9.552 LC subject headings

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Sat, 17 Feb 1996 17:18:58 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 552.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Michael Feld <feld@cc.UManitoba.CA> (14)
Subject: Re: 9.546 LC subject headings

[2] From: Donald Spaeth <dspaeth@dish.gla.ac.uk> (74)
Subject: Re: 9.546 LC subject headings

[3] From: Mark Steinacher <steinach@epas.utoronto.ca> (26)
Subject: Re: 9.541 LC categories

Date: Fri, 16 Feb 1996 18:59:43 -0600 (CST)
From: Michael Feld <feld@cc.UManitoba.CA>
Subject: Re: 9.546 LC subject headings

A computer search of my University's book holdings revealed that the
key terms "women/ethics" and "women/morals" selected very different
lists of titles; similar findings hold for "feminist/ethics" and

When I asked our librarians why this was so, they replied that the LC
system was responsible.

Professional philosophers will, from time to time, engage in the
set-piece exercise of trying to disinguish "ethics" from "morals", but
none of those I've queried -- and my queries extend to the newslist
PHILOSOP -- can explain what the LC cataloguers have in mind here.

Michael Feld                  | E-mail: <feld@cc.umanitoba.ca>
Dept. of Philosophy           | FAX: (204) 275-2411
University of Manitoba        | Voice: (204) 474-9136 (Office)
Winnipeg, MB, R3T 2M8, Canada          (204) 269-9889 (Home)

--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Sat, 17 Feb 1996 12:05:49 +0001 From: Donald Spaeth <dspaeth@dish.gla.ac.uk> Subject: Re: 9.546 LC subject headings

My view of LC subject headings is rather less positive than those expressed so far. I speak as an academic (historian) with a fair bit of experience both of cataloguing and of sitting behind a reference desk providing reference advice, at two US institutions of higher education. I have two objections to LC subject headings: inconsistency and over-compartmentalisation.

Let me provide an example. I teach a course on English regional history for which two books are central, Margaret Spufford's Contrasting Communities, and Keith Wrightson and David Levine's Poverty and Piety in an English Village. Both of them provide case studies of English villages in the century or so after the Reformation; both explore social and rural condition. Both also examine aspects of the impact of the Reformation.

Spufford has the following headings (in OCLC FirstSearch): Villages -- England -- Case studies. England -- Rural conditions -- Case studies. Chippenham (Cambridgeshire) -- Social conditions. (and similar entries for two other villages) England -- Villages -- Social conditions, 1525-1700 - Study regions: Cambridgeshire. Chippenham England -- Villages -- Social conditions, 1525-1700 - Study regions: Cambridgeshire. Orwell & Willingham

Wrightson and Levine has the following headings: Villages -- England -- History -- Case studies. Poor -- England -- Terling -- Case studies. Reformation -- England -- Terling. Terling (England) -- Rural conditions. (and 3 more Terling (England) subheadings) Social conditions -- History Economic conditions -- History Essex (England)

You don't have to look very hard to find inconsistencies. Just to pick out a few: -Why does W/L include History under Villages whereas Spufford doesn't? -Why isn't the heading 'England - Rural conditions' used for W/L? -Why is the heading 'Social conditions' used for W/L but not for Spufford? -Why is no 'England' heading used for W/L while three are used for Spufford? -Why is no 'Reformation' heading used for Spufford? etc.

In short, due to inconsistent classification, these two similar books do not share a single complete subject heading. And due to over-compartmentalisation even the headings that are close are different. A student would have to be very knowledgeable indeed to figure out that these books were on similar subjects. Let me hasten to add that I did not have to look hard for these examples; they were the first two books which came to mind!

In an old-fashioned card-based system, these problems were less serious because the user would browse through every card under, say "Villages--England". A well-designed user database can provide much the same functionality, although it can take a skilled user to narrow down the number of hits; "Villages England" brings up over 1200 hits on OCLC FirstSearch, but "Villages England Case Studies finds only 14, including the two above.

LC subject headings still can be useful, if one is patient and skilled in their use. But I would suggest that they are a blunt instrument, perhaps best used by experienced bibliographers.

Donald Spaeth

======================================== Dr Donald A Spaeth School of History and Archaeology University of Glasgow 1 University Gardens Glasgow G12 8QQ United Kingdom

Tel: 0141 330-4942 Fax: 0141 330-5518 E-mail: dspaeth@dish.gla.ac.uk

--[3]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Sat, 17 Feb 1996 15:20:21 -0500 (EST) From: Mark Steinacher <steinach@epas.utoronto.ca> Subject: Re: 9.541 LC categories

Willard and Friends, The problem I had encountered with the LC subject headings is that when one gets into more obscure topics, books are not always catalogued according to the correct subject, which results in the assignment of an incorrect LC number. My dissertation deals with an unusual North American religious organization, the "Christian Connexion". Items related to this group are normally catalogued in the BX 6750-6799 range. On occasion, they are dumped in with the Congregational-Christian Churches (the LC numbers escape me at the moment), which is more than understandable, as the two groups merged in the 1930s. While ploughing through on-line catalogues in the U.S., howver, I also discovered publications by 19th century "Christians" in the range assigned to the Disciples of Christ (BX 73xx), a parallel group with a history of relatively antagonistic relations with the Christian Connexion. A bit more understandable, but still a problem. A more severe problem was uncovered as I searched by author's name. Some items by a particular author, published when he was a leading figure of the Christian Connexion, were catalogued with the Universalists, because he joined that body in later life. Jaunting through items whose LC numbers were either side of this book revealed an item or two which I would not have found by author or subject heading search. There is not a great deal which can be done about this problem, most likely, except to realize the weakness of any cataloguing system and to be prepared to invest extra effort in the hope that nothing significant will be missed. Mark Steinacher steinach@epas.utoronto.ca