Cataloging & Classification Quarterly

Volume 29, Number 2  2000

 A CCQ Special Issue:

The LCSH Century:

One Hundred Years with the Library of Congress Subject Headings

Single or multiple copies of these articles may be obtained on Informaworld


Introduction to the Centennial Essays: The LCSH Century: A Brief History of the Library of Congress Subject Headings.  ByAlva T. Stone, Head of Cataloging, College of Law Library, Florida State University
The history of the Library of Congress Subject Headings is traced, from its beginnings with the implementation of a dictionary catalog at the Library of Congress in 1898 to the present day.  The author describes the most significant changes which have occurred in LCSH policies and practices during the 100-year period.  Events noted near the end of the century indicate an increased willingness on the part of the Library of Congress to involve the larger library community in the creation or revision of subject headings and other decision-making regarding the LCSH system.  Finally, the author  provides a summary of the other contributions to this collection of essays, a collection which celebrates the "centennial" of the world's most popular library subject heading language.
: Library of Congress Subject Headings; subject heading languages; subject access

The author wishes to acknowledge Lynn El-Hoshy, Senior Cataloging Policy Specialist, The Library of Congress, for her assistance in verifying certain facts and dates. 

Chronology of Official LCSH-Related Publications


LCSH: Semantics, Syntax, and Specificity, by Elaine Svenonius
Abstract. This paper looks at changes affecting LCSH over its 100-year history. Adopting a linguistic conceptualization, it frames these changes as relating to the semantics, syntax and pragmatics of the LCSH language. While its category semantics has remained stable over time, the LCSH relational semantics underwent a significant upheaval when a thesaural structure was imposed upon its traditional See and See also structure. Over time the LCSH syntax has become increasingly complex as it has moved from being largely enumerative to in large part synthetic. Until fairly recently the LCSH pragmatics consisted of only one rule, viz. the injunction to assign specific headings. This rule, always controversial, has become even more debated and interpreted with the move to the online environment. 

Turning Practice into Principles: A Comparison of the IFLA Principles Underlying Subject Heading Languages (SHLs) and the Principles Underlying the Library of Congress Subject Headings System, by Heidi Lee Hoerman and Kevin A. Furniss.
Abstract.  The IFLA Section on Classification and Indexing's Working Group on Principles Underlying Subject Headings Languages has identified a set of eleven principles for subject heading languages and excerpted the texts that match each principle from the instructions for each of eleven national subject indexing systems, including excerpts from the LC's Subject Cataloging Manual: Subject Headings. This study compares the IFLA principles with other texts that express the principles underlying LCSH, especially Library of Congress Subject Headings: Principles of Structure and Policies for Application, prepared by Lois Mai Chan for the Library of Congress in 1990, Chan's later book on LCSH, and earlier documents by Haykin and Cutter.  The principles are further elaborated for clarity and discussed.

Difference, Culture, and Change: The Untapped Potential of LCSH,  by Hope A. Olson.
The Library of Congress Subject Headings have traditionally attempted to reflect reality neutrally. The result is bias in representing cultural margins. While neutrality is one of the ethical stances espoused by librarianship, another is universal and equitable access to information for the betterment of humanity. This paper views LCSH as a potential tool for cultural change using Homi Bhabha’s postcolonial concept of a Third Space as a model. LCSH functions as a Third Space where the meanings of documents are constructed and enunciated for library users. Therefore, it is in LCSH that there is potential for instigating change.


'Improving LCSH for Online Environments' Revisited -- What Progress Has Been Made? What Issues Still Remain?  By Pauline Atherton Cochrane.
In 1986 Libraries Unlimited published Cochrane’s book, Improving LCSH for Use in Online Catalogs; Exercises for Self-Help with a Selection of Background Readings.  This was preceded in 1981 by an ERIC publication (ED 208 900) by Cochrane, with Monika Kirtland--a Bibliographic and Bibliometric Essay which documented critical views of LCSH and an analysis of vocabulary control in LCSH (parts of which were published in Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 1 (1982), 71-94).  Three features of LCSH will be re-examined to check on progress since the time of these earlier publications: notes, structure of relationships between headings in the list, and links between Library of Congress classification numbers and LCSH or other vocabularies.

Filing and Precoordination: How Subject Headings Are Displayed in Online Catalogs and Why It Matters,  by Gregory Wool.
Library of Congress subject headings retrieved as the results of a search in an online catalog are likely to be filed in straight alphabetical, word-by-word order, ignoring the semantic structures of these headings and scattering headings of a similar type.  This practice makes LC headings unnecessarily difficult to use and negates much of their indexing power.  Enthusiasm for filing simplicity and postcoordinate indexing are likely contributing factors to this phenomenon.  Since the report Headings for Tomorrow (1992) first raised this issue, filing practices favoring postcoordination over precoordination appear to have become more widespread and more entrenched.

