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

Part One: Principles


The need for guidelines of the kind articulated here has grown as a result of increased interest in architectural drawings and the information that can be derived from them. In particular, computers have opened up a wider range of possibilities for inquiry than even the most sophisticated of manual cataloguing systems could offer. These possibilities bring with them, however, the challenge of devising new approaches to the recording, structuring, and retrieval of information.

These issues become even more important when cataloguing institutions wish to share information. Common access requires a common approach to structuring and recording information. This goal can be attained in a variety of ways, ranging from applying strict standards to more flexible approaches that make allowances for the needs of individual institutions and the constraints under which they operate. This range can be characterized broadly as: [1]

    Technical standards: The most rigid and exacting level of standards. If followed consistently, they will yield identical products.

    Conventions: Also called rules; these standards are more flexible and can be adapted to local needs. The results will be similar, but not identical.

    Guidelines: Broad criteria against which to measure products.

ADAG's deliberations have, for the most part, led to the formulation of guidelines, rather than conventions or technical standards. In some areas—for example, in the treatment of names of people and corporate bodies—other organizations have developed conventions that may be applicable to architectural drawings. Given the dearth of standards for the description and retrieval of drawings and built works, ADAG concentrated its efforts on providing guidelines, and sometimes conventions, in these relatively neglected areas. The Guide, then, is not definitive, but is meant to be a step toward cataloguing standards. Although principally concerned with architectural drawings, many of these guidelines may be applied to—and at times specifically address—related materials, including models, prints, and photographs.

Documentation of holdings in archives or museums involves many activities: accessioning, legal documentation, cataloguing, movement control, and more. The Guide focuses on the activity of cataloguing, defined as the creation of descriptions and indexes for a repository's holdings.

Printed or card catalogue entries are likely to take the form of phrases and sentences, conveying meaning in the form of discursive prose. Descriptive information of this kind is relatively free of syntax and terminology controls, apart from those imposed by the conventions of language. It can express information necessary to the description of an item and the context in which it was made, including contradictory evidence and uncertainty. Descriptive information is necessary because it communicates information to users of a catalogue, but its value is very much dependent upon users first finding the entries they need. Of course, all descriptive information in a catalogue is accessible, in theory, if only by browsing through all entries. However, this is time-consuming. In addition, if entries are stored inside a computer, they are essentially hidden until they are retrieved. In other words, retrieval is a necessary first step before an entry is made accessible. The Guide focuses on identifying the information that should be recorded (description) and discusses the problems related to making it as retrievable as possible (indexing).

Various approaches have evolved to address retrieval requirements for both manual and computerized catalogues. For example, information in a traditional manual catalogue is made more accessible by structuring entries so that the same information appears in the same physical area on the card, as in a catalogue card's uniform format. Ensuring that categories such as title, name of draftsman, and subject appear in the same relative position in each entry improves access to the information by allowing for quicker browsing. Similarly, in automated systems, retrieval is facilitated by storing categories of information in predetermined reserved parts of records, known as fields.

Another approach to making information more accessible is through indexing of predetermined types of descriptive information. Indexing can be defined as the making of multiple means of access to catalogue information. For example, by indexing titles, names of draftsmen, dates, and subjects, one can retrieve entries by these categories. Mechanisms for creating such cross-references include index cards or lists in a manual system and links or pathways in a computer system. The categories of information used for retrieval can be described as access points.[2] Regardless of the mechanisms, these pathways or access points should be planned early in the process of defining a repository's standards for cataloguing.

Any cataloguing procedure must allow both for the listing of terms in designated fields and for nuanced descriptions capable of representing the subtle changes in spatial and other relationships so key to the development of architectural concepts. The following example is an excerpt from a description of a drawing where the relationships, not the elements per se, are the subject:

No Image Available

Elevation of left half of façade of San Lorenzo from ground level to peak of pediment. The elevation is divided horizontally ... in three levels, a main order, a mezzanine of two levels (the lower one several times the height of the upper), and an upper level. The lower and upper levels are shown with what appears to be the Corinthian order, and the mezzanine with pilaster strips that include bases and cornices but no capitals...[3]

Compare this description with a possible list of access points (index terms) for the same drawing:
  • Italia
    • Firenze
      • San Lorenzo

    Corinthian order
    pilaster strips

The effect of the two texts is strikingly different. The description not only helps to conjure an image of the subject, but is also a valuable interpretive exercise in its own right. In contrast, the characteristics captured by indexing are so generic that no image comes to mind, and subjective interpretation is held to a minimum. This example demonstrates the function of indexing: to lead the researcher to entries of descriptive information—in this example, the description of a subject (San Lorenzo) and how its architectural components are related to one another in a particular drawing. Descriptive information can convey not only such relationships but also the absence or presence of a combination of architectural components that a researcher may be looking for. It can also express uncertainty about the accuracy of particular information through qualifying language.

Thus description and indexing are complementary components of cataloguing. The vagaries of language give indexed information higher potential for retrieval than descriptive information, while descriptive information is better suited than indexed information to the expression of architectural syntax, nuance, and arguments. The categories recommended in the Guide address this need for both descriptive and index functions. (See Outline of the Categories of Information for an explanation of how these concepts are distinguished in the presentation of categories.)

The complexities of expressing nuanced information raise the issue of retrieving directly from images representing the items by such means as videodiscs and CD-ROM. Researchers would welcome the creation of illustrated databases that would enable them to browse entire collections with relative ease. But if surrogate images are to be made easily accessible, they need to be linked to a catalogue that identifies and describes them by means of text—in the same way that a catalogue makes the items represented accessible. Therefore, the Guide assumes that the fundamental means of access to images will remain text-based.

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