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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 person or corporate body 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 name, a role, a nationality, a display biography, and birth and death dates; in addition, the record must be placed in the "hierarchy," under either the Person or Corporate Body facet. The VCS will not allow you to save a record without the required fields:

    • a numeric ID identifies the record uniquely (IDs are assigned by the system)
    • a parent (generally, Person facet or Corporate Body facet; you create the link to a parent by designating the correct parent by the mark "DOM" (for dominant) when you create or move a record)
    • preferred name
      • various associated flags: current/historical (set to NA), vernacular/other (set to V), type (set to NA), display/index flag, etc.
      • source(s) for the name
      • language, if known
      • contributor of the name (automatically assigned by VCS)
    • role(s)
    • nationality(ies)
    • display biography
    • sex
    • birth date
    • death date

  • Other fields are strongly recommended:
    • variant names
    • related people or corporate bodies

  • Additional fields, including the Descriptive Note, 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 includes dozens of short pull-down lists of flags as well as long lists, such as Language and Role.







Capitalization and abbreviation

  • Capitalize proper names appropriately. In general, data in all fields should be expressed in mixed case (i.e., but not in all upper-case or all in lower case), unless otherwise indicated. See further discussion under each field below.

  • Avoid abbreviations in all fields unless otherwise instructed in the appropriate rules. For names, avoid abbreviations in the preferred name, but include important abbreviations (if any) in variant names to allow retrieval.







Language of the Record



ULAN is multilingual. This means that the names may be flagged in multiple languages. Although names of people are only rarely represented in multiple languages (e.g., Raphael Sanzio in English, Raffaello Sanzio in Italian), names of corporate bodies may commonly be expressed in multiple languages. The notes and other fields in the record are generally in English.



Names, descriptive 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.



ULAN is published in Unicode. However, in legacy ULAN data special codes may used to represent diacriticss (e.g., D$04urer, Albrecht contains the umlaut code for Dürer, Albrecht). See Appendix A: Diacritics.

  • Example
    [name with an umlaut in display]
  • Dürer, Albrecht (preferred, index, V)
    Albrecht Dürer (display, V)
    Duerer, Albrecht (V)
    Albrecht Duerer (V)







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 monthly quota, it is recommended that you meet your quota each day rather than trying to make it up at the end of the month.







Leaving unfinished records 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 problem with 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 names, because they are the most important part of the ULAN 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 cut-and-paste 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 names and the information in notes. Include the page number or other appropriate reference to the passage where you found the name or other information.

    • Sources may be linked directly to each Name and to the Descriptive Note. For other information, note the source in the overall Subject citation designation.


It is required to include the contributor who provided Names and the 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 often not considered a contributor per se. They are considered a source for the data, but they are not a contributor because some amount of interpretation of their data may be required when it is entered into our system. The Vocabulary Program is the contributor in these cases.

    • To avoid misrepresenting the contributor's contribution, if you change a Name or significantly change a 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. That is, you are citing the VP as the contributor, and the original contributing database as the source.

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



Uncertainty and ambiguity in display fields

  • When important information, such as birth date, is uncertain, record the information with an indication of uncertainty or approximation in a Descriptive Note, Display Biography, 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., "While some scholars believe that the anonymous Beardsley Limner is Sarah Perkins, others maintain that stylistic differences raise doubts."). 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 field using appropriate indexing fields and estimating data for retrieval. See the discussion of individual fields such as Display Date, Display Biography, and 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., Sex) 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: For fields that do not display to end users, such as the Birth Date and Death Date indexing 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 ULAN display to end users. For such fields, do not make wild estimations. If a specific value is in question, use a broader value or use both of two possible values, depending upon the circumstances.

    • Knowable information: For information that is knowable but simply unknown by you, always use a more general term. For example, if you are uncertain if the artist is a painter or a sculptor because your source is ambiguous, use the more general Role artist. The more specific information is probably knowable in this case, if you had the time and research materials necessary. But since you do not know it, you should not use a specific term or terms because it will be misleading to the end-user.

    • Debated information: For information that is unknowable because scholars disagree (often because the historical or archaeological information is incomplete or interpretation of the information is debatable), you may index using multiple terms to allow good retrieval. In such cases, you must always explain the ambiguity or uncertainty in a Display Date, Display Biography, or Descriptive Note. For example, if scholars disagree regarding whether an early artist was Flemish or French, you should explain this in the Descriptive Note and in the Display Biography, and index the artist with both French and Flemish as Nationalities.

    • 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. For example, if you cannot determine if the sex of an artist is Male or Female, use Unknown. See further discussion of individual fields in the relevant chapters.



Uncertain identification of an artist

  • In some cases, the identification of an artist is a matter of conjecture and dispute. If there is debate regarding whether an anonymous artist's appellation should be associated with a named artist (e.g., is the Master of the Ovile Madonna the same person as Bartolomeo Bulgarini?), rely on general scholarly opinion to decide whether both names should appear in the same ULAN record or in separate records (representing separate artists). When scholarly opinion is split, make separate records for the artists, and note the possible connection in a descriptive note and through an associative relationship. See also Associative Relationships.




Merging records

  • Each record in ULAN may contain information from multiple contributors, all of which typically had records for the artist in their own databases. Contributors to ULAN include various Getty projects and qualified outside institutions. The Vocabulary Program also contributes original information to ULAN.

