User Guide - Humanities


CHIN would like to thank the following organizations and groups who have assisted us in the preparation of the CHIN Data Dictionaries: the original users of the Canadian Heritage Information Network, the CHIN Users' working groups, members of the Natural Science task forces, the Archaeological Sites working group, the CHIN Standards Working Groups, as well as the various experts who have freely given their advice and support.


A data dictionary defines all the categories or types of information in a database. The CHIN Data Dictionaries contain a description of database fields for museum collection and archaeological site management and documentation. Each data field in the CHIN Data Dictionaries is described by a field label, a mnemonic, a name, a definition, entry rules, related fields, a data type, examples, a discipline, and a source. 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.
  • to help cataloguers record information consistently, or to help users of collections databases with search strategies.

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.


From the outset of the National Inventory Programme (the precursor of the Canadian Heritage Information Network) in , many specialists, researchers, computer users, and staff members have suggested, defined, and refined the data fields in the CHIN Data Dictionaries. Thus they represent the results of many years of collaborative work.

In , the Advisory Committee to the National Inventory Programme implemented Task Forces in 11 subject areas: archaeology, fine and decorative arts, history, ethnology/culture, botany, earth sciences, ichthyology and herpetology, invertebrate zoology, mammalogy, ornithology, and palaeontology. The Task Force participants (specialists in their respective fields) identified categories of information necessary to describe objects or specimens in each discipline.

In , CHIN began to use a version of BASIS software called PARIS (Pictorial and Artifact Retrieval and Information System). At that time, a Training Database with 30 fields of information was created including numeric and textual data indexed as a prototype for a museum's collections management database.

The Training Database data fields were combined with the requirements of two pilot users, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Canadian Museum of Civilization, to create the original CHIN Data Dictionary. During the conversion of the remaining users from the old ISIS-DEAP system to BASIS, in 1982, the end users and CHIN Museum Consultants identified further fields to add to the Dictionary.

In , revisions were made to the CHIN Data Dictionaries to enable their use as the standard for CHIN's Artefacts Canada Database. Some new fields were added, and a subset of the fields (those used in Artefacts Canada) were edited to remove references to specific or obsolete technologies, and to clarify the definitions and examples. In , the remainder of the fields were edited.

In , a series of new data fields were added to CHIN's Artefacts Canada Database, to enable museums to contribute richer records and to allow more precise searching, especially for geographic data. These changes were reflected in the CHIN Data Dictionaries. The new fields were requested by CHIN's contributing members, including the CHIN Geographical Locations Standards Working Group (English) and the Archaeological Collections Standards Working Group.

After the publication of Cataloguing Cultural Objects (CCO) in , CHIN’s Standards Working Groups assessed CCO, and recommended its use by Canadian museums with Humanities collections. In , the CHIN Data Dictionaries were updated with data entry rules from CCO in order to bring them into line with international standards. To facilitate the transition to the new data entry rules and to provide more information on the CCO standard, three documents were prepared:

Relationship to Other Standards or Guidelines

The CHIN Data Dictionaries include fields for core information, as well as many discipline-specific fields. In comparison with other standards or guidelines for museum collections management, the CHIN Data Dictionaries are generally more comprehensive and discipline-specific. Although a typical museum collections management database contains only a small subset of the CHIN Data Dictionary fields, users can select the units of information that they need from among a wide range of fields (some of which are specific to certain disciplines within a museum, such as ornithology or military collections).

The CHIN Data Dictionaries can be mapped to other similar standards for cultural heritage information (e.g. the VRA Core, SPECTRUM, Object ID) or to more general standards for resource discovery (e.g. Dublin Core). It can also be mapped to the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model. The CHIN Data Dictionary follows international conventions for data format, having incorporated the data entry rules from the Cataloguing Cultural Objects (CCO) standard.

Using the Data Dictionary

1. Contributing to CHIN's Collaborative Resources

A subset of the data fields described in the CHIN Data Dictionaries are the standard for museums contributing collections data to CHIN's Artefacts Canada. Each participating institution contributes key, non-confidential data to CHIN; this data is accessible on the Internet through Artefacts Canada.

Museums that wish to contribute data do not need to use the same field names and data structure as the CHIN Data Dictionaries. However, the museum's fields must be mapped to the CHIN Data Dictionaries in order that the resulting collaborative resources can be consistently searched, sorted, and displayed by users. For more information please consult the Artefacts Canada Contributor Documentation.

2. Database Design

A. Developing a collections management database

Museums may find the CHIN Data Dictionaries useful in the process of developing collections management systems using commercial database development applications.

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 are meant to define the units of information that a museum will need to record in order to properly document and manage their collections. Museums using the CHIN Data Dictionaries as the basis for a relational database will need to adapt the units of information into a relational structure. For example, in a relational system, there may be a table to store address information, so that any address (e.g. donor, previous owner, etc.) are stored as part of the table, making specialized address fields (e.g. donor address) unnecessary.

