The Commonwealth Record Series (CRS) Manual


5.9. Agency - CRS Thesaurus

On this page (1 of 2):

  5.9.1. Using the CRS Thesaurus
  5.9.1.1.  Definition
  5.9.1.1.1.  Functions
  5.9.1.1.2. Business classification scheme
  5.9.1.1.3. Thesaurus
  5.9.1.1.4. History of thesaurus use within the Archives
  5.9.1.1.5.   Thesaurus use within the CRS System
  5.9.1.2.  Using the CRS Thesaurus
  5.9.1.2.1.  Determining whether to use the broad or narrow term
  5.9.1.2.2.     Relationship between preferred and non-preferred terms
  5.9.1.2.3.    Deciding on the right term
  5.9.1.2.4. Following the thesaurus structure
  5.9.1.2.5.   Areas of difficulty
  5.9.1.3.        Last updated

Go to:  5.9.2.  Summary CRS Thesaurus terms | 5.5.1.  Agency function

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5.9.1.  Using the CRS Thesaurus

5.9.1.1.  Definition

The CRS Thesaurus is a set of function descriptors that broadly describe the functions of the Commonwealth Government since Federation. The thesaurus is used for a range of purposes within the National Archives.

5.9.1.1.1.  Functions

Functions reflect the responsibilities of an organisation or an agency that can be delegated through official channels. In the Commonwealth, a function is the business of a particular agency, which it has a legislative requirement to implement.

5.9.1.1.2.  Business classification scheme

A business classification scheme is the set of functions that an agency carries out. It can be a list or it can be structured into higher level functions and lower level activities. Classification can also be used in other aspects of records management, such as determining when to create or destroy a record and who can or cannot see it. Australian Standard AS4390 (1995) on records management recommends that classification schemes and thesauri be based on functional analysis.

5.9.1.1.3.  Thesaurus

A thesaurus describes the relationships between a controlled set of terms used for titling and indexing records. It is a tool to help users find their way to the correct classification term. A thesaurus facilitates control and uniformity for precise, efficient retrieval.

International Standard 2788: Documentation – Guidelines for the establishment and development of monolingual thesauri (ISO 2788) contains useful definitions and detailed explanation of how a thesaurus works. Some of the more common terms, abbreviations and symbols are listed below.

Preferred term A term used consistently when indexing to represent a given concept Energy
Non-preferred term Variation of a preferred term, provided as an entry point directing the user to the preferred term Coal
use Energy
USE Prefix for a preferred term when a choice between synonyms exists Coal
use Energy
UF (use for) Prefix for a non-preferred term (synonym) Energy
UF Coal
BT (broad term) Represents a concept having a wider meaning Resources
NT (narrow term) Refers to a concept with a more specific meaning Resources
NT Energy 
RT (related term) Suggests a concept which may be associated Forestry Regulation
SN (scope note) A note to indicate a term’s meaning within the indexing language or thesaurus Regulation of the industry according to standards and legislation
HN (history note) Explains use of term over time Energy used after WWII 
5.9.1.1.4.  History of thesaurus use within the Archives

The Archives has always used the Administrative Arrangements Orders as a source of creation of departments carrying out a responsibility for certain government functions.

During the 1980s work commenced on developing a thesaurus to assist retrieval at agency and series level. In 1991 the CRS Functions Thesaurus was introduced to help the public and staff retrieve agencies and series information held on the Archives' public finding aids.

The CRS Thesaurus is a list of contemporary broad and narrow terms that reflect the major functions and activities carried out by Commonwealth government agencies from the Federation to the present day. It is important to become familiar with this document so that an accurate attribution of functions can be made to agency information.

5.9.1.1.5.  Thesaurus use within the CRS System

There are several thesauri deployed to manage information and improve retrieval:

5.9.1.2.  Using the CRS Thesaurus

5.9.1.2.1.  Determining whether to use the broad or narrow term

A broad term is used to describe a general level of activity. It is usually applied to functions carried out by Departments of State and their State offices. A narrow term is used to describe a specific activity and is usually allocated to lower level agencies with a more limited role.

