A Taxonomy Glossary

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Controlled Vocabularies
Keywords Subject Headings Authority Files Synonym Rings Folksonomies
Human-readable classification schemes
tree structures)
(adds relations/
(items have
multiple parents)
Machine-readable classification schemes
Topic Maps Semantic Networks Ontologies  (Semantic Web)

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An excerpt from Systems of Knowledge Organization for Digital Libraries: Beyond Traditional Authority Files by Gail Hodge, April 2000.

[Information organization schemes may be] grouped into three general categories: term lists, which emphasize lists of terms often with definitions; classifications and categories, which emphasize the creation of subject sets; and relationship lists, which emphasize the connections between terms and concepts.

Term Lists

Authority Files. Authority files are lists of terms that are used to control the variant names for an entity or the domain value for a particular field. Examples include names for countries, individuals, and organizations. Nonpreferred terms may be linked to the preferred versions. This type of KOS generally does not include a deep organization or complex structure. The presentation may be alphabetical or organized by a shallow classification scheme. A limited hierarchy may be applied to allow for simple navigation, particularly when the authority file is being accessed manually or is extremely large. Examples of authority files include the Library of Congress Name Authority File and the Getty Geographic Authority File.

Glossaries. A glossary is a list of terms, usually with definitions. The terms may be from a specific subject field or from a particular work. The terms are defined within a specific environment and rarely include variant meanings. Examples include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Terms of the Environment.

Dictionaries. Dictionaries are alphabetical lists of words and their definitions. Variant senses are provided where applicable. Dictionaries are more general in scope than are glossaries. They may also provide information about the origin of a word, variants (by spelling and morphology), and multiple meanings across disciplines. While a dictionary may also provide synonyms and through the definitions, related words, there is no explicit hierarchical structure or attempt to group them by concept.

Gazetteers. A gazetteer is a list of place names. Traditional gazetteers have been published as books or have appeared as indexes to atlases. Each entry may also be identified by feature type, such as river, city, or school. An example is the U.S. Code of Geographic Names. Geospatially referenced gazetteers provide coordinates for locating the place on the earth's surface. The term gazetteer has several other meanings, including an announcement publication such as a patent or legal gazetteer. These gazetteers are often organized using classification schemes or subject categories.

Classifications and Categories

Subject Headings. This scheme type provides a set of controlled terms to represent the subjects of items in a collection. Subject heading lists can be extensive and cover a broad range of subjects; however, the subject heading list's structure is generally very shallow, with a limited hierarchical structure. In use, subject headings tend to be coordinated, with rules for how they can be joined to provide concepts that are more specific. Examples include the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) and the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH).

Classification Schemes, Taxonomies, and Categorization Schemes. These terms are often used interchangeably. Although there may be subtle differences from example to example, these types of KOSs all provide ways to separate entities into "buckets" or broad topic levels. Some examples provide a hierarchical arrangement of numeric or alphabetic notation to represent broad topics. These types of KOSs may not follow the rules for hierarchy required in the ANSI NISO Thesaurus Standard (Z39.19) (NISO 1998), and they lack the explicit relationships presented in a thesaurus. Examples of classification schemes include the Library of Congress Classification Schedules (an open, expandable system), the Dewey Decimal Classification (a closed system of 10 numeric sections with decimal extensions), and the Universal Decimal Classification (based on Dewey but extended to include facets, or particular aspects of a topic). Subject categories are often used to group thesaurus terms in broad topic sets that lie outside the hierarchical scheme of the thesaurus. Taxonomies are increasingly being used in object-oriented design and knowledge management systems to indicate any grouping of objects based on a particular characteristic.

Relationship Lists

Thesauri. Thesauri are based on concepts and they show relationships among terms. Relationships commonly expressed in a thesaurus include hierarchy, equivalence (synonymy), and association or relatedness. These relationships are generally represented by the notation BT (broader term), NT (narrower term), SY (synonym), and RT (associative or related term). Associative relationships may be more detailed in some schemes. For example, the Unified Medical Language System (UMLS) from the National Library of Medicine has defined more than 40 relationships, many of which are associative. Preferred terms for indexing and retrieval are identified. Entry terms (or nonpreferred terms) point to the preferred terms to be used for each concept.

There are standards for the development of monolingual thesauri (NISO 1998; ISO 1986) and multilingual thesauri (ISO 1985). In these standards, the definition of a thesaurus is fairly narrow. Standard relationships are assumed, as is the identification of preferred terms, and there are rules for creating relationships among terms. The definition of a thesaurus in these standards is often at variance with schemes that are traditionally called thesauri. Many thesauri do not follow all the rules of the standard but are still generally thought of as thesauri. Another type of thesaurus, such as the Roget's Thesaurus (with the addition of classification categories), represents only equivalence.

Many thesauri are large; they may include more than 50,000 terms. Most were developed for a specific discipline or a specific product or family of products. Examples include the Food and Agricultural Organization's Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Thesaurus and the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) Thesaurus for aeronautics and aerospace-related topics.

Semantic Networks. With the advent of natural language processing, there have been significant developments in semantic networks. These KOSs structure concepts and terms not as hierarchies but as a network or a web. Concepts are thought of as nodes, and relationships branch out from them. The relationships generally go beyond the standard BT, NT, and RT. They may include specific whole-part, cause-effect, or parent-child relationships. The most noted semantic network is Princeton University's WordNet, which is now used in a variety of search engines.

Ontologies. Ontology is the newest label to be attached to some knowledge organization systems. The knowledge-management community is developing ontologies as specific concept models. They can represent complex relationships among objects, and include the rules and axioms missing from semantic networks. Ontologies that describe knowledge in a specific area are often connected with systems for data mining and knowledge management.