From subject access in catalogs to search engines

The reference systems used to index materials by subject at BnF are accessible via various criteria in our catalogs. These criteria also include some subjects which are not linked to any of these reference systems.
In the web environment, the Bibliothèque nationale de France continues to improve the ease with which its collections can be browsed and accessed. The digital library, Gallica, moves away from traditional information retrieval methods and instead uses methods more akin to those used by search engines.

BnF catalogue général

In the catalogue général de la BnF, the “subject” criterion is used for materials added to the library’s collections from 1980 onwards. Consequently, a significant proportion of the library’s heritage collections cannot be accessed using this criterion. The “subject” criterion refers to the following:

  • “free” subjects that do not correspond to any reference system;
  • subjects arising from the RAMEAU language, which are sometimes presented in the form of combinations of components intended to precisely specify the subject being studied;
  • geographical subjects specific to cartographic materials, which are sometimes presented in the form of combinations of components, always based on a BnF geographical name, intended to specify the located subject or subjects, as well as subjects used on their own to express the subject of a document;
  • typologies of graphic materials which, in addition to the subject of the representation indexed in RAMEAU, express the genre, form, topic of posters, aesthetics of images, etc.
  • typologies of cartographic materials expressing the type of material.

To be noted

When carrying out a simple search (from the initial search screen), the default “subject” criterion is a search by word.

The Dewey search criterion (by index or label) is accessed via the advanced search screen.

The Typologies search criterion for audiovisual materials is accessed via the specialized search screen.

Similarly, the Authorities search screen enables users to search for materials by subject using only RAMEAU references and BnF authorities.

La Joie par les livres

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Collections belonging to the National Center for Children’s Literature – La Joie par les livres (Centre national de la littérature pour la jeunesse – La Joie par les livres) are indexed in RAMEAU, irrespective of whether they consist of documentary or fictional material.

The catalog offers the following:

  • a “recherche directe” (direct search) mode which searches every word in a record, including the subject index, synopsis, title, etc.
  • a “recherche avancée” (advanced search) mode, which relates to specific criteria including the “sujet” (subject) criterion:
    • Users can type a word into the “sujet” (subject) field and, by clicking directly on “rechercher” (Search), are presented with a list of materials whose subject includes the search word or expression.
    • They can also click on the icon, which links to a list of terms similar to the initial request.
    • The advanced search form includes a “options de recherche” (search options) criterion that provides a “Genre” filter.

BnF archives et manuscrits


BnF archives et manuscrits provides access to some of BnF’s manuscripts and archive holdings, which are described in accordance with the EAD DTD established by the archive science community.

Subject searches can be launched in one of two ways:

  • via the search form tab:
    • Inputting the first letters of the desired term into the “sujet” (subject) field causes an index to open. This index can also be accessed by clicking on the icon .
    • In the “texte libre" (free format text) field, using the syntax “subject : mot recherché” (subject: search word).
  • via the collections tab:
    When a collection is selected, a search by index is proposed: a "Sujet (noms communs)" [Subject (common nouns)] index, "Lieu (sujet)" [Place (subject)], and "Nom (sujet)" [Name (subject)], which mainly correspond to names of corporate bodies, and "Personne (sujet)" [Person (subject)] and "Titre (sujet)" [Title (subject)].



Mandragore logo: illuminated manuscripts database

Mandragore (“mandrake” in English), BnF’s database of illuminated manuscripts, can be used to carry out searches by descriptor using specific iconographic vocabulary, as well as by topical classification.

Descriptors are presented in the form of an alphabetical index. Users may choose to either input descriptors directly or use the index. Separate descriptors can be input into two different fields within the search screen.

Topical classification, inspired by the Dewey system, is presented in the form of a thesaurus in which users can browse major knowledge classes and sub-classes (for example, the Arts sub-class contains a Sculpture and “minor” arts category).

Banque d'images


The picture collection, the Reprographic Department’s database of fixed digital images, holds images in the public domain taken from materials reproduced at the request of BnF’s internal and external customers.
The initial search screen can be used to search all the text in a descriptive record or caption for a given word or expression.

In order to refine a search by topic, users can carry out searches using descriptors taken from the Thésaurus iconographique drawn up by François Garnier. These descriptors may be either input directly into the “descriptor” field or selected from the thesaurus tree structure, which is displayed by clicking on “View descriptor list”.

Up to three descriptors can be combined using Boolean operators (and/or).

Example tree structure for “animal fabuleux”.

Digital libraries


Gallica, la Bibliothèque numérique

Gallica, BnF’s digital library, offers the ability to search for one or more words from its initial search screen.

Searches cover all record fields (author, title, etc.) as well as the contents of documents where these have been digitized.

The start-up page also offers the ability to search by topic using a Dewey indexing approach adapted for digital materials, up to a maximum of two or three levels. This type of search is made possible by creating topical OAI sets.

“Explorer” (Explore) access ["un personnage" (a person), "une œuvre" (a work), "un sujet" (a subject), "un lieu" (a place), or "un événement" (an event)] makes use of preconfigured searches that combine several words and search criteria (to search record fields and/or document contents).



Europeana, the European digital library, also promotes full text searches.

Full text is also used by search engines. Search engines use metadata, which is referenced in particular by website managers, to find websites using selected keywords.

Thursday, December 22, 2016