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RVM: 50 ans comme norme nationale

50th Anniversary of RVM as the national indexing standard

Given that Université Laval is one of the oldest educational institutions in North America, it is not surprising that some of the school’s achievements have stood the test of time and are now among the most trusted resources in their field. Topping the list of most notable successes must certainly be the Répertoire de vedettes-matière (RVM).

Created in 1946, RVM was designed to provide controlled, reliable vocabulary for the University’s library collection. It is well known in the library world that before a document can be used, it must first be described and indexed. That is what makes it traceable for research purposes. While indexing with uncontrolled vocabulary has some advantages, especially in terms of cost, people generally agree that controlled vocabulary is a more efficient indexing method.

On that basis, the idea of Université Laval having its own thesaurus, modelled on the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), was floated among the library’s team of cataloguers. The first edition of RVM was published in 1962, and it was obvious that although the new tool was modelled on the LCSH, it bore the unmistakable stamp of Université Laval in several ways, « à savoir l’universalité des sujets, la note scientifique et l’expression française.¹ » (namely, the universality of subjects, the scholarliness, and the French language).

1974: a turning point for RVM

The controlled vocabulary was initially intended for internal use at Université Laval, but it sparked growing interest among other French-language libraries, both in the academic world and in public libraries. Because the thesaurus was in continuous development, there were more and more requests for access coming from outside the UL community, and in 1974 the National Library of Canada adopted RVM as the national indexing standard in French.

We’ve now reached the 50th anniversary of that event, which marked the beginning of a momentous period of collaboration for RVM. There was a partnership with the National Library of Canada, of course, but also with other educational institutions and municipalities and with Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. RVM even gained recognition internationally and was used by Bibliothèque nationale de France to build its own controlled vocabulary, Répertoire d’autorité-matière encyclopédique et alphabétique unifié (RAMEAU).

Over the decades, Répertoire de vedettes-matière has continuously evolved, both in vocabulary and in technology. Now made up of five separate thesauruses with over 730,000 authority records, RVM is used by over 200 libraries and documentation centres in Québec, elsewhere in Canada, and in other countries, primarily in Europe.

¹Université Laval, Bibliothèque, Répertoire des Vedettes-Matière de la Bibliothèque de l’Université Laval, Québec, Les Presses de l’Université Laval, 1962, p. I.

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More about RVM
To get an overview of what RVM is, watch the training video « Le RVM: c'est quoi? » created for indexers.