Authority Files for Cataloging Pictures: Common Choices
Authority files contain names and subjects that can be added to
catalog records to simplify searching by providing a consistent
vocabulary for access points. You may hear authority files referred
to by other names: thesauruses, heading lists, indexing vocabularies,
or taxonomies. The specialized scope of most authority files means
that libraries and archives often rely on several vocabulary sources.
Typically, you need to select a source for names of people as well
as source(s) for topical subjects and genre-form terms.
Example: A person cataloging many media (e.g., books,
maps, posters, sound recordings) relies on the Library
of Congress Authorities to select access points for people,
places, events, and subjects. When appropriate terms for pictorial
subjects are not found, a tool emphasizing visual topics is consulted,
such as the Art
& Architecture Thesaurus or Thesaurus
for Graphic Materials.
Example: An archives specializing in photographs or
cartoons turns to the Thesaurus for Graphic
Materials as its primary subject indexing tool, supplemented
by a list of local headings as needed.
To help you find authority files appropriate for indexing the pictorial
materials at your own institution, this resource list cites the
online files most commonly used when cataloging documentary photographs,
cartoons, prints, posters, illustrations, and design drawings. Representative
examples of locally developed subject authority files are also mentioned.
Many other authority files exist for such specialized subject fields
as astronomy, economics, and real estate. The Taxonomy
Warehouse provides a directory for hundreds of vocabularies.
When trying to find authority file(s) appropriate for your information
system, it can be helpful to test alternative vocabularies. First,
select several catalog records. Then, identify two or three authority
files and assign access points from each of them to the catalog
records. Compare the results and get reactions from your catalog
users to determine which tools best suit your particular community.
For additional information on the benefits of using controlled
vocabularies from authority files, see:
The Library of Congress does not maintain most of these sites. Users
should direct concerns about these links to their respective site
administrators or webmasters.
Table of Contents
Name Authority Files
Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) http://geonames.usgs.gov/
More than 2,250,000 names for "physical and cultural geographic
features in the United States and its territories." Produced
by the U.S. Geological Survey with the U.S. Board on Geographic
GEONet Names Server (GNS) http://earth-info.nga.mil/gns/html/index.html
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency offers access to
a database of foreign geographic feature names containing more than 5 million features with 8 million names
Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names (TGN) http://www.getty.edu/research/tools/vocabularies/tgn/index.html
The TGN is a structured, world-coverage vocabulary of
around 2 million names, including vernacular and historical names,
coordinates, and place types, and descriptive notes, focusing
on places important for the study of art and architecture.
Produced by the Getty Vocabulary Program of the J. Paul Getty
Library of Congress Authorities: Name Authority File
Provides 8.2 million name authority records
-- 6 million personal names, 1.4 million corporate names, 180,000
names for meetings, and 120,000 geographic names. Created by the
Library of Congress with contributions from other libraries.
Photography Database http://photographydatabase.org/about.html
Names and biographical information for thousands of photographers
represented in museums and libraries. Onlline version began "as a component of the photography cataloging system at George Eastman House, and was accessible on-line via Telnet until 2010. It is now independently co-edited by Andrew Eskind and Greg Drake and continues to grow and improve upon nearly 30 years of research."
Earlier version available as printed book: Index to American
Photographic Collections, ed. by Andrew H. Eskind, 3rd enl.
ed. (New York: G.K. Hall, 1996).
Union List of Artist Names (ULAN) http://www.getty.edu/research/tools/vocabulary/ulan/
The ULAN is a structured vocabulary containing more than
600,000 names and biographical and bibliographic information about
artists and architects. Produced by the Getty Vocabulary
Program of the J. Paul Getty Trust.
Subject Authority Files
Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) http://www.getty.edu/research/tools/vocabulary/aat/
The AAT is a structured vocabulary of more than 250,000
terms, descriptions, bibliographic citations, and other information
relating to fine art, architecture, decorative arts, archival
materials, and material culture. Produced by the Getty Vocabulary
Program of the J. Paul Getty Trust.
Australian Picture Thesaurus (APT) http://www.picturethesaurus.gov.au/
"The Australian Pictorial Thesaurus (APT) is a collection
of topic terms for indexing Australian images. The APT uses contemporary
Australian terminology to describe objects, people, places and
structures, activities and concepts depicted in an image."
More than 15,000 terms. Sponsored by the National and State Libraries Australasia.
Canadian Subject Headings (CSH)
"Over 6000 subject authority records in the English language,
providing in-depth coverage of Canadian topics ..." Sponsored
by the Library and Archives of Canada.
Digital Newsphoto Archives Keywords http://www.ibiblio.org/slanews/archiving/terms/photowords.htm
Includes 500 "enhancement terms" to index news photographs.
and Photo Database Enhancement Terms" project lists indexing
vocabularies from several newspaper photo libraries. Sponsored
by the Special Libraries Association, News Division.
Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH)
Around .5 million terms for both topics and names used as subjects.
Produced by the Library of Congress, Cataloging Policy and Support
Office. Also available through Cataloger's
Medical Subject Headings (MESH) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/mesh/meshhome.html
More than 25,000 descriptors for medical and health-related
information. Produced by the National Library of Medicine.
Thesaurus for Graphic Materials I: Subject Terms
(TGM I) http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/tgm1/
Almost 7,000 terms for topics represented in general picture
collections. Includes activities, facilities, objects, occupations,
and abstract and general concepts, but no proper noun names for
people or places. Produced by the Library of Congress, Prints
& Photographs Division.
Form-Genre Authority Files
Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) http://www.getty.edu/research/tools/vocabulary/aat/
The AAT contains thousands of terms for indexing pictorial materials
by their object type, format, genre, and physical characteristics.
See especially the Visual and Verbal Communications hierarchy
in the Objects facet area.
Thesaurus for Graphic Materials II: Genre, Form, and Physical
Characteristic Terms (TGM II) http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/tgm2/
Approximately 600 terms, with definitions, to designate types
of photographs, prints, design drawings, and other visual media.
Produced by Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
Local Authority Files (representative examples)
City of Vancouver Archives, Photograph Subject Terms List
About 1,500 terms, including Vancouver (B.C.)--Public works; Victory
Square (Vancouver, B.C.); Visits of state; Waterspouts; and World
Compiled by Helena Zinkham, Technical Services Section,
Prints & Photographs Division, August 2013.