Jean Aitchison, Alan Gilchrist, David Bawden. Thesaurus construction and use: a practical manual. 4th ed. ASLIB: London, 2000. xiv, 218 pp. ISBN 0-85142-446-5 £42.50
The first two editions of this well known manual appeared in 1972 and 1987. According to the authors, the 3rd editon (1997) represents a thorough revision and the 4th, an update. In the introduction to the 4th edition, the previous one is described as an update.
The new introduction gives good reasons for not undertaking a new, thorough revision:
"The choice lay between a relatively straightforward job of updating and a complete rewrite; considering, for example, the ways in which text retrieval software handled the language problems. Encouraged by the observation of Milstead (Milstead 1995) that thesauri were not obsolete, merely invisible, the authors opted for the update approach".
"...there has been a completely new development in the world of retrieval, brought about by the poorly organized glut of information available on the Internet and the growing number of intranets".
The text is based on American, English and international standards. One could ask why international standards are not considered to be sufficient, but the existence of national standards is a fact – and the authors are of course not to blame. A problem for thesaurus constructors in non-Germanic languages, however, is that even the international standards are largely based on English language practice.
The manual is divided into the same 12 sections as the 3rd edition. The headings are the same, except for the first one where the word 'nature' is added, so the new section heading reads Nature, purposes and uses of thesauri.
The authors give a comprehensive survey of most problems likely to be encountered in thesaurus construction. Maybe Section F on structure and relationships would have been easier to understand if the authors had, as Ranganathan recommended, separated the planes - e.g., the idea plane (logical relationships: generic, instance, partitive, associative) and the verbal plane (formal relationships: hierarchical, coordination, equivalence).
Of course, a rather complete manual like this offers a lot of choices to the thesaurus constructor. Sometimes one misses the advice of the authors, but they are quite clear when declaring:
Classification and thesaurus construction and use are strongly related...
A deliberate choice of the authors was to avoid dealing with software packages. This is understandable, but it would have been interesting to know if they could make any recommendations.
The twelve sections are followed by an appendix showing some American rules for dealing with compound terms, a comprehensive bibliography and a good index.
This reviewer's impression is that we still need a manual like this, but we shall probably soon need a new edition - and a thorough revision this time.