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RMSC Thesaurus Project

Since 1912, a succession of RMSC staff members have made descriptive entries of accessioned materials into the primary files and catalog cards. The result is a mix of spelling variations and custom terms that requires a degree of familiarity with the museum's collections to properly search for materials owned by the RMSC. Intricate searching has been limited to longtime staff or other specialists who are intimately familiar with the collection, its history, and those responsible for its development.

The RMSC Thesaurus Project is intended both to standardize the terms used by RMSC to catalogue its collections, and to allow users unfamiliar with the RMSC collections to get results normally produced by an “expert searcher.” The RMSC Thesaurus Project is a long term effort to create a searchable, mapped thesaurus database of terms linked to the individual object records accessible through LibCat.

Thesauri are typically built in a linear, hierarchical pattern proceeding from more general terms to more specific ones in a tree-like structure. The RMSC Thesaurus Project has developed an innovative non-linear web-like structure instead, with the advantage of allowing multiple broader terms for any given term, as well as the usual multiple narrower terms. Thesaurus term records in our system contain variants (“use for”), as well as broader and narrower terms, and notes that explain how the term is specifically used within LibCat.

The thesaurus term records are exported in the form of “subject heading” records to LibCat, and appear as an option under the “format/type” section of the refine column after a search. The ultimate goal is to take advantage of LibCat’s underlying search engine which indexes and integrates all imported files. Once indexed, the thesaurus terms provide an additional access point that will eventually allow users to virtually browse through the collections. This eliminates the need for researchers to be familiar with the inconsistent and sometimes obscure terminology originally used to describe the objects.

By examining the subject heading records, it is possible to explore the tree structure of the thesaurus from the inside, learning how the terms are related. This should ultimately be an aid to achieving more successful searches of LibCat. Clicking the “show related items” link in a subject heading record will display a list of all items in LibCat that are catalogued with that term, or with any of its narrower terms.

RMSC expects that the Thesaurus will enable new avenues of research to be pursued by a much wider audience than previously possible. This is an ongoing project that will see more and more terms integrated into the Thesaurus and available to aid searching in LibCat. Right now, we are still building the hierarchy of terms, applying them to new records, and “retrofitting” existing records to make use of the terms

For more information about the RMSC Thesaurus Project please contact:

Kathryn Murano

Rochester Museum & Science Center
657 East Avenue
Rochester, NY, 14607
Tel: 585-271-4552 x329
Fax: 585-271-0492