Subject reference systems

Indexing expresses the subject of an item by analyzing that item. In this way, all items covering a given subject, irrespective of the medium, can be found in a catalog. BnF uses various reference systems to index materials.


BnF has been using RAMEAU for analytical indexing since 1980. RAMEAU is a directory of interlinked subject authority records that contain vocabulary and information used to construct subject headings in a bibliographic file. Together, these records constitute the National Authority List, which is managed by the National RAMEAU Center. RAMEAU indexing uses BnF authorities (names of persons, corporate bodies, and titles) for studies on these subjects. This indexing covers all types of materials (printed, audiovisual, graphic, etc.) and enables subject searches to be carried out in the catalogs.

As is the case in most French libraries, BnF’s catalogers follow the indexing rules set out in the RAMEAU Indexing Guide. However, for the institution’s own specific needs, instructions and practical tips have been put together in the form of information sheets in the Practical Guide for Catalogers (Guide pratique du catalogueur):

As far as possible, BnF policy is to limit the number of RAMEAU subject access points to any given item to three.

See also

le récapitulatif de l'indexation (RAMEAU, Dewey) par type de document
(monographies imprimées, périodiques, documents audiovisuels, recueils, manuscrits, images fixes, partitions musicales)

Analytical indexing

Analytical indexing is a way of analyzing the subject of materials so as to create access points in the catalog. The principles of analytical indexing, as defined in standard AFNOR Z 44-070 (Documentation - Indexation analytique par matière, 1986, a revision of the standard contained in the 1957 Catalogue alphabétique de matières), are as follows: “Analytical indexing by subject applies only to documentary works. It generally excludes literary works and classical, philosophical, and religious texts. However, in special cases of specialized collections, such works may be indexed.”

An institution’s indexing policy defines which materials are covered by the general principles laid down in a standard and which materials have special characteristics. This is particularly the case for some specialized collections.

BnF authorities

BnF authorities, which are used for subject indexing, follow rules set out in the RAMEAU Indexing Guide (Guide d’indexation RAMEAU).

Names of persons

Names of persons (PEPs) may be used in the assignment of subject headings to works about persons.

Corporate bodies

Like names of persons, some names of corporate bodies (ORGs) may be used for subject indexing.
Please note: some architectural studies (on buildings, monuments, places of worship, etc.) are indexed using either a corporate body, established in accordance with the corporate bodies standard NF Z 44-060, or using a geographical name established in accordance with rules set out in the RAMEAU Indexing Guide. Constructions located on cartographic materials are expressed using BnF geographical names established in accordance with standard NF Z 44-081.


Titles (conventional titles, uniform titles for anonymous classics, uniform titles for music, etc.) are often used in subject indexing of studies of a given work.

Geographical names

Cartographic materials (maps, plans, atlases, globes, cartographic guides, geographical games, cartographic CD-ROMs, etc.) include access points based on geographical names. Headings are established in accordance with standard AFNOR NF Z 44-081 (Documentation – Catalogage des documents cartographiques – Forme et structure des vedettes noms géographiques, 1993). This type of indexing enables users to carry out specifically geographical searches within the catalogue général de la BnF.

Geographical indexing

Geographical access are necessary for cartographic materials. Geographical names – which are styled “BnF geographical names” in order to differentiate them from geographical names used by RAMEAU and local government authors – correspond to complete headings which can be used for specific searches.


The Dewey indexing system

The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system is an encyclopedic numerical classification system covering every field of knowledge. It has been translated into many languages and is the most widely used classification system in the world.

The Dewey system is developed and regularly updated by the Decimal Classification Editorial Policy Committee, OCLC/Forest Press in order to take into account developments in knowledge.

It is used by BnF (22nd edition) to index both open-access printed materials and materials obtained under the legal deposit scheme and added to the library’s closed-stack collections. Indexes used for automatic indexing are in turn used to establish records that populate a Dewey authority file.

