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

Geographic Locations

Place Name
Alternate Place Name(s)
Spatial Coordinates
Geographical Descriptive Note

These categories are designed to record appellations by which geographic places are or were known. A geographic place can be defined in this context as any physical point or area on the earth's surface. It may range in scope from an entire continent to a specific street address.

Locations can be expressed in terms of geographic entities (e.g., North America), geopolitical entities (e.g., Canada ), addresses, and map coordinates. A geographic entity, in this context, is an area of the earth's surface, the boundaries of which are defined often by natural features such as seas, rivers, and mountains (e.g., the Balkan Peninsula). They may be linguistic and cultural units (e.g., Scandinavia), or groups of islands (e.g., Caribbean, Polynesia). Geopolitical entities are taken to mean independent sovereign states, these varying in size from the People's Republic of China down to the independent principality of Monaco. Locational information can be used to record:
  • The locus or loci of activity of an object's maker or a related person or people
  • The location of a corporate body
  • The location of a subject or built work
  • The location of the repository of the item

Geopolitical Entities

One of the problems of recording names of geopolitical entities is their relative impermanence: countries appear and disappear and change their names and/or their borders. Repositories holding information relating to a number of countries need to be aware of any changes of relevance to their collections and to update their records accordingly. Some institutions are likely to require the flexibility to be able to record and retrieve by the name of a geopolitical entity at the time when:
  • It was the locus of activity of a maker or any other person or the location of corporate body
  • A subject was depicted
  • A particular work was built

For example, in the case of a draftsman who lived in the late fifteenth century and whose locus of activity was Pisa, it may be useful to record the name under both Italy (the present geopolitical entity of which Pisa is a part) and Republic of Florence (the geopolitical entity of which Pisa was a part at the time when it was the draftsman's locus of activity). Doing this on an automated system requires allowing for two or more occurrences of the category designed to hold this information. It is also desirable to indicate which is the name of the current geopolitical entity and which are the names of former ones. The problems of creating a data structure which will enable users to relate the current names of localities to the names by which they were known in the past has been addressed by the Historical/Geographical Databank Project of the Thesaurus Artis Universalis (TAU) [1] and AHIP's Thesaurus of Geographic Names. These systems are complex relational databases and can be implemented only as part of a sophisticated geographic location authority file. For most practical purposes, the furthest that repositories are likely to wish to go in this direction is the creation of a relatively simple authority file that allows for the cross-referencing of past names to present names, the relationship between the names being explained in an accompanying note category (Geographical Descriptive Note).

Geographic Entities

The ability to record and retrieve by geographic entity enables the user to locate an item, person, subject, or work at a broader level of description than geopolitical entity. A user may know that a subject is, for instance, North African, but not the country in which it originated. Also, the changeability of national boundaries can make geographic entities more meaningful than geopolitical ones in some instances. The names Italy and Germany are, for example, applied to those areas at periods in history when neither existed as geopolitical units. It can, however, be difficult to determine to which geographic entity a location belongs. Also, many entities are themselves parts of larger entities. For instance, the Iberian Peninsula is a part of Western Europe, which is itself part of Europe. For retrieval to be reliable, repositories should apply guidelines on which names are admissible and how those relate to other broader and narrower names for the same entities, or parts thereof. This area of terminology control is, however, beyond the scope of the Guide.


An address can be used to locate a person, corporation, subject, built work, or repository within a given geopolitical entity. When designing record formats, it is important to recognize that certain types of information are themselves made up of a number of individual pieces of information. The address of a building, for example, comprises a number of separate but related elements, e.g., 10 (number), rue du Parc Royal (street), Temple (area), Paris (city), \xCEle de France (region), 75003 (code), France (country). These elements are combined to form an address that is unique to a building, providing a means of locating and identifying it. The elements that combine to create an address form levels in a hierarchy, ranging from country down to name and number. As a result, these elements have the potential not only to locate an individual building, but also to act as a means of finding all the buildings referred to in a database that have one or more address elements in common (e.g., all buildings on a particular street, all buildings in the Netherlands, or all buildings in the town of Gouda in the province of Holland in the Netherlands). The narrower the search, the more address elements need to be combined in order to ensure that the correct information is retrieved.

In some instances the name of one of the narrower levels may imply the name of the broadest level, or possessing whole. For example, if a building is described as being in Gelderland, it can be inferred that it is in the Netherlands. It is not possible, however, to rely on this whole-part relationship, because some narrow terms are not unique and can therefore imply the name of more than one possessing whole. If, for example, a searcher wished to find all buildings in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it would be insufficient to search only by the name of town, for that would retrieve records holding information on buildings in Cambridge, Ontario; Cambridge, Maryland; or Cambridge, England.

