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Art & Architecture Thesaurus Online
2. General Guidelines






General Information





Following the rules

Data creators: For Vocabulary editors, contributors, and other content creators, to enter or edit data for the Getty Vocabularies, follow the Editorial Rules in this document. Contributors or other users may compare their in-house rules to the guidelines in this document to gauge compatibility. Where the rules or their application are ambiguous or not applicable to a situation at hand, please consult with the Getty Vocabulary Program, These rules are regularly updated to reflect solutions and recommendations for new issues.





Required fields and minimal records


Implementers: Developers and other implementers of the Getty Vocabularies should refer to this document to extrapolate information that will aid in understanding and presenting the Getty Vocabulary data correctly.

Among the most important guidelines are the following: Do not omit references to the sources and contributors of the Getty Vocabulary data. The Getty Vocabularies are compiled from contributors' data and this contribution should be recognized. Published sources should be cited to avoid plagiarism. In implementations, please consider including all data included in the Vocabulary record ("record" meaning all data linked directly or indirectly by a given subject_id). Do not omit flags such as "unknown" or values in display fields "undetermined." For scholarship, contributors who are adding information to the records, and others, it useful to know when a value is unknown rather than left empty. An empty field means nothing. A value such as "unknown," even if it is a default value, is in itself useful information about the status of the field and can serve to identify areas requiring additional research. See also the discussion below about how catalogers deal with information that is unknown to themselves, or unknowable in the broader context of scholarship.

VCS: The custom-built editorial system used by the Getty Vocabulary Program is called "VCS" (Vocabulary Coordination System). You may find occasional references to "VCS" in this document, for the benefit of Vocabulary Program editors or others using this particular system. The Vocabulary databases comprise relational tables and allow construction of rich data in compliance with international standards for thesauri. In addition to creating polyhierarchies, linking associative relationships, creating terms and other data in multiple languages, and other typical funtions required by a thesaurus-construction system, VCS is optimized for loading contributions, merging contributions representing the same concept, citing preferences to allow alternate points of view, and tracking revision histories over long periods of time.



Minimal record
When adding new records, create a record that meets requirements for a minimal record, which contains at minimum all required fields ("core" fields).



Fuller records
For contributions, fuller records are welcome, particularly those having useful alternate names, relationships, and coreferences. Editors: When adding records or editing existing records, if there is additional time and the concept is important, you may create a fuller record by filling in fields beyond the Core as time and research warrant.



Required fields
Each record must include a term and a position in the hierarchy. A scope note is also required for all new records:

    • a numeric ID identifies the record uniquely (IDs are assigned by the system)
    • a parent (you create the link to a parent by designating the correct level with the mark "DOM" (for dominant) when you create or move a record)
    • preferred term (a descriptor in English is the minimum requirement)
    • [alternate descriptor, where mandated; see Guidelines]
      For each term:
      • various associated flags (generally automatically assigned)
      • sources for the term
      • language of the term
      • contributor of the term (automatically assigned by VCS)
    • scope note
      • sources for the scope note
      • language of the scope note
      • contributor of the scope note (automatically assigned)

  • Additional fields, including the Associative Relationships, may be included as time and editorial priorities allow.









Format and values

  • Examples in the various sections of the editorial rules illustrate the format of data in all fields.





Controlled vocabulary
Some fields use controlled vocabulary, meaning you must link to a value in a controlled list. If you feel additional values need to be added to the list, consult with your supervisor. Controlled vocabulary in the AAT record includes dozens of short controlled lists for flags, as well as long lists such as Relationship Type.









Capitalization and abbreviation

  • In general, data in all fields should be expressed in mixed case (i.e., with the appropriate initial capitals for proper terms, but not all upper-case or all in lower case). Do not use initial capitals for terms, except for the names of styles (e.g., Impressionism) and other rare exceptions. See further discussion under each field below.

  • Avoid abbreviations in all fields unless otherwise instructed in the appropriate rules. For terms, avoid abbreviations in the preferred term, but if there is a common abbreviation, include it as a variant term to allow retrieval.









Language of the Record





The AAT is multilingual insofar as the terms may be flagged and hierarchies may be constructed in multiple languages. Scope notes may be translated into multiple languages. Differences in languages as spoken in different places may be noted, as the difference between American English and British English noted where pertinent. The flags, display dates, and other fields in the AAT record are generally in American English.