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

  • In the merged record, the contributors' acronym appears with the Names, Display Biography, and Descriptive Note that they have contributed. Other fields in the database do not link to the contributor name.

  • Caveat: For corporate bodies that have hierarchical structure, 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 be merged.



Rules for merging


When to merge


Matching the name, nationality, dates, and roles
Before merging, it must be ascertained that the two records actually represent the same person or corporate body. The artists to be merged must have the same name, same nationality, same birth and death dates, and the same roles. Alternatively, these fields should contain approximate or equivalent values according to the following rules:

  • Names: Names must be variants or alternate names for the same artist (including names of various degrees of fullness, names in different languages, nicknames, and historical names such as a maiden names). Note that there may be separate artists with very similar names with the same nationality and similar life dates; do NOT merge such records.

  • Nationality: Nationalities must match or be "equivalents" for the purposes of matching. An example of equivalent-for-matching nationalities would be Italian and Sienese (because any Sienese artist is also Italian). The list of equivalent Nationalities is available in VCS.

  • Dates: Birth and Death Dates as expressed in the Display Biography must match. For uncertain dates, such as ca. 1400-1461 or 15th century, the display dates must be compatible with each other within a certain range.

  • Roles: Roles must match or be "equivalents" for the person of matching. For example, if one record identifies the artist as a painter and another record identifies him or her as a watercolorist, these are considered equivalent roles for the purpose of merging. The list of equivalent Roles is available in VCS.

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


Explain ambiguities
If you discover that the people should not be merged, but that they have been historically confused in scholarly literature, write a Descriptive Note explaining the difference and make an Associative Relationship with the Relationship Type distinguished from.

  • Caveat: If the people merely have the same or similar names and biographies, but there is no indication that they have historically been confused in the literature, do NOT write a Descriptive Note or make the relationship between them. Many people have the same name and similar biographies. In such cases, note your observations in the Editor Note, which is not published for end users.


You cannot merge facets. Currently, the publishable facets in ULAN are the following:

Corporate Bodies
Persons, Artists
Unidentified Named People and Firms
Unknown People by Culture

Temp.parent facets contain the candidate records. The system will not allow you to merge facets.


For persons
Merge person records only if they are without a doubt the same person. Do not merge persons with corporate bodies.


For corporate bodies
Do not merge persons with corporate bodies. A corporation or other group is a separate thing from the founder or master of the group (e.g., Richard Meier & Partners is a corporate body, and Richard Meier is a person in ULAN). Make an associative relationship between the firm and the founder of the firm.

  • Merge corporate body records with each other only if the records represent exactly the same entity. Generally include the former names as historical names in one record rather than making two records 1) if the corporate body is a historical studio or institution (e.g., Manufacture Royale des Gobelins and Manufacture Nationale des Gobelins are two names in the same record), or 2) if the primary partners have remained the same for a modern firm.

  • Generally make two separate records 1) if the function or location of the historical corporate body changed with the name change, or 2) if the question involves a modern firm and legal incorporation, the primary partners have changed, and the firm apparently prefers to clearly distinguish its separate incarnations. Link the related corporate bodies (see 3.5 Associative Relationships).

  • Caveat: If a corporate body has changed names over time, it is probably a new corporate body with a separate record.



Procedures for merging

  • After determining that the records absolutely represent the same person or corporate body, 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.


Practical examples
Do not merge unless you are absolutely certain the two records represent the same person or corporate body. There seems to be a natural inclination for editors to merge and many errors have so resulted. Resist it, unless there is no doubt.

  • Examples

Should the two 18th-century artists be merged? NO, the life dates are different. This is a common name.




Should the ébéniste be merged, given that the roles have overlapping meaning and the one's active dates fit within the span of the other's life dates? NO. Research reveals that they are cousins with the same name who are often confused. Thus the editor should add the proper associative relationship and explain the confusion in the Descriptive Note.





Moving records




Rules for moving


When to move records
You will generally be moving records in order 1) to move candidate records that are under a temp.parent to the publishable parts of the hierarchies, or 2) to move records from one facet to a different facet.




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. If you are uncertain how to do this, or have any doubt about the "undo move," consult with your supervisor before doing anything.




Sample Records




Sample ULAN record

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



Sample ULAN 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 a ULAN record. It is unlikely that all fields of information will be available or appropriate for all artists. However, certain information is considered core, and is required for each minimal ULAN 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]

    Sort Order
    Historical Flag
    Dates for relationship to parents
    Parent string
    Hierarchy Relationship Type

    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 Names
    Preferred Flag for Language
    Language Status
Contributor for Name
    Preferred Flag for Contributor
    Sources for Names
    Page Number for Term Source
    Preferred Flag for Source
    Dates for Names
    Display Name Flag
    LC Flag (formerly AACR flag)
    Other Flags
    Assigned To note

    Descriptive Note
    Sources for the Descriptive Note
    Contributors for the Descriptive Note
    Language for the Descriptive Note

    Related People and Corporate Bodies
    Relationship Type
    Historical Flag
    Dates for Associative Relationship

    Display Biography
    Preferred Flag for Nationality
    Preferred Flag
    Sequence Number
    Historical Flag
    Dates for Role
    Birth Date / Death Date
    Birth Place / Death Place
    Sex (Gender)
    Preferred Flag for Biography
    Contributor for Biography

    Event Type
    Preferred Flag for Event
    Sequence Number
    Event Place
    Dates for Event

    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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