As a 35-year-old company, Access Innovations has produced more than 200 original thesauri, and we are currently working on more thesauri. Although there are standards for thesauri to kind of give us ground rules, we change and we do things differently depending on the needs of the client.

The one rule that remains constant for us is this: A thesaurus must always reflect the collection that will be indexed with the thesaurus.

Achieving this goal can be really challenging with some thesauri, and particularly so with multidisciplinary thesauri. People who feel expert in, or have majored in, some field or another may as a result feel like their field takes precedence over certain others. Therefore they might say something like “This part of the thesaurus needs to cover these things.” We ask, “Which journals will that index in the new thesaurus?” In other words, is the data there to use those terms you so desperately want to apply in this taxonomy? On occasion, I’ve had fairly long discussions with customers and in-house staff in which we caught ourselves doing that more than once.

So, when staff members or customers suggest adding terms to increase the representation of one area of knowledge or another, this will be the single most popular refrain: Is there a journal that those terms could be used to index in the customer’s collection? Yes or no?

At the same time, there may be journals whose content is not yet adequately represented in the developing thesaurus. We need to be vigilant about developing the corresponding parts of the thesaurus with appropriate and representative terminology.

Matching the terminology with the collection while keeping it balanced is a constant challenge. I am comfortable yanking people’s chains to ask, “Is there content in the collection to index with those terms?”

We have some people who are expert in different areas, and they are going to want to build a thesaurus that is beautiful for that field. However, we need to build a thesaurus that is beautiful for the customer’s collection.

Marjorie M.K. Hlava
President, Access Innovations


This posting is one of a series based on a workshop, “Thesaurus Creation and Management,” that Marjorie Hlava presented in December of 2012.