Speaking the Same Language: Using Controlled Vocabularies to Search Museum Collections Databases
This study set out to see how controlled vocabularies help people find collections materials in electronic museum databases.It did this by interviewing collections staff from four museums. Eight people from library and non-library work areas at the four museums, who regularly search a museum database in the course of their work, were asked about their experiences with using controlled vocabularies to search. How people used controlled terms depended upon their job tasks and upon their knowledge of terms, past experience and training, and whether they trusted that terms would deliver good search results. Difficulties in using them were identified as being to do with terms themselves; the knowledge of the person searching; and the quality of information in the database. Despite controlled terms rarely being used alone for searching, respondents considered that controlled terminologies are important tools within museum databases for accessing collections. Controlled terms are resource intensive and need institutional backing to work well. Peer support, formal training, staff with database and controlled terms experience, and access to terms lists are some specific factors that would assist controlled vocabularies to work better for the people who search museum databases. Museums need to allocate sufficient financial and administrative resources to controlled terms, if they are serious about improving access to their collections.