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About Nomenclature

The Nomenclature for Museum Cataloging website is the most up-to-date version of the Nomenclature standard.

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Since it was first published in 1978, and throughout all the iterations since, Nomenclature has been improved and expanded by inviting input from the museum community it serves. The standard has been published in paper format as follows:

The Nomenclature for Museum Cataloging website (launched in 2018) is a collaborative project which includes:

Nomenclature continues to be developed and maintained by the Nomenclature Committee, with updates being performed directly within the system. Nomenclature is a living standard that will evolve to meet the needs of its users. See our additional resources for more information on Nomenclature and other museum collections documentation standards.

Individual or institutional users are able to propose additions or changes, using the term submission form. The Nomenclature Committee also welcomes groups of subject experts within particular disciplines to work together with the Committee to develop or improve Nomenclature.

About the Nomenclature standard

What is Nomenclature for Museum Cataloging?

Nomenclature for Museum Cataloging is a structured and controlled list of object terms organized in a classification system to provide a basis for indexing and cataloging collections of human-made objects. Nomenclature is used in the creation and management of object records in human history collections within museums and other organizations, and it focuses on objects relevant to North American history and culture. Nomenclature is the most extensively used museum classification and controlled vocabulary for historical and ethnological collections in North America.

Why is standardized object naming and classification important to museums?

Nomenclature’s standardized classification and controlled vocabulary greatly facilitates the ability to search, use and share museum collections data for research, collection management, exhibition planning and more.

Nomenclature provides concise and consistent names for objects, allowing easier search and retrieval. The extensive hierarchical list of object names was contributed by museums with North American collections. It also provides a simple classification structure that groups like objects together by their function, allowing museums to easily work with record groups.

Shared terminology and classification is key to making museum collections records as useful as they can be!

Where can Nomenclature be used?

Nomenclature is already built into most major commercial museum collections management systems used in North America. It can also be used by museums with custom-built databases or spreadsheets and even by museums without computerized cataloging systems.

Most museums with collections encompassing North American human history (including mixed collections containing artworks, ethnographic and historic objects, and natural science specimens) will find that Nomenclature contains the vast majority of terms they require. Although Nomenclature was created to deal with human-made objects, it can be used to catalog natural history objects within the context of human activity. Museums with collections exclusively or primarily consisting of artworks or natural science specimens will not usually find Nomenclature sufficient for their needs—they may wish to find other vocabulary and classification standards suitable to their discipline.

Nomenclature will not include all the terms any given museum needs, and it will not be suitable for all purposes. But it is a practical, flexible, extensible framework that has been used successfully by thousands of museums for more than four decades. After careful consideration, museums can add new terms as needed within the Nomenclature framework. It is recommended that they document their reasons for adding the terms, collaborate with other museums where possible and share their additions with the Nomenclature Committee to be considered for inclusion within the official standard.

Nomenclature is used to control units of information for object names and classifications only. Other standards exist for controlling other important units of information such as materials, styles, design elements, geographic origins, manufacturing techniques, personal and corporate names, and related subjects and concepts. There are many useful resources about data standards for museum collections, including the Canadian Heritage Information Network Guide to Museum Standards and the Visual Resources Association / American Library Association publication Cataloging Cultural Objects: A Guide to Describing Cultural Works and Their Images.

Respectful terminology

Nomenclature for Museum Cataloging is a continual work in progress, and was developed over many decades through the contributions of staff and volunteers at museums and cultural centers. As such, it may include outdated or offensive terms used by museums to describe objects in their collections. The American Association for State and Local History and the Canadian Heritage Information Network seek to update Nomenclature with respectful terminology. If you have concerns about any terms found in Nomenclature for Museum Cataloging, we invite your input to improve the vocabulary by emailing us at: or by submitting a term change request.

Nomenclature in Commercial Museum Software

Nomenclature has been implemented in many museum collections management systems to assist and control data entry and to enhance search. Please note that not all collections management software has been updated with the most recent changes to Nomenclature. Museums that notice that their internal vocabulary is out of date are encouraged to contact their software vendor to request an update to Nomenclature. LOD features are available on the integration page to make this easier.

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The Nomenclature for Museum Cataloging website is a collaboration between several Canadian and U.S. organizations:

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