Core Standards for Canadian Museums

The standards listed here are those most commonly used by Canadian museums, and recommended by CHIN, both for collections documentation and management within museums, and for collections records contributed to Artefacts Canada.

Core Standards for Art and Historical Collections

Metadata

Most museums in Canada use the CHIN Humanities Data Dictionary (or some fully compatible derivation of it) as their metadata standard (defining the units of information to record about their collections). In the 1970s and 1980s, many museums across Canada used a common collections management system, based on the CHIN Data Dictionary and maintained on a central mainframe at CHIN. As a result, there is much commonality in metadata across Canada, even though collections management is now decentralized. As the CHIN Data Dictionary was one of the earliest museum metadata standards, it was consulted during the development of (and is easily mapped to) other standards such as the CIDOC Information Categories.

  • CHIN Data Dictionaries

    The Canadian Heritage Information Network's Data Dictionaries for the Humanities and Natural Sciences have proven to be valuable reference tools for the management of museum and gallery collections information. A data dictionary defines all the categories or types of information in a database. The CHIN Data Dictionaries are not a data structure for use in a collections management system, but they can be used as the basis for such a structure. They can be used by a wide range of museums to help them to identify their institution's information needs and standardize their documentation. Each data field in the CHIN Data Dictionaries is described by a field label, a mnemonic, and a name. Fields include a definition, entry rules, related fields, a data type, examples, a discipline, authority lists, a source, and other information. The CHIN Data Dictionaries are used as the standard for Canadian institutions that contribute collections data to CHIN's Artefacts Canada, as guidelines for institutions which are developing or modifying a collections management system, and to promote the consistent recording of information by cataloguers, or to provide users of collections databases with search strategies.

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Vocabulary and Classification

For classification of their collections, most museums in Canada use some variation of Nomenclature for Museum Cataloging – including the bilingual Parks Canada Descriptive and Visual Dictionary of Objects and the bilingual Info-Muse Classification system for ethnology, history and historical archaeology museums, by the Société des musées québécois (SMQ).
Vocabulary needs are diverse. Some of the most commonly-used sources are listed here.

Multi-Faceted Vocabularies

  • Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT)

    Created by the J.Paul Getty Trust, the AAT is a thesaurus of terms used in the cataloguing and indexing of art, architecture, artifactual, and archival materials. In addition to broader, narrower, and related terms, it contains cross references, alternative terms, French equivalent terms, UK English equivalent terms, source information, and history and scope notes in a thesaurus format. The AAT was developed from numerous existing terminologies, and includes the vocabulary from the Revised Nomenclature, which is widely used in Canadian museums. CHIN has contributed approximately 2600 French terms to the AAT; these are now visible within the AAT as French language equivalents for the most common terms. This bilingual version of the AAT is used to assist with searches in CHIN's Artefacts Canada:Humanities database. CHIN recommends the use of the AAT for museums with broad humanities collections. Terminology found within the AAT would be appropriate for use in multiple fields of the Artefacts Canada: Humanities database. The AAT includes some French terminology, but the database interface is available only in English.

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Classification and Object Naming

  • Nomenclature 4.0 for Museum Cataloging: Fourth Edition of Robert G. Chenhall's System for Classifying Cultural Objects

    Nomenclature 4.0 is a function-based classification system and vocabulary for cultural objects in museum collections. Many Canadian museums use Nomenclature to assist with vocabulary control for object naming and classification (e.g. CHIN fields Object Name, Category, etc.). Nomenclature is the basis for the Parks Canada Classification System, as well as the Objects Facet of the Getty's Art & Architecture Thesaurus and the Info-Muse Classification System for ethnology, history, and historical archaeology museums. CHIN and Parks Canada representatives were part of the Nomenclature Task Force responsible for the publication of Nomenclature 4.0. More user friendly and better designed than its predecessors, this fourth edition is available in print, in English only.

