Academic journal article Alexandria

The Contribution of the Italian National Bibliographic Agency to the Development of Tools for Subject Indexing

Academic journal article Alexandria

The Contribution of the Italian National Bibliographic Agency to the Development of Tools for Subject Indexing

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In 1956, the National Central Library of Florence/Biblioteca nazionale centrale di Firenze (BNCF) published the first edition of Soggettarlo per i cataloghi delle biblioteche italiane, which was inspired by the conceptual and structural model of the Library of Congress Subject Headings, thus completing pioneering work and opening the way for the spread of modern subject cataloguing in Italy (Biblioteca nazionale centrale di Firenze, 1956). Since then the BNCF has been a laboratory of study, of deepening understanding, and of making policies and relevant decisions regarding issues of subject indexing and classification. It has also been contributing to the development, maintenance and propagation of classification and indexing tools to be used in subject cataloguing by the majority of Italian libraries. This active role of BNCF in indexing has been officially recognized by a regulation issued in 2008 to complement a previous Italian law which established the special autonomy of the Florentine Institute. The regulation officially confirmed the BNCF's role as the Italian National Bibliographic Agency, recognizing its task of producing, coordinating, and disseminating the Italian National Bibliography, Bibliografia nazionale italiana (BNI).1 BNCF was also to collaborate with the Central Institute for the Union Catalogue and Bibliographic Information (ICCU) for the development of the National Library Service (SBN),2 and most importantly to develop tools to be used in semantic indexing and classification all over the country.3 Since its inception in 1958, the National Bibliographic Agency, which edits the Italian National Bibliography (BNI)4 has used the 1956 Soggettarlo and has dedicated itself to the constant updating and enrichment of the vocabulary. Over the years the BNI had produced updates of the new terms used in subject indexing, which were comprehensive lists separately published as updates to the Soggettarlo until 1998. The Soggettarlo was thus used for around fifty years, but having been born in a time before the ISO standards on controlled vocabulary were published, it did not provide mechanisms for vocabulary control nor syntactic rules for the construction of subject strings. In fact, it did not guarantee effectiveness or uniformity even on the level of syntactic solutions. The change from card catalogues to electronic catalogues, with the continual development of the opportunities provided by OPACs and the possibility of searching for and accessing information, made all the more evident the limitations of an indexing system which was not able to guarantee uniformity or consistency in subject access. The Soggettarlo needed to be renovated and the overall structure of the system needed to be renovated as well. It was important to take into account how much the Italian indexing language had been able to accomplish, how much of it was to be kept, and what was to be passed along to the new system, according to the most recent international developments in the field of indexing. These were the underlying issues that led the way for the Feasibility Study on the renovation of the old Soggettarlo. The Study was undertaken from September 2000 to May 2002 (Per un nuovo Soggettarlo, 2002). It was commissioned and sponsored by the BNCF and developed by a group of Italian experts participating in the Research Group for Subject Indexing (GRIS) of the Italian Library Association. GRIS, just a few years before, had published the first Italian guidelines on indexing (Associazione italiana biblioteche, GRIS, 2001).

The Feasibility Study (Biblioteca nazionale centrale di Firenze, 2002) defined the theoretical and methodological framework within which the main principles and themes of modern thinking on subject indexing were synthesized, offering the cultural references and scientific background to guide the renovation of the old system. The objectives were as follows: to use a precise language implemented through a policy of indexing oriented towards a single coextensive string; to use a specific vocabulary; to use the synthetic form of pre-coordination; to establish a standard order of citation in the construction of the strings; and to use a 'thesaural' model for the structuring and control of the vocabulary. …

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