A broad term should be used only when the agency carries out all the subsidiary functions; otherwise all applicable narrower terms should be listed.

Broad terms and their subordinate narrow terms should be used together only when an agency has lost or gained functions during restructuring.

The results of a search using a broad term will include all agencies attributed with the associated narrow terms. Assigning the most specific term to cover an agency’s functions is essential for effective retrieval.

5.9.1.2.2.  Relationship between preferred and non-preferred terms

A non-preferred term is a synonym for the preferred (or thesaurus) term used to describe a function. Unlisted or non-preferred terms are included in the thesaurus with directions to indicate which terms should be used instead.

The use of preferred terms ensures uniformity throughout the functions that are assigned to agencies. Non-preferred terms provide an access point. If a non-preferred term is entered when searching by function, agencies whose function is described by the preferred term will be retrieved. For example, if the term coal is entered in the course of a search agencies associated with the energy function will be retrieved in the search results.

5.9.1.2.3.  Deciding on the right term
  1. Having identified the functions through relevant documentation, the next step is to match these against precise terms in the thesaurus.
  2. Browse the thesaurus for available terms, including broader term, scope notes and related terms.
  3. Follow references from broader, narrower or preferred terms to choose the most specific description of the agency’s function. If the agency carries out all narrower functions, use the broader term. If not, list all narrower functions which apply. Use date ranges to illustrate how functions have changed over time.
  4. It is preferable to use the narrower terms, to improve precision of retrieval and reduce possible irrelevant results. Someone choosing Hearing services would prefer not to have agencies with the function Health as well.
  5. Match the possible choices against those of agencies most closely associated with the agency being described.
  6. It is always important to double-check that there are no discrepancies between the choice of terms from browsing the thesaurus and terms on existing registrations that are associated with the functions being researched.
5.9.1.2.4.  Following the thesaurus structure

The following table shows how to use the structure of the thesaurus to move from a non-preferred term to the most specific term possible. There are many paths through a thesaurus and the ability to search online gives even more flexibility to the process. The larger the number of synonyms the more flexibility there is in locating the correct term.

Classifying CA 8425, RAAF Support Unit, Butterworth would involve the following thesaurus search.

Thesaurus term Analysis path
Armed forces Non-preferred term – Use Defence Forces
Defence forces See scope note – too broad, try a narrower term
Air force Look at narrower terms 
- Air Force Administration
- Air Force Commands
Air force administration Scope note does not describe functions of CA 8425
Air force commands Scope note mentions support units – check narrower terms
- Training (Air Force)
- Air Operations
- Logistics (Air Force)
Training (Air force) Air operations Narrower terms – these functions not carried out by agency, therefore broad term (Air Force Commands) cannot be used
Airports Related term – not useful in this instance
Logistics (Air force) Most specific term to describe the function of this agency - logistics generally indicates support functions
5.9.1.2.5.  Areas of difficulty

The function of a superior or previous agency, which is being used as a source, could well be incorrect and in need of revision. It cannot be assumed that the existing function information is entirely correct and therefore should be followed blindly. The reasons why these discrepancies may occur and why the most recent research overrules previous allocation of terms against agency registrations are listed as follows.

Inconsistency Possible solution
Wrong level of function A broader term or narrower term should be selected; eg Community Services is more appropriate than Social Welfare
Function is wrong because the wrong agencies have been used as a source The agency having the functions added has been linked to the wrong superior agency or wrong previous agency
The function is right but the agency link is wrong The link should be replaced with a correct link which should then have the correct function
Right function but wrong date range Agency started function earlier than stated on registration. Most recent research will result in revision of the agency start date
A non-preferred term has been selected from the thesaurus Use preferred term, eg Coal instead of Energy

See also 5.5.1.  Agency function

5.9.1.3.  Last updated:  27 June 2000


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