Background: In a completely multilingual vocabulary, all languages would be treated equally, with none serving as a so-called dominant language. However, in practical applications, it is often necessary to treat one language as the default dominant language, particularly when the vocabulary is rich and complex. An example is the AAT, in which each concept record includes over 100 fields or data elements in addition to the term itself. With such vocabularies, it would be impractical to maintain the data values of flags, notes, dates, hierarchies, and other subsidiary information in several languages. For the AAT, English is the dominant language, although terms and scope notes may be in multiple languages. In addition, if every term in the original source language has not been assigned equivalents in all other target languages, the status of the other languages is not equal to that of the source language, and they are known as secondary languages.





Terms, scope notes, and other fields are expressed using Unicode. If terms or scope notes are contributed in a language other than English or in an alphabet or writing system other than the Roman alphabet, an English translation in the Roman alphabet must also be included.





The AAT is published in Unicode. However, in legacy AAT data special codes may used to represent diacritics (e.g., berg$02eres contains the accent grave code for bergères).

  • See the diacritical codes listed in Appendix A. The codes comprise a dollar sign and two or three digits; the codes are usually placed before the letter requiring the diacritic.

    • Example
      [terms with accents graves in display]
    • bergères (preferred, American English-P, French)
      bergère (alternate descriptor)
      bergère chairs
      cabriole bergères
      chairs, bergère
      fauteuils à panneaux
      fauteuils en bergère









Production goals

  • Editors are assigned quotas for the number of records that they should complete each day. The quota differs depending upon the editorial task. Your supervisor will provide you with the target quota for the task assigned to you.

  • Typically, the quotas are gathered at the end of each month and the number of records per day is averaged over the days worked during that month. Your supervisor may tally your quota for smaller periods of time as warranted. In order to meet your quota for the month, it is recommended that you meet your quota each day rather than trying to make it up at the end of the month.









Leaving records unfinished overnight

  • Do not leave unfinished records overnight. This is particularly critical on nights when data extractions will be made for the various data releases. At the end of each day, all records in the regular, publishable sections of the hierarchy must be ready for publication.









Quality control

  • Avoid typographical errors at all costs. Proofread your work carefully.

  • If you have a tendency to make typos, for notes and other texts it is recommended to copy the note into Word, run spell check, and then paste the corrected note into VCS (but do not paste any special characters from Word).

  • Pay special attention to Terms, because they are the most important part of the AAT record, yet the most difficult in which to spot errors.









Avoid plagiarism





Published sources
Caveat: Do not copy texts from published sources verbatim! Read, analyze, and rephrase the material. Do not jump to conclusions or state more than is discussed in your sources.

  • It is permitted to use the copy function to extract texts from the Web provided you do so only as a reference. You must rewrite any such text and cite the source.

  • To avoid pasting illegal characters into VCS, first put the Web text into Notepad, and then copy it from Notepad before pasting it into VCS.

  • It is required to cite the published source of terms and the information in notes. Include the page number or other appropriate reference to the passage where you found the term or other information.

  • Sources may be linked directly to each Term and to the Scope (Descriptive) Note. For other information, record the source in the overall Subject citation designation.





It is required to include the contributor who provided Terms and the Scope (Descriptive) Note. Generally, the contributor is automatically assigned when the data is loaded and the editor need not worry about it (other than to avoid deleting the contributor or misrepresenting the contribution).





What is a contributor?
A contributor to VCS is an institution or occasionally an individual person who does one of the following: 1) They use programmers to process data files that originated in their institution and they send us their data in our XML contribution format, or 2) they use our online contribution form to fill in data based on their own local data. In either case, the contributor is handling the data; their data is not being interpreted by the Vocabulary Program. If an institution or person sends us hardcopy information that we in the Vocabulary Program enter into VCS, that institution or person is NOT a contributor per se. They are considered a source for the data, but they are not a contributor because they do not physically provide data in a format that may be entered into our system. Given that there is some interpretation going on when we enter the data by hand, the Vocabulary Program is the contributor in these cases.

  • To avoid misrepresenting the contributor's contribution, if you change a Term or significantly change a Scope (Descriptive) Note that had been provided by a contributor, change the contributor to "VP" (for Vocabulary Program) and make a link through Source to the contributor's database. Thus, you are indicating that the contributor's data was the source for the information, but the VP has changed it or entered it.

  • Caveat: Note that you may change a Term contributed by a contributor only in special circumstances that have been approved by your supervisor. Normally, you should not edit a contributor's contributed Term. If you need to add a modified version of the term, make a new term with contributor "VP"; do not delete or edit the contributed term unless directed to do so by your supervisor.









Uncertainty and ambiguity in display fields

  • When important information is described as uncertain by your source, the information may still be recorded, but with an indication of uncertainty or approximation in a Scope (Descriptive) Note or Display Date field (e.g., "ca." or "probably").

