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Banking on Accuracy in Nomenclature

by Geoff Woodcox, State Historical Society of North Dakota on

Finding the correct term in nomenclature can be challenging, especially because many terms appear to be similar at first glance. However, there are more specialized terms that should be used in some instances.

Many times, a more general term seems to fit until you look at the hierarchy and realize that it doesn’t fit at all. This mistake can come into play when you’re cataloging a toy bank, like the one seen below.

Dating to the 1950s, this "Strato-Bank" uses a spring mechanism to shoot a coin inside the moon.

Dating to the 1950s, this “Strato-Bank” uses a spring mechanism to shoot a coin inside the moon.  From the collection of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

 

The term, “Bank” seems to be a good fit for this item. However, the hierarchy determines that Bank refers to an actual full size building, such as what you might find walking down Main Street in your hometown. It might be useful for historic sites or museums that own buildings, but for many museums with physically smaller collections, it isn’t a term that should be commonly used.

As you can see here, general term Bank is classified as a built structure in Nomeclature.  It would not be a good fit for a toy bank.

As you can see here, general term Bank is classified as a built structure in Nomeclature. It would not be a good fit for a toy bank.

A better choice might be Bank, Mechanical or Bank, Toy, which are both classified as toys in Nomenclature 3.0.

As you can see here, Bank, Toy and Bank, Mechanical are both classified as toys.  They would be better choices for naming the Strato-Bank.

Bank, Toy and Bank, Mechanical are both classified as toys. They would be better choices for naming the Strato-Bank.

The same confusion can occur with Rocker (which is a printing tool) versus Chair, Rocking, or Button (referring to the buttons on your shirt) versus Button, Campaign or Button, Promotional (referring to the metal campaign button you might wear during election season) and any number of terms.

Choosing the incorrect term might not seem like a big deal, but the problem comes with the information that each term represents in your database. An inaccurate term can skew the data when you perform queries, showing that you have certain types of artifacts when you really do not.  Nomenclature is a tool that allows you to maintain a greater degree of intellectual control over your collection by helping you define exactly what you have, so accuracy is important.

So when choosing terms in Nomenclature, make sure to check the hierarchy to ensure that you have found the best term possible.

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