    Go to "Nomenclature 4.0 for Museum Cataloging: Fourth Edition of Robert G. Chenhall's System for Classifying Cultural Objects"

  • Parks Canada Descriptive and Visual Dictionary of Objects (Parks DVD)

    Parks Canada and CHIN have collaborated to create this online version of the Parks Canada Descriptive and Visual Dictionary of Objects. The Descriptive and Visual Dictionary of Objects is a bilingual museum classification system and vocabulary standard used in Canada for humanities collections. It helps museums cataloguing collections to identify, name, and classify objects using definitions and illustrations. This classification system is based on an object's original function (the purpose for which the object was created). Museums can consult the Parks Canada Descriptive and Visual Dictionary of Objects online, navigating through the hierarchical classification structure, or searching for definitions of categories, classes or object terms. Images and descriptions of many terms are included.

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Classification systems

  • The Info-Muse classification system for ethnology, history and historical archaeology museums

    The Info-Muse classification system for ethnology, history and historical archaeology museums is based on the Parks Canada Classification System, which is itself based on Chenhall's Revised Nomenclature for Museum Cataloging. This system is the result of collaboration between Parks Canada, the Musée de la civilisation and the Société des musées québécois. The definitions of terms are drawn mainly from the Parks Canada Classification system. Like the Parks and Nomenclature systems, the Info-Muse classification groups objects by their original function. Hierarchical organization is by Category and Sub-Category. This classification system is appropriate for use in the Category and Class fields of Artefacts Canada: Humanities database. Available in English and French.

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  • The Info-Muse classification system for fine arts and decorative arts museums

    The Info-Muse classification system for fine arts and decorative arts museums is based on the Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT), and research by Thérèse Labbé. Representatives from a broad range of museums and associations also contributed to the development of this work. The two subdivisions of the AAT's "Art" subgroup, namely "Fine Arts" and "Decorative Arts," correspond to the categories in the Info-Muse classification system. This classification system is appropriate for use in the Category and Class fields of Artefacts Canada: Humanities database. Available in English and French.

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Object Naming

  • Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) Objects Facet

    Created by the J.Paul Getty Trust, the Art and Architecture Thesauraus (AAT) is a thesaurus of terms used in the cataloguing and indexing of art, architecture, artifactual, and archival materials. The Objects Facet of the AAT is based on terminology from Revised Nomenclature, which is widely used in Canadian museums. The Objects Facet contains terminology for "tangible or visual things that are inanimate and produced by human endeavor", arranged according to the "item's original purpose or origin or its primary context of development". CHIN recommends the use of the AAT for museums with broad humanities collections. The terminology found in the AAT Objects Facet is appropriate for use in the Object Name and Object Type fields of Artefacts Canada: Humanities database.

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  • Le thésaurus de la designation, (oeuvres architecturales et mobilières), Direction des musées de France

    A hierarchical thesaurus of 1135 terms used for the designation of architectural works and of 2529 terms used for the designation of furnishings. Browse Edifices or Mobilier, hierarchically or alphabetically (Description translated from the website). Available in French only. Available at http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/inventai/patrimoine/ (select "vocabularies").

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Materials and Techniques Terminology

  • Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) Materials Facet

    Created by the J.Paul Getty Trust, the AAT is a thesaurus of terms used in the cataloguing and indexing of art, architecture, artifactual, and archival materials. The Materials Facet of the AAT contains terminology for "physical substances, whether naturally or synthetically derived. These range from specific materials to types of material designated by their function, such as "colorants", and from raw materials to those that have been formed or processed into products that are used in fabricating structures or objects". CHIN recommends the use of the AAT for museums with broad humanities collections. The terminology found in the AAT Materials Facet is appropriate for use in the Materials, Medium, and Support fields of the Artefacts Canada: Humanities database.

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  • Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) Processes and Techniques Hierarchy

    Created by the J.Paul Getty Trust, the AAT is a thesaurus of terms used in the cataloguing and indexing of art, architecture, artifactual, and archival materials. The Processes and Techniques Hierarchy of the AAT contains terminology for "actions and methods performed physically on or with materials and objects, and for processes occurring in materials and objects." CHIN recommends the use of the AAT for museums with broad humanities collections. The terminology found in the AAT Processes and Techniques Hierarchy is appropriate for use in the Technique and Decorative Technique fields of the Artefacts Canada: Humanities database, as well as some Condition fields within museum collections management systems.

