develop standards in support of electronic thesauri.

Teach Yourself Thesaurus: Exercises, Readings, Resources
by Alan R. Thomas

Abstract: A rationale for self-instruction in thesaurus making is presented. Some definitions of a thesaurus are given and sources suitable to begin self-tuition indicated. A sound grasp of grammar is emphasized and appropriate readings and exercises recommended. Readings in classification, facet analysis, and subject cataloging are described. An approach for deconstruction and reconstruction of sections of classification systems and thesauri is proposed and explained. Procedures for using exercises in thesaurus construction are detailed. The means of examining individual thesauri is suggested. The availability and use of free software are described. The creation of opportunities for self-learning is considered.

Building a Thesaurus: A Practical Exercise
by James R Shearer

Abstract: A nine-stage procedure to build a thesaurus systematically is presented. Each stage offers exercises to put the theory into practice, using agriculture as the sample topic area. Model solutions are given and discussed. Keywords: alphabetical thesaurus, building a thesaurus, practical exercises, thesauro-classification, thesaurus construction

Thesaurus Construction: Key Issues and Selected Readings
by Marianne Lykke Nielsen

Abstract: The purpose of this selected bibliography is to introduce issues and problems in relation to thesaurus construction and to present a set of readings that may be used in practical thesaurus design. The concept of thesaurus is discussed, the purpose of the thesaurus and how the concept has evolved over the years according to new IR technologies. Different approaches to thesaurus construction are introduced, and readings dealing with specific problems and developments in the collection, formation and organisation of thesaurus concepts and terms are presented. Primarily manual construction methods are discussed, but the bibliography also refers to research about techniques for automatic thesaurus construction. Keywords: thesaurus construction, thesauri, bibliography, methodologies

Thesaurus Consultancy
by Leonard Will

Abstract: The role and functions of a consultant in thesaurus development are reviewed, with guidance given on when and how a consultant can be selected. The need for a contract is discussed, and the steps of a thesaurus project are outlined. The cost of thesaurus development is seen to be subject to many variables which makes it difficult to estimate accurately, but some guidelines are given. Testing and feedback are important, and the use of a thesaurus requires an ongoing commitment from the client organisation to maintain and develop it to keep pace with change. Ways in which thesaurus development software can be used are discussed, and attention is drawn to the need for interaction between thesaurus developers and user interface designers to allow the benefits of a thesaurus-based information retrieval system to be fully realised.

Thesaurus Evaluation
by Leslie Ann Owens and Pauline Atherton Cochrane

Abstract: The process of thesaurus evaluation can enhance the value of a thesaurus in terms of usability, scope, precision and recall. Structural, formative, observational and comparative evaluation techniques are explained along with specific examples of their use. These methods of evaluation can be applied in the assessment of an existing thesaurus or the construction of a new thesaurus. The history of thesauri since 1960, the development of national and international standards, and sources of evaluative literature are also discussed. Keywords: thesauri, thesaurus construction and use, evaluation, international standards, usability

User Comprehension and Application of Information Retrieval Thesauri
by Jane Greenberg

Abstract: While information retrieval thesauri may improve search results, there is little research documenting whether general information system users employ these vocabulary tools. This article explores user comprehension and searching with thesauri. Data was gathered as part of a larger empirical query-expansion study involving the ProQuest Controlled Vocabulary. The results suggest that users’ knowledge of thesauri is extremely limited. After receiving a basic thesaurus introduction, however, users indicate a desire to employ these tools. The most significant result was that users expressed a preference for thesauri employment through interactive processing or a combination of automatic and interactive processing, compared to exclusively automatic processing. This article defines information retrieval thesauri, summarizes research results, considers circumstances underlying users’ knowledge and searching with thesauri, and highlights future research needs. Keywords: thesaurus, thesauri, information retrieval, automatic processing, interactive processing

Distributed Thesaurus Web Services
by Eric H. Johnson

Abstract: The World Wide Web and the use of HTML-based information displays has greatly increased access to online information sources, but at the same time limits the ways in which they can be used. By the same token, Web-based indexing and search engines give us access to the full text of online documents, but make it difficult to access them in any kind of organized, systematic way. For years before the advent of the Internet, lexicographers built well-structured subject thesauri to organize large collections of documents. These have since been converted into electronic form and even put online, but in ways that are largely uncoordinated and not useful for searching. This paper describes some of the ways in which XML-based Web services could be used to coordinate subject thesauri and other online vocabulary sources to create a “Thesauro-Web” that could be used by both searchers and indexers to improve subject access on the Internet. Keywords: Internet, World Wide Web, Web portals, Web services, XML, HTML, subject access, thesauri, digital libraries, ADL Thesaurus Protocol, KWIC, UDDI, information retrieval applications

Tools of the Trade: Vocabulary Management Software
by Melissa A. Riesland

Abstract: Basic concepts relevant to controlled vocabularies and outlines criteria for evaluating vocabulary management software are defined. A comparison of four representative vocabulary management products is provided in an accompanying table. Keywords: Thesaurus management software, vocabulary maintenance, product reviews, controlled vocabularies, taxonomies, subject headings, classification, indexing, thesauri, information retrieval

Multilingual Subject Access: The Linking Approach of MACS
by Patrice Landry

Abstract: The MACS (Multilingual access to subjects) project is one of the many projects that are currently exploring solutions to multilingual subject access to online catalogs. Its strategy is to develop a Web based link and search interface through which equivalents between three Subject Heading Languages: SWD/RSWK (Schlagwortnormdatei/Regeln für den Schlagwortkatalog) for German, RAMEAU (Répertoire d'Autorité-Matière Encyclopédique et Alphabétique Unifié) for French and LCSH (Library of Congress Subject Headings) for English can be created and maintained, and by which users can access online databases in the language of their choice. Factors that have lead to this approach will be examined and the MACS linking strategy will be explained. The trend to using mapping or linking strategies between different controlled vocabularies to create multilingual access challenges the traditional view of the multilingual thesaurus. Keywords: MACS (Multilingual access to subjects), multilingual subject access, subject heading languages (SHLs), equivalent headings, Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), Répertoire d'Autorité-Matière Encyclopédique et Alphabétique Unifié (RAMEAU), Schlagwortnormdatei (SWD) / Regeln für den Schlagwortkatalog (RSWK)

An Interview with Dr. Amy J. Warner
by Alan R. Thomas and Sandra K. Roe

Abstract: Amy Warner, Project Leader for NISO’s Thesaurus Development Team, discusses her involvement in the revision of Z39.19 Guidelines for the Construction, Format, and Management of Monolingual Thesauri. Keywords: Z39.19 Guidelines for the Construction, Format, and Management of Monolingual Thesauri, thesaurus standards, controlled vocabulary standards, National Information Standards Organization, NISO

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