Outline of the Categories of Information
Building a Common Framework for Catalogue Entries
Implementing a Common Framework
Organization of the Guidelines
Subjects/Built Works
People/Corporate Bodies
Geographic Locations
Bibliographic Sources
Group Entries
Volume (Sketchbook) Entry
Item Entries
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A Guide to the Description of Architectural Drawings

Building a Common Framework for Catalogue Entries

The Guide addresses two basic questions:

    What types of information should be recorded?

    How should that information be recorded?

In response to the first question this discussion identifies the broad areas of information, or entities, in a catalogue entry. These are of such fundamental importance as to constitute the organizing principle of the Guidelines given in Part Two, providing the framework within which more specific categories of information are identified and defined. An important factor in the identification of these categories is the need to determine a minimum body, or core, of information that should be included in any catalogue entry. The chapter then goes on to discuss the need for consistency in the recording of information (including terminology control and authority control), and some ways in which this can be achieved.


Broadly speaking, research-oriented catalogue information about an architectural document addresses both intrinsic and extrinsic attributes. Both intrinsic and extrinsic information are required to catalogue architectural documents. Intrinsic qualities are generally those that constitute the physical makeup of the item, for example, its technique and medium, its method of representation (e.g., perspective drawing), or the presence or absence of such elements as inscriptions or scales. Extrinsic qualities refer to or represent something outside the item. These extrinsic characteristics provide many essential points of access, including:

  • The person who made an architectural drawing

  • The corporate body that commissioned a project

  • The subject of a drawing (e.g., a staircase)

  • The building represented in a drawing

  • The geographic location of a building

For the purpose of the Guide, these characteristics have been divided into four broad areas, or entities:

  • Items and groups of items

  • Subjects and built works

  • People and corporate bodies

  • Geographic locations

A fifth area of information is Bibliographic Sources, an ancillary area for the referencing of sources on the other four; it can be used also to create bibliographies.

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Categories of Information

Each entity is composed of discrete pieces of information, termed categories. A category may represent a concept (e.g., style) or a proper name (e.g., the name of a repository). In the case of an automated system, a category may equate to a single field. Some concepts involve more than one category of information. For example, the physical characteristics of a drawing may be broken down into a number of categories, including technique, medium, dimensions, etc.

If cataloguers in a given repository—or a number of repositories that share information—record information under the same headings but have differing views about what information should be entered under them, the ways in which that information should be entered, and the meanings of the terms used, then the value of the resultant catalogue entries will be greatly reduced. If definitions are not consistent, the apposition of unlike information as seemingly identical may well confuse the user and lead to misunderstandings and faulty retrieval. For this reason, the Guide places considerable emphasis on defining and discussing the types of information that need to be recorded, rather than simply listing what that information should be.

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Core Categories

Certain categories of information are central to any catalogue entry, and the importance of establishing a clearly defined and adhered-to set of basic categories cannot be stressed enough. The integrity of a catalogue depends more on consistency at a basic level than on the depth of detail of its best entries. Accordingly, the Guide identifies those types of information that researchers generally need and a corresponding minimal, or core, set of information categories. These core categories help to answer the following basic questions:

    How is the group or item identified by the repository?
    Most architectural documents are unique—even blueprints often have notations and overdrawings on them—and there is no standardized way to designate which group or item corresponds to the catalogue entry. It is important, therefore, to record the attributes that combine to identify any given group or item.

    What individual, agency, or corporate body originated the item or group of items? What are the characteristics of these entities?
    For both groups and single items, it is necessary to identify who is responsible for the origination of the group (as a group) or of the item. Researchers ask for material not only by the name of the maker, but also more broadly by the maker's locus of activity (e.g., all draftsmen who worked in Spain) and period (e.g., all 18th-century draftsmen).

    When were the items made?
    For architectural documentation, the period of time in which the items were made can reveal valuable evidence about design and construction phases, building restorations, and artistic development.

    What is depicted on the items?
    The subject of an architectural document is often unbuilt or not depicted as built. Information about a subject as it is depicted is therefore a valuable resource for researchers.