  • Never express more certainty than warranted by your sources. If there is disagreement among reliable sources, use terms such as probably or otherwise express the uncertainty (e.g., "Some scholars believe there is a relationship between Aterian leaf-shaped blades and Solutrean blades, and that the Aterians entered the Iberian Peninsula during Solutrean times."). Consider idiosyncrasies of contributed data (where data may have been parsed incorrectly by algorithm out of various systems) and your published sources; analyze what is true and what is only possibly or probably true.

  • Index important information in the note or display date field using appropriate indexing fields and estimating data for retrieval. See the discussion of individual Display Date and Scope (Descriptive) Note fields below for more information.









Uncertainty and ambiguity in indexing fields

  • Indexing fields are intended for retrieval. Any field that contains a controlled number (e.g., Start Date) or values controlled by pick lists (e.g., Preferred flag) or controlled files (e.g., Language) are indexing fields. Consider retrieval issues when you assign terms and values to such fields.

  • When fields do not display to end-users: Some fields do not display to end-users. For example, the Start Date and End Date do not display to end-users; for these fields, estimate broadly the span of time that is applicable. Estimating too narrowly will result in failed retrieval. However, estimating overly broadly will result in false hits in retrieval.

  • When fields display to end users: Most fields in the AAT are displayed to end-users. For these fields, do not make wild estimations or guess. However, if a specific value is in question, use a broader value or use both of two possible values, depending upon the circumstances. For example, in the Scope Note, if sources disagree about whether a characteristic developed in 15th-century Bruges or Brussels, you could 1) state that the concept was Flemish (encompassing both Bruges and Brussels), or 2) name both cities, stating that scholars disagree regarding if the concept developed in Bruges or Brussels.

  • Knowable information: For information that is knowable but simply unknown by you, always use a more general term or omit the information. When the lack of knowledge is due to your ignorance regarding the issue, do not use terms such as "probably" or "perhaps" because this implies that scholars are uncertain of this information.

  • Debated information: For information that is unknowable because scholars disagree because the historical or archaeological information is incomplete or interpretation of the information is debated, you may use terms such as "probably" or "perhaps" to explain the ambiguity or uncertainty in a Display Date or Scope (Descriptive) Note.

  • Flags: For flags, where you must choose one value only, make the best choice based on the information at hand. If there is any doubt, consult with your supervisor. See further discussion of individual fields in the relevant chapters.









Uncertain identification of a concept

  • In some cases, scholarly opinion or common usage may be divided regarding whether two terms refer to the same concept. Rely on general scholarly opinion to decide whether both terms should appear in the same AAT record or in separate records (representing separate concepts). When scholarly opinion is split, make them separate records, and note the possible connection in Scope (Descriptive) Note and through an associative relationship. See also Associative Relationships.









Merging records

  • In the legacy AAT data, the Vocabulary Program is often the sole contributor of original information to the AAT. Although other projects or institutions submitted requests in written form, this was always vetted and edited by the Vocabulary Program. Currently in the AAT, data in VCS may actually be loaded from contributors, rather than being entered by hand by the VP editors. Thus, each record in the AAT may now contain information from multiple contributors. Contributors to the AAT include various Getty projects and qualified outside institutions.

  • If two records are contributed for the same concept, they must be merged in VCS. The Vocabulary Program or approved surrogates may "merge" multiple records that represent the same concept.

  • In the merged record, the contributors' brief name appears with the Terms and Scope (Descriptive) Note that they have contributed. Other fields in the database do not link to the contributor name.

  • Caveat: Note that when you merge two records that have children in the hierarchy, all of the children will be combined in a list under the newly merged record. You must check to see if any of the children in the new list should themselves be merged.









Rules for merging





When to merge





Matching the term, parents, and meaning
Before merging, it must be ascertained that the two records actually represent the same concept. The AAT concepts to be merged must contain a term that is the same, and they must have the same definition and scope as described in the Scope (Descriptive) Note.

  • Terms: Terms must be descriptors, variants, or alternate terms for the same concept (including synonyms, terms in different languages, and occasionally historical terms). Note that there may be separate concepts known by very similar terms in the AAT; do NOT merge records unless their meaning is identical.

  • Caveat re. merging: If in doubt, do NOT merge the records!


Do NOT merge facets.



Tops of Hierarchies
Do NOT merge records flagged with record type "hierarchy name."



Guide terms
In general, do not merge terms with record type "guide term" (they display with angled brackets in publication). The only reason to merge guide terms is when you wish to combine all the children of two guide terms into one list. Consult with your supervisor before doing so.




