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The Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) comprise a
thesaurus A thesaurus (plural ''thesauri'' or ''thesauruses'') or synonym dictionary is a reference work for finding synonyms and sometimes antonyms of words. They are often used by writers to help find the best word to express an idea: Synonym diction ...
(in the
information science Information science (also known as information studies) is an academic field which is primarily concerned with analysis, collection, classification Classification is a process related to categorization Categorization is the human ability a ...
sense, a
controlled vocabulary Controlled vocabularies provide a way to organize knowledge for subsequent retrieval. They are used in subject indexing Subject indexing is the act of describing or classifying a document A document is a written Writing is a medium of ...
) of
subject heading An index term, subject term, subject heading, descriptor, or keyword, in information retrieval Information retrieval (IR) in computing Computing is any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computing machinery. It inc ...
s, maintained by the United States
Library of Congress The Library of Congress (LC) is the research library A library is a collection of materials, books or media that are easily accessible for use and not just for display purposes. It is responsible for housing updated information in order ...

Library of Congress
, for use in bibliographic records. LC Subject Headings are an integral part of
bibliographic control In library and information science Library and information science (LIS) (sometimes given as the plural library and information sciences) is a branch of academic disciplines that deal generally with organization, access, and collection of informat ...
, which is the function by which libraries collect, organize, and disseminate documents. It was first published in 1898, a year after the publication of
Library of Congress Classification The Library of Congress Classification (LCC) is a system of library classification A library classification is a system of knowledge organization by which library resources are arranged and ordered systematically. Library classifications a not ...
(1897). The last print edition was published in 2016. Access to the continuously revised vocabulary is now available via subscription and free services. Subject headings are normally applied to every item within a library's collection and facilitate a user's access to items in the catalog that pertain to similar subject matter. This enables users to save time in finding items of related subject matter. If they could locate items only by 'title' or other descriptive fields, such as 'author' or 'publisher', they would need more time and undoubtedly miss locating many items because of the ineffective and inefficient search capability.


An art and a science

Subject heading is a human and intellectual endeavor, by which trained professionals apply topic descriptions to items in their collections. Without a uniform standard, each library might choose to categorize the subject matter of their items differently. The widespread use and acceptance of the ''Library of Congress Subject Headings'' facilitates the uniform access and retrieval of items in libraries across the world; users can use the same search strategy and LCSH
thesaurus A thesaurus (plural ''thesauri'' or ''thesauruses'') or synonym dictionary is a reference work for finding synonyms and sometimes antonyms of words. They are often used by writers to help find the best word to express an idea: Synonym diction ...

thesaurus
, if the correct headings have been applied to the item by the library. Some LCSH decisions are achieved by extensive debate and even controversy in the library community. LCSH is the world's most widely used subject vocabulary. Despite LCSH's wide-ranging and comprehensive scope, libraries that deal with more specific types of collections or user communities may use other vocabularies; for example, many medical libraries in the United States use the
National Library of Medicine The United States National Library of Medicine (NLM), operated by the United States federal government The federal government of the United States (U.S. federal government or U.S. government) is the national government of the United Sta ...
's
Medical Subject Headings Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) is a comprehensive controlled vocabulary Controlled vocabularies provide a way to organize knowledge for subsequent retrieval. They are used in subject indexing schemes, subject headings, thesaurus (information r ...
(MeSH).


