- The Design for Diversity Learning Toolkit - https://des4div.library.northeastern.edu -

Selecting Thesauri / Susan Barrett

This study path asks learners to work with an experienced metadata librarian or cataloger in selecting a thesaurus for describing a cultural collection or sub-collection.

By Susan Barrett, Director of Library Repository Services and Technology, Arizona State University


This study path asks students to work with an experienced metadata librarian or cataloger in selecting a thesaurus for describing a cultural collection or sub-collection. Students will investigate cataloging standards, the challenges of selecting a thesauri, and describe and explain why they would select an existing standard or develop a local ontology.

This is designed for early career, graduate or continuing education contexts that relies on student initiative to locate and utilize resources rather than a list of pre-determined readings, which would be common in an undergraduate course. Consulting with an experienced metadata librarian or cataloger throughout this activity is highly reccomended.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:


The instructor should have a solid understanding of cataloging, or coordinate with a local or online cataloging group.

  1. Define a cultural collection. How does the (cataloger’s) institution define cultural collections? Describe if you agree or differ from the institution’s definition.
  2. Identify one cultural collection and briefly describe the belongings held within the collection.
  3. Describe three standard thesauri that might be appropriate for the collection.
  4. Describe the major components and current application of the three thesauri.
  5. Explain why the three standard thesauri would be appropriate, or not.
  6. If you decide to create a local ontology, explain the specific needs of the community necessitate creating a local thesaurus.
    • A possible component of this might be the use of languages other than English, and languages that use non-Roman characters (including many writing systems developed for indigenous languages).
    • What would the technical requirements be, what might the process be to work with the community to develop this?
  7. Describe the hierarchy, or lack thereof, and the social constructs that are reflected in the ontology.
  8. Describe the steps for designing a local thesaurus.


Assessment is tied to the resources discovered by students, and less on the resources provided by the instructor. Assessments consist of:

  1. Written papers describing each of the 6 activities. Each paper must address:
    1. The question at issue.
    2. Resources consulted and why.
    3. Literature review.
    4. Results/discussion.
  2. A final reflection essay about working with the metadata librarian or cataloger and the course.



Visual Resources Associaiton Foundation. n.d. “Metadata Standards - CCO Commons - Cataloging Cultural Objects.” Accessed November 13, 2018. http://cco.vrafoundation.org/index.php/toolkit/metadata_standards/ [1].

Exemplary projects

Hedquist, Saul L., Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa, Wesley Bernardini, T.J. Ferguson, Peter M. Whiteley, and Leigh J. Kuwanwisiwma. 2016. Mapping the Hopi Landscape for Cultural Preservation. IGI Global. https://www.igi-global.com/chapter/mapping-the-hopi-landscape-for-cultural-preservation/149539. [2]

Exemplary curricula

Library of Congress. 2017. “Catalogers Learning Workshop (CLW).” Library of Congress. February 17, 2017. http://www.loc.gov/catworkshop/ [3].