CALLING IT WHAT IT IS. THESAURI IN THE FLANDERS HERITAGE AGENCY: HISTORY, IMPORTANCE, USE AND TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES
Keywords: Thesauri, inventories, databases, open source, querying, cultural heritage, SKOS
Abstract. Heritage organizations in Flanders started using thesauri fairly recently compared to other countries. This paper starts with examining the historical use of thesauri and controlled vocabularies in computer systems by the Flemish Government dealing with immovable cultural heritage. Their evolution from simple, flat, controlled lists to actual thesauri with scope notes, hierarchical and equivalence relations and links to other thesauri will be discussed. An explanation will be provided for the evolution in our approach to controlled vocabularies, and how they radically changed querying and the way data is indexed in our systems.
Technical challenges inherent to complex thesauri and how to overcome them will be outlined. These issues being solved, thesauri have become an essential feature of the Flanders Heritage inventory management system. The number of vocabularies rose over the years and became an essential tool for integrating heritage from different disciplines.
As a final improvement, thesauri went from being a core part of one application (the inventory management system) to forming an essential part of a new general resource oriented system architecture for Flanders Heritage influenced by Linked Data. For this purpose, a generic SKOS based editor was created. Due to the SKOS model being generic enough to be used outside of Flanders Heritage, the decision was made early on to develop this editor as an open source project called Atramhasis and share it with the larger heritage world.