LCSH policy issues

Historically, given the complicated nature of the United States, its various ethnic groups, and changing society, numerous classification issues have been related to the terms used to identify
racial A race is a grouping of humans based on shared physical or social qualities into categories generally viewed as distinct by society. The term was first used to refer to speakers of a common language and then to denote national affiliations. By ...
or
ethnic An ethnic group or ethnicity is a grouping of people A people is any plurality of person A person (plural people or persons) is a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as reason Reason is the capacity of consciously a ...

ethnic
groups. The terms used to describe
African Americans African Americans (also referred to as Black Americans or Afro-Americans) are an ethnic group An ethnic group or ethnicity is a grouping of people A people is any plurality of person A person (plural people or persons) is a being t ...
have changed over time, especially during the 20th century. Until the 1990s, the LCSH administrators had a strict policy of not changing terms for a subject category. This was enforced to tighten and eliminate the duplication or confusion that might arise if subject headings were changed. As a result, the term 'Afro-American' to describe African-American topics in LCSH was used long after it lost currency and acceptance in the population. In 1996 LCSH decided to allow some alteration of terms to better reflect the needs and access of library users. But, many common terms, or 'natural language' terms, are not used in LCSH. This may limit the ability of users to locate items. Research has increased in
Library and Information Science Library and information science (LIS) (sometimes given as the plural library and information sciences) is a branch of academic disciplines that deals generally with organization, access, collection, and protection/regulation of information, whether ...
faculties related to identifying and understanding the cultural and gender biases that affect the terms used in LCSH; these may limit or deprive library users access to information stored and disseminated in collections. In 2016 LCSH was subject to national news coverage when The Library of Congress decided to revise the heading '
Illegal aliens Illegal immigration refers to the migration of people into a country in violation of the immigration law Immigration law refers to the national statuteA statute reffers to the body of law that are made by legislature of the nation with instrume ...
', an action opposed by congressional Republicans.
Sanford Berman Sanford Berman (born October 6, 1933) is a librarian (specifically, a Cataloging, cataloger). He is known for radicalism, promoting alternative viewpoints in librarianship, and acting as a proactive information conduit to other librarians around ...
, a notable American science scholar on this subject, has noted the difficulty in finding material on certain topics, such as various
denialism In the psychology of human behavior Human behavior is the potential and expressed capacity (Energy (psychological), mentally, Physical activity, physically, and Social actions, socially) of human individuals or groups to respond to internal ...
s, because the Library of Congress has not yet incorporated the natural language terms for them, for example,
climate change denial Climate change denial, or global warming denial, is Denialism, denial, dismissal, or unwarranted doubt that contradicts the scientific consensus on climate change, including the extent to which it is Attribution of recent climate change, caused ...
ism, into LCSH. As ideas about human sexuality have changed in the United States since the late 20th century, the LCSH has been criticized for biased organization and description of materials on sexuality. For instance, works about heterosexuality are scarcely labeled as such in LCSH; this suggests that heterosexuality is the norm and only queer sexuality needs a separate classification.


Data access

The Subject Headings were formerly published in large red volumes (currently ten), which are typically displayed in the reference sections of research libraries. They also may be accessed online in th
Library of Congress Classification Web
a subscription service, or free of charge (as individual records) a
Library of Congress Authorities
The Library of Congress adds new headings and revisions to LCSH each month. A web service
lcsh.info
was set up by Ed Summers, a Library of Congress employee, circa April 2008, using
SKOS Simple Knowledge Organization System (SKOS) is a W3C recommendation The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the main international standards organization A standards organization, standards body, standards developing organization (SDO), or ...
to allow for simple browsing of the subject headings. lcsh.info was shut down by the Library of Congress's order on December 18, 2008. The library science and semantic web communities were dismayed, as expressed by
Tim Berners-Lee Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee (born 8 June 1955), also known as TimBL, is an English computer scientist best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web The World Wide Web (WWW), commonly known as the Web, is an information system ...

Tim Berners-Lee
and
Tim Spalding LibraryThing is a Social cataloging application, social cataloging web application for storing and sharing book catalogs and various types of book metadata. It is used by authors, individuals, libraries, and publishers. Based in Portland, Maine, L ...
of
LibraryThing LibraryThing is a social cataloging web application A web application (or web app) is application software that runs on a web server, unlike computer-based software programs that are run locally on the operating system An operating system ...
. After some delay, the Library set up its own web service for LCSH browsing at id.loc.gov in April 2009.


