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Library of Congress and Sears Subject Headings. Group 1 - Kari Blazek, Carla Heideman, Laura McDaniel, Sue Pray, Christopher Rathmel, Kara Schmidt, Tricia Sweany. Both the LCSH and Sears are:. Alphabetical Lists of. SUBJECT HEADINGS.

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library of congress and sears subject headings
Library of Congress and Sears Subject Headings

Group 1 - Kari Blazek, Carla Heideman, Laura McDaniel, Sue Pray, Christopher Rathmel, Kara Schmidt, Tricia Sweany

both the lcsh and sears are
Both the LCSH and Sears are:

Alphabetical Lists of


subject access
Subject Access

Power to retrieve works a given collection contains about a given topic

Opens up collection for use by the non-expert

Through subject access, a collection becomes more effective as a tool for learning.

two ways of subject access
Two ways of Subject Access

1) Through classification- e.g. Dewey: If you’re in the 200’s, you know you are in Religion.

Similar with LC

2) Through assigning SUBJECT HEADINGS to records in the catalog as points of access

subject heading uniform heading
Subject Heading-Uniform Heading

A UNIFORM HEADING is the single, chosen term (or phrase) under which materials about a single topic in a collection are categorized.

Solves problem of

synonyms: different word/same topic

homonyms: same word (form)/ different topic

Puts the “control” in controlled vocabulary


SYNDETIC structure – “links related terms” (Rubin 2004, p.232)

  • Syndetic structure helps user navigate list
  • Natural language controlled vocabulary
  • Different relationships: Broader Term, Narrower term, Related Term, Use for, See also

specific entry
Specific Entry

“…principle of specific entry is fundamental both in using and making a modern subject catalog” (Miller 1997, xvi)

Catalogers “choose the most specific possible [subject] heading for the book as a whole rather than the more general headings available…” (Mann 2005, p.27)

“If a work is about penguins, it should be entered directly under the most specific heading Penguins…not… Birds or even under Water Birds” (Miller 1997, xvi).

why specific entry
Why Specific Entry?

In all but very small collections, without specific entry, subject headings become useless for retrieval.

Unintuitive and frustrating for the uninitiated, but key to understanding lists of subject headings

why lists of subject headings
Why Lists of Subject Headings?


a means for translating natural language to controlled vocabulary


promotes consistency in assignment of subject headings

3) Indication of Relationships

shows the relationships between terms in the list


list itself can be used as a searching aid in retrieval

Note: adapted from NISO (2003, p. 1) as found in (Rubin 2004, p. 238).

subject search vs web search
Subject Search vs. Web Search

Subject search:

Advantage: Results are relevant and comprehensive.

Disadvantages: Controlled vocabulary

Requires lots of trained, human labor


Relevancy ranking web search:

  • Advantages: Natural language search terms
  • Automated- requires less human labor than subject cataloging
  • Disadvantages: Some retrieved documents will be irrelevant.
  • (Mann 2005, p.23)
lcsh functions
LCSH: Functions

2 Functions

1) To provide subject access points to the bibliographic records contained in the Library of Congress catalogs.

2) A tool for subject indexing of general library catalogs.

(Chan, 1990)

lcsh history
LCSH was created in the summer of 1898

Library officials faced the question on how collections should be organized

LC officials wanted a new classification system

LCSH: History
lcsh history1
LCSH: History

In July 1898,

Compilation of authority list of subject headings

Printing of first author cards

In 1909, recounted LCSH system

General controlled vocabulary

LCSH serves thousands of libraries around the world

LCSH is a dynamic system, always evolving

general information
General Information

Current size approximately a quarter million terms

Most comprehensible non-specialized controlled vocabulary in the English language

LCSH has demonstrated its versatility in response to changed external circumstances offering subject access to a wide range of audience in a wide range of environments

If LCSH wants to survive in the future, it must adapt to the new environment

(Chan, L. M., & Hodges, T.,2000)

lcsh advantages
LCSH: Advantages

Rich vocabulary covering all subject areas, easily the largest general indexing vocabulary in the English language

Provides synonym and homograph control

Contains rich links (cross-reference) among terms

(Chan, L. M., & Hodges, T.,2000)

lcsh advantages1
LCSH: Advantages

Translated or adapted as a model for developing subject headings systems by many countries around the world

Compatible with subject data in MARC records

(Chan, L. M., & Hodges, T.,2000)

The system has clearly demonstrated its versatility in a wide range of conditions and is holding its own in popularity


lcsh disadvantages
LCSH: Disadvantages

LC system is so complex, that it requires trained personnel.

Very costly to maintain subject headings strings in bibliographic or metadata records

In its present form and application, LCSH is not compatible in syntax with most other controlled vocabularies. Its subject heading strings do not lend themselves to mapping onto other controlled vocabularies.

Not amenable to search engines outside the OPAC environment particularly those that operate on the web

(Chan, L. M., & Hodges, T.,2000)

lcsh disadvantages1
LCSH: Disadvantages

Library patrons rarely understand and use the LCSH—leads searchers out of the subject, not into it

Lack of flexibility in the framework of the system

Impossible to accomplish 3 key functions:

Concept formulation

String Linkage

Term Networking

The Subject Heading List of the Library of Congress has become so entrenched that the financial and intellectual costs of making a radical departure are intimidating.



Constructions- conceived and developed by humans

Lists of subject headings are not neutral

They embed cataloger’s bias- cultural, ethnic, historical, sexual orientation, racial, gender

When included, minority groups and the powerless in society are misrepresented and marginalized (pushed aside as unimportant)

(Olsen, 2002)

sears definition and description
Sears Definition and Description

Sears is an alphabetical list of subject headings.

