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Dagobert Soergel
College of Information Studies, University of Maryland

The Arts and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT): A critical appraisal

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Introduction: Thesauri in information retrieval
What is a thesaurus and what is its purpose? Describing the functions of a thesaurus in a nutshell will provide the background for a critical examination of the AAT. A thesaurus is a structured collection of concepts and terms for the purpose of improving the retrieval of information. A thesaurus should help the searcher to find good search terms, whether they be descriptors from a controlled vocabulary or the manifold terms needed for a comprehensive free-text search ?all the various terms that are used in texts to express the search concept. Most thesauri establish a controlled vocabulary, a standardized terminology, in which each concept is represented by one term, a descriptor, that is used in indexing and can thus be used with confidence in searching; in such a system the thesaurus must support the indexer in identifying all descriptors that should be assigned to a document or other object in light of the questions that are likely to be asked. A good thesaurus provides, through its hierarchy augmented by associative relationships between concepts, a semantic road map for searchers and indexers and anybody else interested in an orderly grasp of a subject field.
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