It is of greatest importance—as well as easiest—to achieve common standards first for the minimum record. The designation of core, however, is not meant to imply that repositories should record only the minimum amount of information recommended here. There will be a growing desire to go beyond core-level cataloguing as researchers pursue different avenues. The Guide therefore suggests additional categories for providing information useful to researchers. A complete list of both core and optional categories of information appears in Outline of the Categories of Information.

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Providing Core Information

An important step toward achieving consistency is ensuring that some information is present in every core category in an entry. The need for this information becomes clear when one considers the consequences of not providing it. For example, if the date of execution of a number of items is given in some catalogue entries but not in others, attempts to retrieve by date of execution will fail to find relevant entries because an essential piece of information was not recorded.

Understandably, a cataloguer may hesitate to enter information about which he or she is not certain, especially when a core category of information is designated as an access point and the information required is "hard" or factual. When the cataloguer does not know a date of execution, the tendency may be to omit that category altogether, rather than to concoct an answer. But the function of categories designated as access points is to lead the researcher to the entry and from there to descriptive information concerning the item. Therefore, even if the cataloguer can give only a very rough estimate of a date, this is preferable to no date at all; even the roughest of estimates provides a handle by which to find the entry. Areas of uncertainty can be made apparent through descriptive information that uses natural language.

There will always be circumstances in which a cataloguer cannot ascertain some core information. In such cases, it is better to indicate that the information is unknown than to leave the category empty. This eliminates the possibility that the information was available but inadvertently omitted.

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Terminology Control

Individuals often have different understandings of terms such as project, subject, architect, artist, and date of execution, and relate them in different ways. By date of execution a catalogue entry may refer to the date a drawing was begun, or finished, or the entire time span; the date a design was begun, or finished, or the entire span; or the date the built work represented in the drawing was begun, finished, renovated, or destroyed, or the entire span. These differences of understanding were relatively unimportant when cataloguing information was retrieved primarily by reading discursive prose, and the meaning imparted to a term or concept could be inferred from its context.

If it is common to use the same words for different concepts or entities, it is also common to use more than one word for the same concept. People process such synonyms unconsciously. However, the ability to recognize that, for example, two different names refer to the same person requires knowledge of a subject area. Automated systems can recognize synonyms only if the two names are expressly cross-referenced. The Guide seeks to highlight areas where differences of meaning can affect the quality of information retrieved from catalogue entries and, where possible, to suggest solutions that reduce the potential for ambiguity in the application of both concepts and individual terms.

An appreciation of the problems of terminology control begins with a recognition that users of indexes must be able to anticipate the terms that have been used when searching for information. This necessity of knowing precise terminology in order to retrieve information can be alleviated, for example, by online thesauri, which provide a certain amount of latitude in terminology. The Guide makes recommendations for the use of thesauri when appropriate, although their use does not in itself ensure that researchers can predict which terms were used. In fact, there are numerous approaches to the general problem of terminology control. The guidelines given here suggest the use of the Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) wherever appropriate.

Information that is recorded in categories designated as access points must be expressed consistently. For instance, the name of a city that is the locus of activity of several people should be spelled identically in the record for each person.[1] If not, their records will not file together in a geographic index. There are various methods for achieving such consistency. These are often referred to by the umbrella terms terminology control and authority control, the principal aspects of which are as follows:

  • Format control: A set of rules for ordering and punctuating information within a category to ensure that it is always recorded the same way, e.g., Howell Killick Partridge & Amis, not Howell, Killick, Partridge and Amis, and not HKPA.

  • Vocabulary control: Control of generic terminology, i.e., common nouns and adjectives, e.g., isometric projection.

  • Authority control: For the purposes of the Guide, control of proper names, i.e., names of people and corporate bodies, subjects and built works, and geographic locations.

    Format control

The principal purpose of format control is to ensure uniformity of syntax and punctuation. Many users of automated systems are likely to have experienced the frustrations of having failed to find information simply because a word was not capitalized or because there were too many spaces between words. Unfortunately, while human intelligence automatically compensates for such lapses of consistency, often the computer cannot. Format control is applicable to all types of information, and is an aspect of both vocabulary and authority control. Guidance on format control as applied to individual categories is given where appropriate.

