9.537 LC categories

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Tue, 13 Feb 1996 19:15:49 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 537.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: FLANNAGAN@ouvaxa.cats.ohiou.edu (27)
Subject: RE: 9.532 LC categories?

[2] From: Wendell Piez <piez@rci.rutgers.edu> (26)
Subject: LC categories

Date: Tue, 13 Feb 1996 09:45:29 EST
From: FLANNAGAN@ouvaxa.cats.ohiou.edu
Subject: RE: 9.532 LC categories?

The various bits of a Library of Congress "card" are all valuable
indexing tools. The numbers, of course, are retrieval devices, and the
LC numbers are very useful for serendipitious searches around real
libraries: in literature, one hunts in the PR, PS, and Z sections for
primary stuff. The dates of the authors and editors are also very
useful. Certainly the table of contents or chapter headings are
valuable. Perhaps the most useful information is the relational
data--related topics, similar to key words in that they lead us to
further sources of related information.

Now that we can search such information electronically in our
libraries, we can decide whether we really want to go fetch the book by
uncovering the various layers of information. Personally, I would
rather pull the information from an electronic catalogue than I would
thumb through the old cards, though I do have a sentimental attachment
to the process of pulling out the drawers and seeing what is there.

How can the information be used by humanities scholars? In the
{Milton Review}, my co-worker Kevin Creamer decided to pull the Library
of Congress information to append to every review--a move that I
thought was very bright, because a review can't tell the entire story,
and the LC card fills in for what the review does not reveal.

Roy Flannagan

Date: Tue, 13 Feb 1996 16:59:55 -0500
From: Wendell Piez <piez@rci.rutgers.edu>
Subject: LC categories

To me the best use of an LC subject heading is as a kind of imaginal or virtual
"shelf" -- useful if you know it's there. That is, only sometimes do you know
ahead of time that a book will be under, for example "North American Indians --
New York" and "Iroquois Indians," But once you locate these subject headings in
your catalog (after a failed search, maybe, on "Native Americans" which doesn't
prove to be there), both can prove useful in locating a range of related

LC subject headings do pretty much require a knowledgeable and savvy cataloger
to assign them properly, precisely and generously. (Maybe "North American
Indians -- Ontario" was left out of the prior listing, so a Boolean search on
"Ontario AND Indians" would fail to get you some good stuff on Iroquois.) You
don't have to have a sense of the entire organization to use the headings well:
to assign them is a different matter.

This requirement, plus the hugely comprehensive range of options (and not
without its caprices, as Chris was pointing out), may prove to be the biggest
stumbling block for using LC subject headings in a Humanist database. The
complete listing, including listings Not to Use, is four big volumes.

The advantages: authority control, if well implemented, is good and widely
recognized; the headings naturally dovetail with a "library catalog" function
of the db.

-- Wendell