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How Thema Can Be Used In Practice

Friday, August 16, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Chris Saynor, EDItEUR

The first post in this series described the genesis of Thema and its basic structure of category codes, qualifiers and extensions. The second post explored the relevance of Thema to exports and international sales. In this third and final part we detail some examples using Thema.

As a basic guide to categorizing titles using Thema, it’s helpful to remember the six "golden rules":

  1. Classify as precisely as appropriate –  not necessarily as precisely as possible
  2. Assign as many categories as required
  3. Ensure the first category is the primary or main subject
  4. Observe the usage notes for each category
  5. Add qualifiers wherever appropriate
  6. Consider context

The codes shown in the examples are suggestions illustrating how to use Thema, and the examples are intended to spark discussion rather than being authoritative statements of the correct way to categorize the particular books listed.

As the first post in this series noted, Thema is a post-coordinated scheme that allows meaning to be built up by using one or more subject categories plus qualifiers. This contrasts with BISAC, a pre-coordinated scheme in which a single code carries meaning independent of any other codes assigned.

Thema allows the mixing of fiction and non-fiction codes to deliver more precise, detailed subject information than would otherwise be possible in a global scheme. This post-coordination concept works well in fiction books aimed at younger readers, particularly for middle grade and teenage fiction, where there is such a rich variety of themes. Thema provides this flexibility while remaining manageable and speedy for publishing and bookselling staff to grasp.


In this first example, The Boy at the Back of The Class by Onjali Q. Rauf, published in the UK by Hachette Children’s Group, we have chosen YFSChildren’s / Teenage fiction: School stories as the main subject. This is the one you would encourage a bookseller to use if they could only classify the title in one place – for example in a physical shelving scheme. This ‘main’ status is something that should be indicated in an ONIX file.

The YF part of the main code is a clear indication the book is fiction. School stories because the story takes place in a school setting and is based on relationships formed at school. The other codes we’ve added give greater meaning and depth to the classification. This is a school story that talks about refugees, so we used YXZM – Children’s / Teenage social issues: Migration & refugees to indicate this. It is also a story about the importance of friendship, so we also added YXHB ­– Children’s / Teenage personal & social topics: Friends & friendship issues. As we are mixing fiction and non-fiction categories here, the main subject must always be a fiction code, to avoid misclassification by data receivers.

We also sent the code YXP – Children’s / Teenage personal & social topics: Diversity / inclusivity. This subject code can highlight titles that may be hard to find. The note that accompanies this category is particularly important: Use for: books that deal with these topics and stories with a particularly diverse cast of characters, or which illustrate inclusivity within the context of the story without necessarily being the subject of the story. Use with: YF* codes for stories and values from 5P* INTEREST Qualifiers if appropriate. When using Thema, it’s as important to have access to the notes as to the headings. The contents and storyline of this book fit perfectly into this category, but the notes are critical to understanding how the category can be used.

There are two qualifiers as well here. One 1DDU-GB-ESL – London, Greater London is used because all the action takes place in London. Adding the place qualifier gives another element to boost discoverability. So a school might ask its local bookstore to find middle grade storybooks that take place in London to fit in with a summer reading list.

The final qualifier 5AJ – Interest age: from c 8 years is to give a starter age guideline. As the Y* codes cover books aimed at anyone from 0 to 18 years, it is the 5A* codes that give the necessary detail, so that you can say, for example, it is fiction for 3 and up, 8 and up or whatever. More detailed age ranges should be sent elsewhere (either in ONIX or via another method of metadata delivery).

This range of subject codes and qualifiers assigned to The Boy at the Back of the Class reflects the many different ways that a child, a parent or an educator might search for, discover and select this particular title.

The same principle, that you can add more than one subject code to give greater precision of meaning, applies equally to fiction aimed at adults. There is no minimum number of Thema codes to assign. Sometimes, one code is exactly the right code and nothing further is needed. Nor is there an upper limit – but as with all structured subject schemes, it’s not just about listing keywords, so only use codes that represent the main content of the book. Make use of other data in ONIX, including keywords, a good description of the book or the table of contents (for non-fiction) to convey any minor topics covered by a title.

The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard, published by HarperCollins in the UK, is widely considered a classic science fiction novel, so the main subject code is FLC – Classic Science Fiction. It is also a title that can be classified as FLQ – Science fiction: apocalyptic & post-apocalyptic.

But Thema also has a set of codes specifically for adult fiction called Narrative Themes, which can be used for books with a strong, overall theme, such as ‘coming of age’ or ‘love and relationships’ (not needed for Romance titles which have a whole set of genre codes in Thema). These themes are not genres in themselves – indeed they can be found in multiple genres – and would never be used as main codes. In the example we have FXE – Narrative theme: Environmental issues as this is a major theme – this title is seen as a founding text in the genre called Climate Fiction, and to give extra weight to that, we can use a non-fiction code, RNPG – Climate change.

A potential buyer can now search for science fiction, climate fiction, fiction about the environment, fiction about climate change etc. As these codes remain independent of language, a user searching in Spanish for English language science fiction about climate change, is far more likely to find this title as well.

Finally, we have added the same place qualifier as the previous example, 1DDU-GB-ESL – London, Greater London, as the novel is set in London, even if that’s a future London that has been flooded, as again this gives an extra detail about the content and another route for discovery.

Thema presents a real opportunity to improve the depth, detail and nuance of subject categorisation, thereby boosting the discoverability of titles in the global market. So at the same time you’re looking at your BISAC codes, think about Thema and consider the possibilities it offers, particularly for international sales

A document that has 50 worked examples is available on the EDItEUR website, where you can see more variations to help you with preparing your titles for the global market. The range of available Thema subjects and qualifiers can be seen via the multilingual interactive browser at https://ns.editeur.org/thema


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