See also

The printed version of the 22nd edition of the Dewey Decimal Classification system has been translated into French: Classification décimale Dewey et index, 22nd edition, published by Asted, 2007 (distributed by Cercle de la librairie). This is the edition currently used by BnF. However, for the institution’s own specific needs, instructions and practical tips have been put together in the form of information sheets included in the Practical Guide for Catalogers (Guide pratique du catalogueur):

Dewey indexing enables users to search the catalogue général de la BnF by index or index label.

BnF assigns a single Dewey index to monographs, and no more than three to periodicals obtained under the legal deposit scheme.

See also

le récapitulatif de l'indexation (RAMEAU, Dewey) par type de document
(monographies imprimées, périodiques, documents audiovisuels, recueils, manuscrits, images fixes, partitions musicales)

Classification systems

The DCC system is also used to define discipline-based filing schemes, thus enabling topical searches such as those used in Gallica, BnF’s digital library.

Systematic indexing

Unlike analytical indexing, systematic indexing follows a discipline-based approach to classification. These two types of indexing are complementary: one approaches subjects from an analytical perspective, while the other approaches them by major knowledge class, and is thus useful for collocating materials covering a given discipline.


Typologies are reference systems or closed and standardized lists of terms, as well as numeric codes accompanied by natural language labels. These reference systems are used to capture additional information which cannot be held in subject fields. They make more in-depth searches possible for certain materials such as fixed images. In particular, these include searches by type, genre and form.

Audiovisual materials

Reference systems specific to audiovisual materials enable users to carry out searches from four angles: by topic (classification by major topic), by genre, by production and distribution channel, and by form and function:

  • Topic

Matière générale [fichier .pdf – 119 Ko – 25/06/09 – 2 p.]

  • Genre
  • Production and distribution channel
  • Function and form

Graphic materials

Reference systems specific to graphic materials enable users to carry out searches by:

Cartographic materials

Reference systems specific to cartographic materials enable users to carry out searches by:

Iconographic vocabulary

Most fixed images are indexed using the RAMEAU language and typologies for graphic materials. Furthermore, digital images referenced in the Mandragore database and the picture collection are indexed using their own specific thesauruses.

Mandragore (“mandrake” in English)

Mandragore, the Manuscripts Department’s database of iconographic materials covering the department’s collections of western and eastern miniatures, allows searches using a specific BnF thesaurus.

The thesaurus used within Mandragore forms part of a European project on multilingual access, the STITCH project.

The picture collection

Images in the picture collection, the Reprographic Department’s database of fixed digital images holding images in the public domain taken from materials reproduced at the request of BnF’s internal and external customers, are indexed using the Thésaurus iconographique drawn up by François Garnier.

This thesaurus can be used to carry out documentary analysis of ancient and modern representations. In particular, it is used to index images in the Joconde database (Catalogue des collections des musées de France) and the Liber Floridus database (illuminated medieval manuscripts from higher education libraries).


Iconographic descriptors
Iconographic descriptors, which are taken from a specialist thesaurus used to describe images, are presented in the form of a prioritized list of specific keywords.

Reminder: what is a thesaurus?
“A tool for checking vocabulary, the use of which is intended to make information retrieval more efficient. A thesaurus is an organized list of terms relating to one or more fields of knowledge. The terms found in a thesaurus are descriptors. Most databases have a thesaurus from which descriptors are selected to describe the items referenced in the database. A thesaurus indicates which terms should be used to unambiguously describe the contents of materials, and which terms should not be used. Vocabulary on a specific topic is grouped together, limited, categorized, and governed by hierarchical relationships, equivalencies, or other relationships between terms (generic descriptors, specific descriptors, associated descriptors, etc.). Instructions for using descriptors may be briefly explained in application or usage notes.” [Glossaire des techniques de l'information in Joconde, the catalog of French museum collections.]

Tuesday, March 18, 2014