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Disciplines Terminology

  • Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) Disciplines Hierarchy

    Created by the J.Paul Getty Trust, the AAT is a thesaurus of terms used in the cataloguing and indexing of art, architecture, artifactual, and archival materials. The AAT Disciplines Hierarchy (a section of the Activities Hierarchy) contains terminology for "branches of learning, areas of specialization, and professions and professional specialties." CHIN recommends the use of the AAT for museums with broad humanities collections. The terminology found in the AAT Disciplines Hierarchy is appropriate for use in the Discipline field of the Artefacts Canada: Humanities database.

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Styles, Periods, and Cultures Terminology

  • Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) Styles and Periods Facet

    Created by the J.Paul Getty Trust, the AAT is a thesaurus of terms used in the cataloguing and indexing of art, architecture, artifactual, and archival materials. The Styles and Periods Facet of the AAT "encompasses styles, chronological periods, nationalities, and cultures." CHIN recommends the use of the AAT for museums with broad humanities collections. The terminology found in the AAT Styles and Periods Facet is appropriate for use School/Style, Culture, and Period fields of the Artefacts Canada: Humanities database.

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Geographical Locations Terminology

  • Thesaurus of Geographic Names (TGN)

    Created by the J. Paul Getty Trust, the TGN is a "structured vocabulary containing "names and associated information about places. Places in TGN include administrative political entities (e.g., cities, nations) and physical features (e.g., mountains, rivers). Current and historical places are included". Geographical coordinates are also included. The terms in the TGN are multilingual, but the database interface is available only in English.

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  • Canadian Geographical Names Data Base (CGNDB)

    The Canadian Geographical Names Data Base (CGNDB) is maintained by Natural Resources Canada to store names for Canadian geographical features, including populated places, administrative areas, and water and terrain features (such as lakes, mountains). Museums may use the CGNDB to help with the consistent naming of Canadian geographical names in their collections databases. The CGNDB sometimes provides Canadian place names to a more detailed level than Thesaurus of Geographic Names (TGN); museums may wish to use it in parallel with TGN. Available online, in English and French.

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Artist Names

  • Artists in Canada

    Artists in Canada, compiled and maintained by the National Gallery of Canada Library, is a bilingual union list that identifies the location of documentation files on Canadian artists. Libraries and art galleries across Canada have contributed biographical information and lists of their documentation files to create this resource which contains information for more than 55,000 artists. Each record includes: biographical information on the artist, artist technique, name variants, and file location. Available in English and French.

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  • Union List of Artist Names (ULAN)

    Created by the J. Paul Getty Trust, the ULAN is a structured vocabulary that "includes proper names and associated information about artists. Artists may be either individuals (persons) or groups of individuals working together (corporate bodies). Artists in the ULAN generally represent creators involved in the conception or production of visual arts and architecture". The coverage of the ULAN is from Antiquity to the present, and it has a global scope. ULAN includes names, relationships, locations (for birth, death, and activity), important dates, and notes. The ULAN can include the vernacular, English, other languages, natural order, inverted order, or nicknames. There is no "preferred" name identified in the ULAN; instead, many variants of the name are provided. The artist names in ULAN are multilingual, but the database interface is available only in English.

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Cataloguing Rules (Data Content Standards)

Most museums in Canada are using locally-defined cataloguing rules that are based on the entry rules found in the CHIN Humanities Data Dictionary. In many cases, cataloguing rules are dictated to some extent by the collections management system in use by the museum. CHIN Data Dictionary was updated in 2008 by a CHIN Standards Working Group to bring it into line with developments in international standards, specifically the Cataloging Cultural Objects standard.

  • CHIN Data Dictionaries

    The Canadian Heritage Information Network's Data Dictionaries for the Humanities and Natural Sciences have proven to be valuable reference tools for the management of museum and gallery collections information. A data dictionary defines all the categories or types of information in a database. The CHIN Data Dictionaries are not a data structure for use in a collections management system, but they can be used as the basis for such a structure. They can be used by a wide range of museums to help them to identify their institution's information needs and standardize their documentation. Each data field in the CHIN Data Dictionaries is described by a field label, a mnemonic, and a name. Fields include a definition, entry rules, related fields, a data type, examples, a discipline, authority lists, a source, and other information. The CHIN Data Dictionaries are used as the standard for Canadian institutions that contribute collections data to CHIN's Artefacts Canada, as guidelines for institutions which are developing or modifying a collections management system, and to promote the consistent recording of information by cataloguers, or to provide users of collections databases with search strategies.

