Monday, May 09, 2005

Fun Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH)

A great link was posted by Library Link of the Day today.

Newsflash! Subject Headings not boring!

I'm now proud to know that, yes, there are books published about odor control in my home state of Minnesota. :) Apparently, there are also works about the grudges of fishes?



Barbara said...

One I remember from lo-so-many-years-ago when I took cataloging (craftily concealed under the title "Organization of Materials I") was the mysterious subject heading "one-leg standing position" about which apparently no books have actually been written. But it is helpfully cross-referenced from "standing on one leg."

By the way, if you ever want to look up a subject heading or see how a particular name is entered into catalogs, the Library of Congress has made these available through their Web site at And if you want a good explanation of how to make subject headings work for you, take a look at Tom Mann's Oxford Guide to Library Research. It's a great overall hitchiker's guide to the library universe written by a crack reference librarian at the Library of Congress. A new edition will be out later this year.


Alec said...

Thanks, Barbara! I'll have to check this book out. Perhaps it will give me some ideas on how to better explain the use of LCSH to patrons. So many patrons choose to search our catalog with the "Any Word Anywhere" option, which, of course, yields thousands of results, when instead the "Browse by Subject" option (which searches the LCSHs assigned to our information resources) usually produces the results that users need.

Barbara said...

Here's a subject heading story. I was doing work at LC on a topic that first got named at a psychology conference in 1981. It was controversial, though very much in the news, and only got an official Library of Congress Subject Heading in 1995. Meanwhile - how do you find the books that were published in the interim?

Call numbers to the rescue! I found post-1995 books, then browsed their call numbers. (Some were in psychology - BF - and others in psychiatry - R something-or-other.) Thank goodness Tom Mann helped fend off a plan to shelve all the books by size (to save space) rather than by subject!! At the NYPL, the research library (which, like LC, isn't open stacks) shelves by size and doesn't use call numbers at all so doing the same subject there was much more difficult.

What was the topic? Okay, it's a bit bizarre: Ritual Abuse. In 1981 the psychologist labeled it Satanic Ritual Abuse and it ended up featuring in trials like the McMartin Preschool case. But by 1995 when LC finally gave it an official name (without "satanic," which had fallen out of favor) it was already fading from view. Looking at how this topic was treated by the media was my research project, and very interesting indeed it was. Though I looked at some very strange books in the process.