Using LCSH

Timothy Binga, director of libraries at the
Center for Inquiry The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a US nonprofit organization A nonprofit organization (NPO), also known as a non-business entity, not-for-profit organization, or nonprofit institution, is a legal entity organized and operated for a collec ...
, notes issues that make it more difficult to use the standardized language of LCSH to find material. These include systems that allow patrons to informally tag materials in the catalog, book creators and publishers who do their own cataloging, and the incorrect application of LCSH to controversial material. Increasingly, the use of
hyperlink In computing Computing is any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computing machinery. It includes the study and experimentation of algorithmic processes and development of both computer hardware , hardware and so ...

hyperlink
ed, web-based Online Public Access Catalogues, or
OPAC The online public access catalog (OPAC), now frequently synonymous with ''library catalog A library catalog (or library catalogue in British English) is a register of all bibliography, bibliographic items found in a library or group of l ...

OPAC
s, allow users to hyperlink to a list of similar items displayed by LCSH once one item of interest is located. But, because LCSH are not necessarily expressed in natural language, many users may choose to search OPACs by keywords. Moreover, users unfamiliar with OPAC searching and LCSH, may incorrectly assume their library has no items on their desired topic, if they chose to search by 'subject' field, and the terms they entered do not strictly conform to a LCSH. For example, 'body temperature regulation' is used in place of 'thermoregulation'. The easiest way to find and use LCSH is to start with a 'keyword' search and then look at the Subject Headings of a relevant item to locate other related material.


Developments in Canada

LCSH representatives worked with staff of the
National Library of Canada Library and Archives Canada (LAC; french: Bibliothèque et Archives Canada) is a federal Federal or foederal (archaic) may refer to: Politics General *Federal monarchy, a federation of monarchies *Federation, or ''Federal state'' (federal syst ...
to create a complementary set of
Canadian Subject HeadingsCanadian Subject Headings (CSH) is a list of subject headings in the English language, using controlled vocabulary, to access and express the topic content of documents on Canada and Canadian topics. Library and Archives Canada publishes and maintain ...
(CSH) to express the topic content of documents on
Canada Canada is a country in the northern part of North America North America is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, ...

Canada
and Canadian topics. In addition, the
Brian Deer Classification System The Brian Deer Classification System (BDC) is a library classification system used to organize materials in libraries with specialized Indigenous collections. The system was created in the mid-1970s by Canadian librarian A. Brian Deer Mohawk people, ...
, developed by librarian A. Brian Deer (
MohawkMohawk may refer to: Related to Native Americans *Mohawk people, an indigenous people of North America (Canada and New York) *Mohawk language, the language spoken by the Mohawk people *Mohawk hairstyle, from a hairstyle once thought to have been tr ...
) for Aboriginal materials to express First Nations relationships, has been adapted for use in several First Nations libraries in Canada. It has been described as a valuable tool for "the decolonization of library collections created for and by Indigenous people,” as it allows for the "expression of indigenous world views." The Xwi7xwa Library at the Vancouver branch of the University of British Columbia use First Nations House of Learning (FNHL) Subject Headings, a local variant of Brian Deer's system. It is fully integrated with the main UBC Library.


See also

* Library of Congress Linked Data Service * Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) * Faceted Application of Subject Terminology (FAST), a simplified syntax of LCSH *
Library of Congress Classification The Library of Congress Classification (LCC) is a system of library classification A library classification is a system of knowledge organization by which library resources are arranged and ordered systematically. Library classifications a not ...
* Minnie Earl Sears: formulated the ''Sears Subject Headings'', a simplification for use by small libraries. * AGROVOC * Books in the United States


References


External links


Browse LCSH online

Library of Congress Cataloging home page

Cataloging Distribution Service
– primary source of Library of Congress Subject Headings
Library of Congress Authorities
– allows users to look through the subject headings at no charge {{Authority control Library cataloging and classification Library of Congress Thesauri Controlled vocabularies