    Go to "CHIN Data Dictionaries"

  • Cataloging Cultural Objects (CCO) A Guide to Describing Cultural Works and Their Images

    CCO is a data content standard which is designed for cataloguing works of art, cultural artifacts, and their visual surrogates; cataloguing original objects may require some additional, specialized guidelines. CCO helps control the choice of terms, and defines order, syntax, and form for data values for cataloguing cultural objects. It can be used in the development of in-house cataloguing rules. The primary emphasis of CCO is on descriptive metadata; it excludes administrative and technical metadata. Controlled vocabularies and thesauri are recommended. CCO is a "manual for describing, documenting, and cataloging cultural works and their visual surrogates. The primary focus of CCO is art and architecture, including but not limited to paintings, sculpture, prints, manuscripts, photographs, built works, installations, and other visual media. CCO also covers many other types of cultural works, including archaeological sites, artifacts, and functional objects from the realm of material culture." CHIN's "CCO Assessment Working Group" (one of CHIN's Standards Working Groups) completed a project in 2008 to assess the CCO for use in Canadian museums. After examining the implications of using CCO within their own institutions, developing a set of sample records, and completing a test using CCO rules to catalogue a new collection, they have recommended CCO for use within Canadian museums with humanities collections. CHIN has enhanced the CHIN Humanities Data Dictionary with the addition of CCO rules. CCO is a project of the Visual Resources Association (VRA). Available in English only.

    Go to "Cataloging Cultural Objects (CCO) A Guide to Describing Cultural Works and Their Images"

  • Documenting Your Collections - Info-Muse Network Documentation Guide

    The Info-Muse Network documentation system is based on museum practices in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada. It was developed in close collaboration with various bodies and museums in Quebec and the rest of Canada, and with many experts from the different scientific validation committees for the tools designed by the Network. The standards proposed by the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) since the 1970s served as the starting point for developing the system, meaning that it is in line with the main national and international standards for documenting museum collections.

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  • Comment gérer vos collections? Le guide de gestion du Réseau Info-Muse - Deuxième edition

    This guide developed by the Réseau Info-Muse of the Société des musées québécois (SMQ) includes a description of museum processes such as acquisition, loans in and out, and deaccessioning, and the fields required to document these processes. Includes fields for documentation of photographic reproductions, digital images, and rights. Available in French only. This document is currently out of print, but it may be available through a library or bookstore.

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Procedural Standards

  • SPECTRUM (Standard ProcEdures for CollecTions Recording Used in Museums)

    Created by Collections Trust, SPECTRUM is a guide to "good practice for museum documentation, established in partnership with the museum community. It contains procedures for documenting objects and the processes they undergo, as well as identifying and describing the information which needs to be recorded to support the procedures". As such, it is both a metadata standard for museum collections documentation, and a procedural standard. It includes information on the minimum UK standard for museum documentation. A simplified version, called SPECTRUM Essentials, is available for smaller museums. SPECTRUM is a well-respected standard internationally, and is increasingly used as the basis for international interchange of museum data. An XML DTD has been produced for SPECTRUM which serves as a system-neutral interchange format for museum data that is based on SPECTRUM. Available in English only.

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  • SPECTRUM Digital Asset Management

    Sets out a methodology by which digital asset management can be integrated alongside the existing curatorial and management functions of the organization to ensure that they are widely adopted and sustained as a core element of practice. Provides information and guidance on the development of a Digital Asset Management Strategy (DAM Strategy), associated DAM Policies, the implementation of a Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) and the integration of Digital Asset Management Workflows (DAM Workflows) alongside the existing SPECTRUM Collections Management processes (Description taken from the Website).

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Alternative format

CHIN Guide to Museum Standards (PDF, 544 KB)

Contact information for this web page

This resource was published by the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN). For comments or questions regarding this content, please contact CHIN directly. To find other online resources for museum professionals, visit the CHIN homepage or the Museology and conservation topic page on Canada.ca.

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