George Mason Collaborates on Ethnographic Thesaurus Project

Posted: November 8, 2001 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Robin Herron

George Mason’s Northern Virginia Folklife Archive and University Libraries are collaborating with the American Folklore Society, based in Arlington, and the American Folklife Center (AFC) of the Library of Congress on a $30,000 National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman’s grant for the developmental phase of an ethnographic thesaurus (ET).

The ET will be a standardized key word list of terms used by archivists and librarians to describe folkloric and traditional musical materials, and will help libraries, archives, and cultural institutions “communicate in a more careful way,” says Margaret Yocom, English. John Zenelis, university librarian, adds that “development and adoption of standard, controlled vocabularies are crucial for research and scholarly communication” in the various academic disciplines.

Yocom is a member of the working group of folklorists, ethnomusicologists, and other scholars who met to plan the thesaurus. AFC’s Michael Taft developed a protothesaurus with about 5,000 terms, which the working group decided to use as a base for the development of the ET. The grant will allow the ET group to continue with plans that include surveying folklorists and ethnomusicologists on their perceptions of and needs for an ET; and using thesaurus software to enhance the protothesaurus, incorporate more terms, and make the protothesaurus available online through a searchable web site.

University Libraries is contributing work space in Fenwick Library, equipment, library services, and other resources for the project associate, Sara White, who will work under the joint direction of Yocom and Taft. “We are pleased to support and facilitate such an important national scholarly undertaking at George Mason,” notes Zenelis.

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