Procedures for merging

  • After determining that the records absolutely represent the same concept, you may "merge." Go to the hierarchy view; mark DOM and REC. Mark the best, primary record as "DOM" (for dominant) and the record(s) that are to be merged into it as "REC" (for recessive). Merge using the menu.

  • Mark list: Before every merge, it is mandatory editorial practice to look at the Mark List window in order to double-check that you have marked the correct records as DOM and REC.

  • After merging, check the merged record and edit as necessary.


If, in spite of all precautions, you mistakenly merge the wrong records and you notice this error immediately, you may click "unmerge" from the menu. If some time has passed before you've noticed the mistake, if you are uncertain how to do this, or have any doubt about the "unmerge," consult with your supervisor before doing anything.






Moving records




Rules for moving



When to move records
You will generally be moving records in order 1) to put candidate records in the publishable parts of the hierarchies or 2) to update the subdivisions of a hierarchy.




Procedures for moving

  • Determine where in the hierarchy the records belong, based on the rules in Chapter 3.1 Hierarchical Relationships. Go to the hierarchy view; mark DOM and REC. Mark the parent record as "DOM" (for dominant) and the record(s) that are to be moved under it as "REC" (for recessive). Move using the menu.

  • Mark list: Before every move, it is mandatory editorial practice to look at the Mark List window in order to double-check that you have marked the correct records as DOM and REC.

  • After moving, check the hierarchy to be sure that the move was accomplished as you intended.


Undoing a move
If, in spite of all precautions, you mistakenly move the record(s) incorrectly and you notice this error immediately, you may click "undo move" from the menu. If time has passed before you have noticed the mistake or if you have done any other editing, the "undo move" will not work and you will have to correct the hierarchy manually. If you are uncertain how to do this, or have any doubt about the "undo move," consult with your supervisor before doing anything.






Comments on Revision History
Common actions, including loading records, creating new records, editing terms and scopenotes, adding associative relationships, moving, and others are automatically recorded in the Revision History.

In order to flag the most important changes, where the automatic Revision History alone is not adequate for implementors and translating projects to distinguish minor from major edits, please make a comment in the Note attached to the Revision History action that was taken by you on a certain date. Precede your note with NB: (for Nota Bene). For example, if you make a significant change to a Scope Note, which changes the meaning and will require translating projects to edit their own Scope Notes: NB: Changed scope to broader meaning, was too narrowly defined.






Sample Records




Sample AAT record

  • The record below is presented in an arrangement suitable for end-users.



Sample AAT record in VCS

  • The record below is a sample from the VCS editorial system.






List of Fields




About the fields

  • There are around 90 "fields" of information in an AAT record. It is unlikely that all fields of information will be available or appropriate for all concepts. However, certain information is considered core, and is required for each minimal AAT record (see also Required fields and minimal records above).

  • For some required fields, the system provides a default value, which means that this value will be used in that field unless you change it.

  • Some fields are display-only fields that are controlled by the system. For example, the Subject_ID may not be changed by the editor. It is supplied by the system according to rules in the VCS program.

  • To view the Data Dictionary, see Addendum Z.



List of VCS Fields[1]

    Historical Flag
    Dates for relationship to parents
    Parent string
    Relationship Type (required-default)  


    Subject ID
    Parent Key
    Merged Status
    Published Status
    Review Status
    Record Type
    Candidate Status
    Contributors for Subject Record
    Sources for the Subject Record

    Term ID
    Preferred Flag
    Sequence Number
    Historical Flag
    Term Type
    Part of Speech
    Vernacular Flag
    Language for Terms
    Language Status
    Contributor for Term
    Preferred Flag for Contributor
    Sources for Terms
    Page Number for Term Source
    Preferred Flag for Source
    Dates for Terms
    Display Term Flag
    AACR Flag (LC heading)
    Other Flags
    Assigned To

    Scope (Descriptive) Note
(required for Concepts)
    Sources for the Scope (Descriptive) Note
(required for Concepts)
    Contributors for the Scope (Descriptive) Note
(required for Concepts)
    Language for Scope Note
(required for Concepts)

    Related Concepts
    Relationship Type
    Historical Flag
    Dates for Associative Relationship

[In the AAT Guidelines, there are no sections 3.6 and 3.7]

    Comment Flag
    Problem Flag
    Assigned To
    Special Project
    Legacy ID
    Class Notation
    Index Note
    Not Found Note
    Status Note
    Editor Note
    Revision History


[1]Required default indicates that a default is set by the system, but should be changed by the editor as necessary (and if possible). Some fields, such as Subject_ID, cannot be edited.


Updated 2 January 2023
Document is subject to frequent revisions


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