Museums can go through the CHIN Data Dictionaries and select a subset of fields that meet their individual needs. The data field definitions in the body of the CHIN Data Dictionaries will assist in the choice of appropriate fields.

B. Customizing a commercial collections management system

Some commercial collections management systems that are sold in Canada use the CHIN Data Dictionaries as the basis for their field structure. Others provide a basic database structure, but allow the museum to define new data fields, change data types, re-name fields, etc. Museums may wish to use the CHIN Data Dictionaries to help make decisions about customization of commercial collections management systems.

3. Standards for Entry and Retrieval

A. Standards in database content

The CHIN Data Dictionaries contain a definition for each data field that describes the content to be recorded in that field. This ensures that similar items of information are placed into the same field by all users. CHIN's Data Dictionaries can be used as the basis for either a flat file or a relational system; they do not prescribe a database structure.

B. Standards in format of data

The entry rules describe the format in which to enter the data. A standard format for data is suggested particularly for names, dates, and other data that users tend to use for data retrieval. Standards in format are very important for easy retrieval of data. The format rules from the Cataloging Cultural Objects (CCO) standard have been incorporated into the CHIN Humanities Data Dictionary.

C. Standards in terminology

Authority lists of terminology have been created for a few of the key fields by the CHIN Working Groups; these are included as part of the CHIN Data Dictionaries. Other established standards for content or terminology, such as the Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) and Nomenclature are recommended for use within certain fields, but are available elsewhere. The Standards resources on CHIN’s Professional Exchange also are a good source of information for museums trying to select appropriate terminology standards.

For an authority list of terminology based on usage, users may wish to refer to the indices of Artefacts Canada. These will indicate which terms are in most common use and therefore, perhaps, the preferred term to use.

4. Other tools for collections documentation and management

The CHIN Data Dictionaries can also be used to create tools such as cataloguing or data entry work sheets, and institutional rules for data entry.

Data Dictionary Framework

The following sections define the data fields used to structure the CHIN Data Dictionaries:

1. Field label

The field label is the full length name of a data field, and identifies the contents of a data field when it is displayed or printed.

2. Field mnemonic

A field mnemonic is the unique abbreviation assigned to each data field. In most cases, the mnemonics of each data field within a data grouping have the same prefix. For example, field mnemonics prefixed by AR in the CHIN Humanities Data Dictionary represent a group of fields describing the Artist/Maker.

An attempt was also made to use the same root for data fields of the same nature. For example, the mnemonics for origin-country and source country both contain the root CRY.

3. Field name(s)

The field names are alternative or historical names that may be used to describe a field. In most cases, they are names used in previous versions of the CHIN Data Dictionaries. They are included in the CHIN Data Dictionaries in order to assist museums whose field names are based on previous versions of the CHIN Data Dictionaries.

4. Field definition

The data field definition states the purpose of the field and the nature of the data to be entered.

5. Entry rules

The entry rules provide an explanation of how data are to be entered in a data field. For example, the rules may recommend a format for personal or corporate names, dates, etc.

6. Related Fields

Related Fields indicate the available choices for entry where there are data fields with a similar name or definition.

7. Data type

Each individual field in a database will be assigned one of several data types, which defines how the system processes the data in that field. Commercial collections management systems often have the data types pre-defined for each field, although many allow the user to change the data type. Museums that are developing their own collections management databases will have to define data types for each of the fields that they choose to include. Some of the most common data types include:

Whole numbers (without decimals) are indexed for mathematical processing.
Real number
Real numbers (with decimals) are indexed for mathematical processing.
Alpha-numeric string
An alpha-numeric string of characters may include alphabetic characters, numbers, punctuation, or other characters normally used as data separators.

8. Examples

The examples in the CHIN Data Dictionaries show how data should be entered in a field, rather than how the data will appear in the index.

9. Discipline

In the Humanities Data Dictionary, Discipline/Source indicates a broad category of discipline assigned, in part, by the Working Group or Task Force that originally proposed the creation of the data field. Discipline may include Art, History, Marine, Military, Archaeology (specimens), (Archaeology) Sites, Ethnology, Multidisciplinary or Administration. Multidisciplinary was assigned when more than two disciplinary task forces or working groups proposed the data field. Administration was used for data fields proposed by CHIN or by any working group to cover loans, exhibitions, conservation and other activities common to all museums.

10. Source

The Source indicates the Task Force, users' meeting, or institution which first suggested the field. Names followed by a PC indicate a pre-conversion meeting with a National Museums division. CHIN as a source indicates that the data field was added through research at CHIN or it was transferred from the Humanities Data Dictionary.

11. Authority List

For many key search fields, recommended authority lists (controlled vocabularies) are provided, and in some cases, a list of recommended terms will be provided within the Data Dictionary. It is important for museums to select term lists, thesauri, or classification systems for use in their collections management databases that are appropriate for the discipline and scale of their collections. Vocabulary control can help with both cataloguing and retrieval.

12. Status

The Status indicates whether the field is appropriate for upload to Artefacts Canada. Required fields in Artefacts Canada are also indicated.

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