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G
ood quality cataloguing is always scrupulously
faithful to the nature of the material being
catalogued; it is also scrupulously consistent.
Although search algorithms and associated lookup tables
are now smart enough to handle most common variants
in spelling and can truncate words to their grammatical
routes efficiently enough, they cannot manage variations
in the naming of fourteenth-century Italian artists, and
are unlikely to appreciate that, where the term `mona-
stery' is entered as a search term, the user would like to
see pictures of friaries too.The NOF team appreciated
that, with such a wide range of material to catalogue
and up to five people working at once, they needed a
thesaurus to enforce consistency right from the start.
A key feature of TEAMS is the ability to import a
T
he schema was settled and the thesauri were
installed by the end of June 2002, and asset
record creation began in earnest the following
month.There are two distinct workflows to cater for
images generated internally and out of house.
The Gallery drawings collection is too valuable to
leave the secured area of Somerset House, so an inter-
nal digital capture rig has been set up.The photogra-
36
DigiCULT
THESAURI
IMAGE HANDLING
many images of it are included in the collection; and
individual images can be catalogued further to indicate,
for instance, that the specific features they depict have a
different origin.To manage the relationships between
objects, the cataloguers use the TEAMS function that
allows links to be named: thus the link type `Object
contains object' indicates a specific relationship between,
in this case, a great house and the works of sculpture it
contains. By using a defined number of such links, the
network of inter-relationships that constitute Vranov
Castle, for instance, can be mapped out with some
degree of precision.The cataloguers do not have to
engage in gratuitous inner debate about whether an
altar is part of a cathedral or an object in its own right:
it is both, and the Courtauld schema allows it to be
catalogued as such.That is not to say that every object
slides neatly into place: cataloguing is a method of
classification, and is inevitably full of tricky choices.
But at least the intellectual effort that is going into the
work reflects challenges thrown up by the nature of
the images and objects themselves, and not by system
limitations or an inappropriately restrictive schema.
Once the schema had been settled and agreed, the
technical manager on the project implemented it
within TEAMS as a set of forms and options for cata-
loguers to use.The project has separate schemas for
Conway images and paintings and drawings from the
Courtauld Gallery collections, which in structural
terms are much simpler to catalogue. A strength of
TEAMS, as indeed of any properly designed DAMS, is
that configuration of the system to manage new kinds
of digital assets is technically quite straightforward: this
is a long way from the kind of system where one
acquired a fixed set of fields and a text box to accom-
modate anything that did not quite fit.
thesaurus and make
it available to users as
a method of ensuring
consistency.Very few
fields in the schema
are keyed into direct-
ly by the cataloguers:
most are selected by
searching thesauri for
the appropriate
name, place or term.
The Art and
Architecture Team
use the Getty origi-
nated Art and Archi-
tecture (AAT), Union List of Artists' Names (ULAN),
and Thesaurus of Geographical Names (TGN)
thesauri, supplemented by the Thesaurus of Graphical
Materials and Library of Congress listings for proper
names.
With specific targets set by the funding body, the
cataloguing team does not have time to complete a
scholarly record for every object in the collection, and
many empty boxes are left for future initiatives.
However, an important part of their work (as for any
cataloguing of images) is the application of keywords
to images. AAT and TGM between them offer extre-
mely rich and comprehensive listings of keywords.The
cataloguers use keywords to capture not so much
historical and cultural information, but specifically
visual elements that will likely have very broad reco-
gnition among the NOF user base. One of the most
fascinating aspects of the project is that entering search
terms such as `serpent' or `war' or `school' is returning
objects that cut right across the spectrum of available
material.The ad hoc network of links between items
that such searches yield has never been seen before, and
indeed could not have been created by any other method.
By `cataloguing what they see' in an image (as well as
what they know or can find out about it), the Art and
Architecture team are adding a powerful and compel-
ling new layer of meaning to the Conway archive.