    Vocabulary control

For the purposes of the Guide, vocabulary control refers to the means of maintaining consistency in the recording of generic concepts. Generic information consists of common nouns and adjectives, as opposed to proper names. It is important to make this distinction, because it is as necessary to be able to retrieve by generic types or classes (e.g., department stores) as by specific names (e.g., Macy's). Generic information and proper names must therefore be recorded in separate fields. For example, a drawing made for the Liverpool Cathedral Competition would be indexed in a number of separate fields, including a field for the generic term competition as well as a field for the proper name Liverpool Cathedral.

Vocabulary control for generic terms is necessary in fields that are designated as access points because otherwise cataloguers and researchers tend to use synonyms for generic concepts. The agreed-on vocabulary required for some fields may be relatively limited, but for others will be very large. For example, the roles that a person may play in relation to an architectural subject (e.g., architect, engineer, craftsman, client) are few, but the terms used to describe buildings are manifold. One means of imposing a degree of vocabulary control over the process of compiling computerized records is to make lists of acceptable words for particular categories and store these online in look-up or validation tables. One such table might include all the terms regarded as valid in a field that records the roles just mentioned. These word lists assist in the entry, validation, and retrieval of information. They not only help cataloguers find an appropriate term but also prevent the entering of terms regarded as invalid by checking automatically to see if a term entered by a cataloguer is acceptable, and rejecting it if it is not.

The major problem with word lists is that not all valid generic terms have the same meaning in all contexts. Another problem is that most concepts can be expressed in a spectrum that ranges from broad, general terms (e.g., landscape) to more specific, narrow terms (e.g., parkland). There is an implied hierarchy in such a broad-to-narrow range of concepts, since all of the narrow terms are members of a broader term. This is referred to often as a "parent-child" relationship. To determine how a concept relates hierarchically to other, like concepts, one can ask whether all instances of it belong to another, or vice versa. With the example above, we can state that all parkland is landscape, but not that all landscapes are parkland. Parkland is therefore the narrower term—a "child" of landscape.

The description of architectural documents relies on many hierarchically related concepts. For example, the term architectural drawing is itself a narrower term for drawing. To be more precise, it is a narrower term for drawing in the category of terms describing drawings according to the purpose for which they were made. Similarly, isometric drawing (of an architectural subject) is a narrow term for architectural drawing. In this case, however, the drawing does not belong in the category recording purpose, but in one concerning drawings according to method of representation.

Failure to take account of the hierarchical nature of generic terms will result in a loss of retrievability. One approach to this problem is to use a thesaurus, such as the AAT. Generally speaking, a thesaurus places each term in a hierarchy or hierarchies and records any related terms and synonyms. A thesaurus may be used by a cataloguer as a guide for the choice of terms and can, if computerized, be used as an online method of validating data being entered and for retrieving information held in the system. However, terminology control is not effective unless users have a common understanding of the meanings of the terms permitted. Reference to scope notes, or full definitions for terms provided by a thesaurus, reduces the likelihood of misuse or lack of consistency in meaning.

By applying thesauri, cataloguers can tailor terms entered in fields designated as access points to the levels of specificity required in each. For example, in the case of a database storing information on the environment that is used primarily by geographers, a broad term like landscape may well be too broad to be of value as a retrieval aid because too many entries would contain that term. A query that yields too much information that is not of interest to the user is of limited value, for the user must still read through descriptions in order to find what he or she requires. Moreover, as a database grows, there is a danger that queries by broad concepts will become so taxing to a system that they may have to be disallowed.[2] The Guide makes recommendations for recording appropriate hierarchical levels of terms under pertinent categories.

    Authority control (names)

Authority control is a means of maintaining consistency in the recording of proper names. Entities with proper names are at the other end of the spectrum from generic concepts like architecture. Proper names denote specific instances of a generic concept; e.g., the Liverpool Cathedral Competition is one instance in the general class of all competitions. The proper name serves in part to distinguish the particular instance from all other competitions. For a retrieval system to be flexible it is necessary to be able to retrieve by both the generic level (all competitions) and the specific instance (all items relating to the Liverpool Cathedral Competition). It is also necessary to allow for retrieval on levels that are between generic and specific, e.g., all competitions in England.