It is based on literary warrant and does not create headings until there are library materials that need them.

Sears is devised for the implementation of Cutter’s Rule for cataloging materials to the greatest specificity.

(Inter, p. 76)

sears definition and description1
The technical model was and still is the Library of Congress Subject Headings. It was the policy of Sears to use the LC form with some modifications, chiefly the simplification of phrases.

Abridged Dewey Decimal numbers were added for the first time in the 4th edition and are still present in current editions.

Dewey numbers are to be used as a guide for the cataloger and not used as exact placing in individual libraries.

(Miller, 2007)

Sears Definition and Description
sears history
Sears was first designed in 1923 by Minnie Earl Sears

The original plan of Sears was to remain as close as possible to the usage of the Library of Congress subject headings.

(Inter, p. 75)

It was based on a survey of subject heading practices of nine small but well catalogued libraries

Sears History
sears uses
It was meant for small libraries which found Library of Congress subject headings too detailed and expansive to easily meet their needs.

The original title was List of Subject Headings for Small Libraries..

(Miller, 2007)

Sears Uses

Sears Uses

The Sears list resembles the LCSH. Headings and subdivisions used as access points are in bold while those in light type are the non-preferred terms.

Synonym terms or variant forms of authorized headings are followed by “USE” references to the terms that are used as headings.

(Chan, p. 269)

Biological rhythms: 571.7

UF Biological clocks



BT Cycles

NT Jet Lag


USE Riddles


Sears: Advantages

  • Sears is flexible and expandable.
  • (H.W. Wilson, 2010)
  • In general Sears has fewer technical terms, preferring to common names of things over the scientific names.
  • As a result it is less detailed and complete than LCSH but also much smaller, more flexible, and less expensive.
  • (Inter, p. 76)

Sears: Disadvantages

  • There are some subjects that are difficult to address descriptively using the Sears structure,
  • Ex: biographies
  • nationality descriptions
  • literary forms
  • government policy
  • (Adamich, 2008)

Sears provides suggestions in working with these headings.



  • Library of Congress
  • UF (Used For)
  • BT (Broader Topic)
  • RT (Related Topic)
  • SA (See Also)
  • NT (Narrower Topic)
  • -- (a dash) refers to a subdivision of the boldface subject heading.
  • Headings in boldface may be used for subject searching. For example, “Cooperative Education" may be used as a subject heading.
  • May Subd Geog. Place names may follow the heading.



(The University of North Carolina, 2002)


Pre-coordinated Relationships

Contains two or more individual concepts together to make a heading ex: budget in business, church and industry, earth-rotation

Term Relationships

3 types – equivalence, hierarchical, associative







References made from non-preferred terms to valid headings


Synonyms, alternate spellings and ending, abbreviations, acronyms

Broader term

Concepts on level immediately above on hierarchy

Narrower term

Concepts on level immediately below on hierarchy

Related terms other than hierarchical EX. Ships RT Boats

(The University of North Carolina, 2002)

example and explanation
Example and Explanation

Examples of uniform headings showing the simple form of Sears and the longer list for LC.

Library of Congress




Ex. Using the heading of dogs, LC allows for the subdivision of Obedience trials, and can further be broken down by judging, and even further by geographical location.

Ex. Sears heading for dogs allows for one subdivision after the heading.


Library of Congress


Sears and LC

A large advantage of Sears for smaller libraries is that it is contained in one volume with updates every three years while LC is contained in five large volumes and updated every year.

(Inter, p. 77)


Sears and LC

  • Sears is intended for both adults and juvenile collections
  • Wherever LC has two different headings, a single term was made for Sears.
  • Sears uses direct headings while LC continues to use inverted headings.
  • (Miller, 2007)

Ex. Showing the direct heading in Sears and the inverted headings used in LC.

Library of Congress



Adamich, T. (2008). Simple and satisfying: Review of Sears List, (19 ed.). Retrieved from:

Calderon, F. (1997, July). Library of Congress Subject Headings. Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, 11(2), 85-94.

Chan, L. M. (1990). Library of Congress Subject Headings: Principles of structure and policies for application, annotated version. In Cataloger's Reference Shelf. Retrieved from

Chan, L. M., & Hodges, T. (2000, August). Entering the Millennium: A new century for LCSH. Cataloging and Classification, 29(1-2), 225-234.

Chan, L. (2007). Cataloging and classification: An introduction (3rd ed.). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press Inc.

H.W. Wilson. (2010). Sears List of Subject Headings. Retrieved from:

Inter, S., Fountain, J., & Gilchrist, J. (Eds.). (2006). Cataloging correctly for kids. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

Library of Congress. (n.d.) Library of Congress classification outline. In Library of Congress. Retrieved from

Mann, T. (2005). The Oxford guide to library research: How to find reliable information online and offline, (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Miller, J. (Ed.). (1997). Sears List of Subject Headings, (16th ed.). New York, NY: H.W. Wilson Company.

Miller, J. & Bristow, B. (Eds.). (2007). Sears List of Subject Headings (19th ed.). New York, NY: H.W. Wilson Company.

Olson, H.A. (2002). The power to name: Locating the limits of subject representation in libraries. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Rubin, R. R. (2004). Foundations of library and information science, (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Neal-Schumann Publishers, Inc.

Still Robust at 100. (n.d.). Library of Congress. Retrieved June 21, 2010, from

The University of North Carolina. (2002). What’s Library of Congress Subject Headings?. Retrieved from

additional resources
Additional Resources

Library of Congress Cataloging home page -

Cataloging Distribution Service -

Library of Congress Authorities -