What is a thesaurus?

A thesaurus is an alphabetical listing of terms derived from a classification scheme and arranged in a hierarchical manner that shows relationships between the terms. It prescribes what terms can and cannot be used when classifying records.

A thesaurus is a classification tool, used to title records according to the business function and activity that the records are documenting.

It provides:

  • links between terms
  • guidance as to the use of terms (through scope notes, non-preferred terms, related terms, broader and narrower terms).

A thesaurus is based on the Business Classification Scheme developed from an analysis of the business functions and activities of a South Australian Government Agency. The result is a hierarchy of organisational functions, activities and transactions.

However, a Business Classification Scheme is not based on the organisational structure. The reasoning behind this is that organisational structures are more fluid and are subject to change, whereas the functions and activities of an organisation are more stable and generally remain the same over time.

A thesaurus helps to ensure that an agency uses a uniform set of terms to classify records.

What is classifying?

Classification can be defined as the systematic identification and arrangement of business activities and/or records into categories according to logically structured conventions, methods, and procedural rules represented in a classification system (AS ISO 15489.1-2002 Records Management - General)

A business analysis of an organisation can produce a framework of terms that represent the organisation's functions, activities and transactions. "That representation can be used to develop a records classifications scheme and thesaurus, titiling and indexing rules, identification of records disposition classes and access classifications." (AS ISO 15489.2 Records Management - Guidelines)

Classification can be used to support a range of records management processes such as capture, retrieval, access, maintenance and disposal. It facilitates:

  • linkages between records
  • consistent naming of records over time
  • retrieval of records
  • security protection of particular types of records (eg sensitive, confidential, commercial in confidence etc)
  • access provisions
  • disposal of records
  • protection of intellectual property.

Why is a thesaurus necessary?

Under the State Records Act, 1997, agencies have an obligation to ensure that the official records in its custody are maintained in good order and condition. It is also a requirement under the Act that the Manager [Director] of State Records reports any inadequate records management practices by agencies, to the Minister responsible for administering the Act. Both State Government Agencies and Local Government Authorities are agencies under theAct.

An authorised thesaurus is a tool to assist agencies in achieving Adequate Records Management Practice.

In particular, it assists agencies in meeting the Adequate Records Management Standard V3 (PDF 518KB).
Namely the following outcomes:

'Records are captured'
Records should be captured into corporate recordkeeping systems upon creation or receipt, or as soon as practicable afterwards.

'Records are found'
A complete official record is of little use if it cannot be identified and retrieved. Adequate classification will facilitate the timely identification and retrieval of records.

'Records are disposed of systematically'
All records of the agency shall be disposed of in accordance with the provisions of the State Records Act, 1997.

'Access to records is managed'
Specific records should be able to be found upon demand, or with the minimum extra effort.

What types of thesauri exist?

Essentially there are three types of thesauri:

  • agency specific (or operational)
  • general administrative
  • merged.

The first type is developed by, or for, specific agencies and addresses records that are only created by that agency and are 'operational' or 'business specific' to the particular agency. This type of thesaurus is developed from a business functional analysis of an agency's core business, resulting in a hierarchy of terms (ie a Business Classification Scheme) as evidenced in its official records. State Records recommends agencies use functional based thesauri when developing a thesaurus specific to their own records.

The second type of thesaurus is generally developed by a central agency for application across an entire sector. An example of this is the Keyword AAA Thesaurus of General Terms developed by the State Records Authority of New South Wales and adopted for use in South Australia. Increasingly thesauri in this category are being developed using functional approaches.

The third type combines terms from the operational and the general administrative thesaurus into a single merged thesaurus of terms.

What assistance is available?

State Records of South Australia supplies a range of services to support the use of thesauri in South Australian Government Agencies and Local Government Authorities.

The Government Recordkeeping Services at State Records offers consultancy services covering the use of thesauri to classify records.

State Records has also developed and offers courses in the use of a thesaurus to classify and title records.


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