When a list or file for names is separate from the file for catalogue entries for items, the file may be called an authority. On the most basic level, an authority file's function is to track the use of proper names. (The broader function of authority files in a database is explained in the next section.) In the context of an architectural documents database, entities with proper names include people, corporate bodies, subjects/built works, and geographic locations, that is, the areas of information extrinsic to items and groups. Just as generic terms have synonyms which should be cross-referenced, so do proper names. The circumstances by which a name can change or occur in different forms are perhaps best appreciated by reading the relevant sections of Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR2).[3]

When recording proper names in a catalogue intended for international use, it is important to avoid dominance of English or any language. A catalogue entry is likely to be in the language(s) of the cataloguing institution; sometimes this is even mandated by law. ADAG recommended, however, that all proper names should be expressed in the language of the person, corporate body, or geographic place to which reference is being made, in addition to the language(s) of the cataloguing institution. This approach may not be practical beyond the five western European languages used by the Comité International de l'Histoire de l'Art (CIHA): French, German, English, Italian, and Spanish. The Guide recognizes the difficulties of making a catalogue system linguistically equitable but recommends that a repository consider the goal of accessibility beyond its own language(s) and make as many provisions as possible for achieving it.[4]

Even in one language, an entity may have a number of proper names. An individual building may form part of a complex (broader context), and may have parts with their own proper names (narrower context). For instance, the Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial is a complex made up of numerous parts: Palacio Real, Patio de los Evangelistas, Galeria de Convalencientes, Jardin de los Frailes, etc. Similarly, a corporate body may form a part of a larger body with a different name, but may in turn be the parent of another. It is important that a database record the hierarchical relationship between these names; otherwise, retrieval will be unreliable.

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Expanding Authorities

As noted earlier, a large proportion of the categories of information included in catalogues of architectural documents concern specific, identified activities, people, organizations, structures, and geographic places. These contextual (extrinsic) entities can be described and recorded quite separately from the documents to which they are associated; doing so expands the function of authority files beyond that of controlling proper names to that of enabling researchers to combine information intrinsic to a document with information about another entity. A query such as " all prints of the Petit Trianon by German draftsmen" goes beyond the items involved, for it draws upon biographical information, e.g., locus of activity.

Authority files in this expanded sense complement the principal types of information recorded by a repository. For example, a repository of architectural drawings regards its item file as central, but may maintain ancillary files concerning subjects and people. On the other hand, a professional association of architects may maintain a main file for people (i.e., biographical information), but ancillary files for subjects and items. An architectural documents database may have authority files holding information in such areas as subjects and built works, people and corporate bodies, and geographic locations.

Some advantages of expanded authority files are as follows:

    1. Once information about an entity (a person, corporate body, subject, built work, or geographic place) has been researched, it can be shared with other departments and repositories that have documents concerning the same entities. This reduces the total amount of work, because otherwise each department and repository would have to do the research individually.
    2. A repository may record the authority information in a separate entry from the item, then link all the documents about that person, place, etc., to that entire record. This, too, is a labor-saving device, because the information does not have to be repeated in each item record, and any change of the information need only be done once, not duplicated for every item record.
    3. By eliminating duplication, all repositories or departments that use the authority file can reduce errors in the information.
    4. All names for an entity are collocated (filed together) in one record. This ability enhances retrieval and allows for control of the use of proper names.
    5. Categories of information within the authority record, such as a person's life span or a building's geographic location, may be used as access points.

The gathering of authority file information can be separate from the cataloguing of items. For example, an institution may wish to put resources into compiling a database on architects, whether or not it holds items to which all those recorded are related. The extent to which an institution wishes to develop authority files—particularly in terms of the amount of detailed contextual information they record—will depend on the relative importance of that information to the repository's specific functions and mission. However, the core categories recommended in the Guide include types of research-oriented information needed for authority control. More detailed discussions of authority files can be found in Subjects/Built Works, People/Corporate Bodies, Geographic Locations, and Bibliographic Sources.

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