Powerhouse Museum Object Name Thesaurus live: Susan Davidson


The Powerhouse Museum has recently put its Object Name Thesaurus onto its website. So it is now finally available for everyone to easily access and use. We hope it can be as valuable a tool for other collecting institutions to use in the management of their collection information, as it is for us here at the Powerhouse.

The Powerhouse first developed this thesaurus back in the early 1990s to standardise the terminology used to describe its own collection. With a collection of around 400,000 objects we saw the need for an effective way to organise information in our database to make searching for objects easy and precise. The Thesaurus was first published in 1995 as the Powerhouse Museum Collection Thesaurus, but has been out of print for many years. We are finally able to provide this updated PDF version of the thesaurus in its alphabetical format via our website.

The purpose of the Powerhouse Museum Object Name Thesaurus is to provide object name terms within an Australian context, for indexing museum collections. It also provides a controlled vocabulary that facilitates easier searching of collection databases for specific object types.

One of the strengths of the thesaurus is its Australian focus. While it does include terminology from around the world, it specifically includes object name terms in common use in Australia. The Powerhouse Museum Object Name Thesaurus is the only thesaurus for object names that recognises Australian usage and spelling.

There are currently about 8,600 terms in the thesaurus that name or categorise object types. It can aid searching for objects across your collection database by ensuring that the same term is used consistently to describe similar objects. It formally organises relationships between terms in a hierarchical structure so that the relationships are explicit.

Another advantage of using a thesaurus is that it can assist in the general understanding of a subject area. A thesaurus can provide a ‘semantic map’ by showing the inter-relationship between objects and help to provide definitions of terms. This is particularly true for the Powerhouse Museum Object Name Thesaurus which can provide a greater understanding of an object and the relationships between different types of objects.

The Object Name Thesaurus is an intrinsic part of the Powerhouse collection database. The thesaurus is maintained within our collection database and so is a ‘living document’ constantly being updated with new terms added and old terms reorganised as we continue in the perpetual task of documenting our collection.

Recently we entered into an agreement with the National Museum of Australia (NMA) to provide an electronic version of the thesaurus, which they now use within their EMu database. This has benefited the thesaurus by the addition of a number of terms to match objects in the NMA collection. It is possible for any institution to obtain an electronic, text-based version of the thesaurus which also provides the hierarchical structure of the thesaurus. To discuss possibilities for your institution to use the Powerhouse thesaurus, or if you would just like more information about the thesaurus, please contact me via email: Susan Davidson.

3 Responses to “Powerhouse Museum Object Name Thesaurus live: Susan Davidson”

  1. CAN Outreach blog » Blog Archive » Tips+Tricks: Creating and keeping digital treasures Says:

    [...] formats current, periodically checking access to digital files and creating a metadata system (see Powerhouse Museum object thesaurus). Download [...]

  2. Olympia Turturo Says:

    Great work that you’ve gotten at this website. Don’t forget maintain the exceptional work.I will without doubt visit to get learned.

  3. Keri Webb Says:

    Hi Susan

    I hope you can help me. I am filling in the Collection Enquiry form to ask if mid-late 19th century fine embroidery interests Powerhouse. However the form will not submit without “Object Number or URL” details, and I have been unable to locate information on this.

    I have some excellent embroidery here that should not be lost, so if you could possibly head me in the right direction here, I’d be very grateful.

    Many thanks,

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