API Collection databases

Powerhouse Object Name Thesaurus now available via our API!

Luke Dearnley is at LOD-LAM this week and he and Carlos Arroyo are pleased to publicly announce that the Powerhouse Object Name Thesaurus is now available through our API.

The Object Name Thesaurus was developed by the Powerhouse Museum to standardise the terms used to describe its own collection. It was first published in 1995 as the Powerhouse Museum Collection Thesaurus. Since then, many new terms have been added to the thesaurus within the Powerhouse’s collection information and management system. The print version has long been popular with collecting institutions to assist in the documentation of their own collections.

Whilst you have been able to download the thesaurus as a PDF for a fair while, the API now makes it possible to build applications on top of the thesaurus to do things like explain terms or even expand the search on your own website to show results from ‘related or child terms’. And of course, if you’ve built applications using the Powerhouse Collection you can now show related parent and child objects. The thesaurus, like the rest of the API defaults to a CC-BY-NC license although you can approach the Museum for a variation on request.

The hierarchical structure of the thesaurus assists in searching. By organising object names, the relationships between objects can be made explicit. Object names are organised according to their hierarchical, associative or equivalence relationships. The object name thesaurus allows for more than one broader term for each object name. Any term is permitted to have multiple broader terms, for example ‘Bubble pipes’ has the broader terms of ‘Pipes’ and ‘Toys’. There is no single hierarchy in which an object name is located, enabling it to by found by searchers approaching with different concepts in mind.

Here’s an example of the sort of return you can now get from the API.

    "status": 200, 
    "end": 50, 
    "start": 0, 
    "result": 50, 
    "terms": [
            "status": "APPROVED", 
            "scope_notes": "Any of a variety of brushes used to remove dirt and lint from clothing.", 
            "term": "Clothes brushes", 
            "num_items": 4, 
            "num_narrower_items": 0, 
            "relations": {
                "narrower": [
                        "status": "APPROVED", 
                        "scope_notes": null, 
                        "term": "Hat brushes", 
                        "num_items": 2, 
                        "num_narrower_items": 23, 
                        "id": 5104
                "broader": {
                    "status": "APPROVED", 
                    "scope_notes": null, 
                    "term": "Laundry equipment", 
                    "num_items": 11, 
                    "num_narrower_items": 0, 
                    "id": 1189
                "related": {
                    "status": "APPROVED", 
                    "scope_notes": "Used to remove dust and dirt from clothing by beating.", 
                    "term": "Clothes beaters", 
                    "num_items": 0, 
                    "num_narrower_items": 0, 
                    "id": 2802

The code snippet above shows the usage of terms (sometimes a bit like a definition) and the broader/narrower relationships between the terms themselves.

Laundry equipment is a broader term under which Clothes brushes sits. Clothes brushes are used as “Any of a variety of brushes used to remove dirt and lint from clothing.” and they have a single narrower term Hat brushes.

Not only that, but Clothes brushes are related to Clothes beaters which are “Used to remove dust and dirt from clothing by beating”.

If you were, say, running a collection search (or even an ecommerce system) for old washing machines and related equipment your application could use the Thesaurus in the API to make recommendations on your own site using the broader/narrower terms from our system. In that sense a user searching for “hat brushes” on your website could also be expanded to show them results for “clothes brushes” and “clothes beaters”.

And of course, you can also get the Powerhouse objects under each of these categories.

Rough documentation is available (with better documentation coming soon).

We’ll be adding to this over the coming months and we’d love your thoughts on how this might be useful to you in your own applications.

2 replies on “Powerhouse Object Name Thesaurus now available via our API!”

Why are you using JSON instead of XML?  It looks as if you using numerical term identifiers are you considering developing a numerical taxonomy?

JSON is the default output and what the post is showing. But you can get also YAML and XML
Also you  can use  JSONP.

Here’s how you would get XML –{key}

Can you explain your second question.


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