In many manual retrieval systems hierarchical searches are made possible by creating geographic location files with index cards for each country, behind which are placed cards for each state within the individual countries, and so on down through the levels of area and street, to cards that provide cross-references to individual buildings. Computer-based systems have the potential, however, to reduce the amount of effort needed to achieve this end. Hierarchical searches can be made by any category of information that is susceptible to subdivision by recording the components in separate categories, each of which is reserved for a particular element:




rue du Parc






\xCEle de France





A number of the pieces of locational information recorded in the above example may be redundant for purposes of generating a postal address for a building, but are nonetheless useful aids for retrieval. The adoption of this type of approach greatly increases the flexibility of a system, not only allowing for retrieval at every level of the hierarchy, but also increasing the number of ways in which the information retrieved can be manipulated and displayed (e.g., by such means as tabulated lists, sorted under one or more levels of the hierarchy). Also, the more categories the address information includes, the more specific can be the requests for information (e.g., all architects whose locus of activity was Chicago, or all items which are depictions of skyscrapers on Fifth Avenue, New York). The way in which address information is structured is likely to reflect the needs of the institution. For example, some institutions may wish to record down to the level of postal codes, but many will not. If detailed locational information derived from a number of countries is to be recorded in a structured form, the structure must be able to accommodate differences in the ways those countries express addresses.

Address elements, like geopolitical entities, are subject to change. Within the last twenty years a number of historic English counties have disappeared while new ones have been created and a number have changed their boundaries. Similarly, cities grow and absorb surrounding towns and villages, and may change their names, often for reasons of nationalism or politics, e.g., Salisbury (Rhodesia) to Harare (Zimbabwe) and St. Petersburg to Petrograd to Leningrad and back to St. Petersburg.

It may be required of a system that it be able to record one or more former or alternate addresses, in addition to a present one. If an automated system is to be capable of recording this information, it must allow for a number of occurrences of the section of categories corresponding to individual address elements.

It is not always possible to locate a subject with any degree of precision. In some instances the town or city may be known but not a street address, while in others the country alone may be known.
Giovanni Antonio Dosio / 

Roma Antica e i disegni di architettura agli Uffizi

Records designed to hold geographical information must be able to accommodate considerable variation in the degree of specificity of locational information from record to record.

Spatial Coordinates

Spatial coordinates are sets of numbers\x97sometimes with associated letters\x97that locate points on the earth's surface. Most systems use coordinates made up of two numbers, these corresponding to an x and a y axis (although some use three).


The Thesaurus of Geographic Names expresses the position of Tuscany as:


43.25 Direction: N


11.00 Direction: E

Coordinates are particularly useful when a built work must be located with accuracy but the address elements are not sufficient, as with a lighthouse. Another advantage of map coordinates is that while addresses change, coordinates do not.

The importance of spatial coordinates has grown with the development of computer-based Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Using GIS can make it relatively simple to retrieve all records that have the coordinates of any location on a map.

The recording of coordinates is of most importance to regional and national bodies engaged in documenting archaeological sites and historic buildings. However, it would be impractical for the majority of cataloguing institutions to record this information. For this reason map coordinates are not regarded as core, but are recommended for use by institutions that are in a position to record them with relative ease.

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Category: Place Name

The appellation preferred by the repository for a given geographic place.

Retrieval of entries via geographic information is a basic requirement. See the following categories for more specific information:

Repository Geographic Location, in Group/Item Identification
Subject/Built Work Location
Locus/Location, in People/Corporate Bodies

Any geographic place may have a name. It is suggested that the following types of places (or their equivalents) be included for any of the above categories, when appropriate:
  • Geographic entities
  • Geopolitical entities
  • State/Region
  • City/Town
  • Area
  • Road/Street
  • Number
  • Code

In most circumstances, a geographic authority record must contain at least one known proper place name.


Names of places can be transcribed from items or bibliographic sources. The Times Atlas is recommended as a preferred source, where applicable. It is also recommended that the vernacular form of the name be recorded, either as Place Name or Alternate Place Name(s).

access point

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Category: Alternate Place Name(s)

Variant names by which the place is or was known. This includes names of places that have changed over time, variations of spellings, and translated names.

Recording alternate names allows retrieval by more than one name for a given geographic location, e.g., Leghorn for Livorno. In other words, this category provides a cross-reference to Place Name.

access point

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Category: Spatial Coordinates

A set of numbers used to locate points on the earth's surface.

Spatial coordinates can be used to record a location, in the absence of a proper place name.

Place names change and can be imprecise. Further, there is no inherent correspondence between a name and a place. Spatial coordinates, on the other hand, provide an unchanging record of a given location.


The National Archives of Canada express the spatial location of Ottawa as:





The two axes of coordinates should, ideally, be recorded separately, particularly if the repository is considering the use of a GIS.

access point
format-controlled: numeric

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Category: Geographic Descriptive Note

An explanatory text concerning any aspect of a geographic place to which the cataloguer needs to draw attention.

This note can be used to qualify any information about a place, including its historic names.


The name Toscana derives from the early inhabitants, the Etruscans, who settled here ca. 500 BC. Under Diocletian it was part of Tuscia et Umbria. Most of Tuscany was loyal to the Holy Roman Emperors. The modern region was established in 1948.
(excerpt from Descriptive Note on Tuscany in Thesaurus of Geographic Names)

single occurrence

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