Machine-Assisted Validation of LC Subject Headings: Implications for Authority File Structure,  by Stephen Hearn.
Many kinds of structure can be discerned in the headings and rules governing the Library of Congress Subject Headings.  By addressing these structures at different levels, librarians can develop different approaches to the machine-assisted validation of subject headings, from the checking of individual words to the validation of complex forms of heading/subdivision compatibility.  Using computer programs to assist with maintenance of subject headings is becoming increasingly necessary as technical services librarians strive to create consistent and useful patterns of subject collocation in library catalogs.


Teaching Library of Congress Subject Headings, by Thomas Mann.
An understanding of the workings of Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) is one of the most valuable conceptual tools a researcher can have.  The subject heading system is by no means obvious or self-evident, however; it must be taught, explained, and exemplified by librarians.   Several points must be covered explicitly.  The cross-reference notation of UF, BT, RT, SA, and NT has to be explained; the importance of choosing the most specific heading available, rather than a general term, must also be emphasized.  There are four ways to find the most specific LCSH terms for a particular topic; two of them come from using the red books, two from using the online catalog itself.  All four ways are important; none is obvious.  Each must be taught.

LCSH Works! Subject Searching Effectiveness at the Cleveland Public Library and the Growth of Library of Congress Subject Headings through Cooperation,  by Louisa J. Kreider.
The nature of a library’s collections determines what kind of subject access to provide to those collections.  The collections of the Cleveland Public Library serve both the recreational and research needs of a large urban population.  The Cleveland Public Library uses Library of Congress Subject Headings to describe its collections.  A study of subject searches entered by library patrons over the course of one week reveals several patterns among the types of subject headings used most frequently, reflecting the characteristics of the population served.  Other topics discussed include subject access to fiction, juvenile literature, and specialized collections.

LCSH for Music: Historical and Empirical Perspectives, by Harriette Hemmasi and J. Bradford Young.
The development of LC music headings is traced by reviewing the contributions and practices of the LC Music Division, the NYPL Music Division, and individual members of the Music  Library Association.  Cooperative efforts between LC and the Music Library Association are a hallmark of this development. Prospects for continuing and expanding this partnership continue today in the foundation provided by the Music Thesaurus Project. 

LCSH and Periodical Indexing: Adoption vs. Adaptation, by Joseph Miller and Patricia Kuhr.
The Library of Congress Subjects Headings (and authority lists derived from LCSH) are used by the H. W. Wilson Company to index a wide variety of peridocials, including the most popular newsstand magazines, children's materials, trade magazines, professional journals, scholarly academic journals, and technical and scientific journals.  The simple syndetic structure and subject‑string grammar of  LCSH are practical, pragmatic, and readily adaptable to periodical indexing.  Some modifications are necessary, however.  Not only does the material being indexed require specialized headings, but the various user groups, from children to lawyers, require various levels of language in subject access.  Furthermore, because periodical articles are often on very narrow (or new) topics, periodical indexing requires much greater specificity (or currency) than LCSH usually provides.

Out from Under: Form/genre Access in LCSH, by David P. Miller. 
The provisions for access to genres and forms of library materials in LCSH are examined through a survey of Library of Congress policy over the century. This article focuses on main headings for literature and moving-image materials, and form subdivisions. Policy documents in this area have become steadily more elaborate and explicit in their instructions, indicating an increased awareness of the importance of form and genre to the library community at large. Nevertheless, there remain doubts as to whether a general subject vocabulary is best suited to provide the full spectrum of form/genre access as well.

Section 4: WORLD VIEW

Survey on Subject Heading Languages Used in National Libraries and Bibliographies, by Magda Heiner-Freiling.
Surveys conducted during the last four years under the auspices of the International Federation of Library Associations and Organizations (IFLA) reveal that the Library of Congress Subject Headings is heavily used in national libraries outside of the United States, particularly in English-speaking countries.  Many other countries report using a translation or adaptation of LCSH as their principal subject heading language.  Magda Heiner-Freiling presents an analysis of the IFLA data, which also includes information on the classification schemes used by the libraries and whether or not the libraries have a produced a manual on the creation and application of subject headings.  The paper concludes with a table showing the complete data from the 88 national libraries that responded to the surveys.

Crossing Language Barriers in Europe: Linking LCSH to Other Subject Heading Languages, by Andrew MacEwan.
A study group representing four European national libraries (the Swiss National Library, Die Deutsche Bibliothek, the Bibliotheque nationale de France and The British Library) recently conducted a study on the possibility of establishing multilingual thesaural links between the headings in the LCSH authority file and the authority files of the German indexing system SWD/RSWK and the French indexing system RAMEAU.  The study demonstrated a high level of correspondence in main headings, but also revealed a number of issues requiring further investigation.  The study group’s findings led to recommendations on the scope for the development of a prototype system for linking the three Subject Heading Languages (SHLs) in the databases of the four institutions.

Automated Authority Files of Spanish-Language Subject Headings, by Alvaro Quijano, Pilar Mara Moreno and Reynaldo Figueroa Servin.
Authority control of Spanish-language subject headings is described, with a special focus on Mexico. Efforts currently underway in Colombia, Chile, Spain and Mexico, although they share the same language, are somewhat lacking in standardization and cooperation among countries. In the absence of a national authority for bibliographic control in Mexico, a group of university libraries has initiated a cooperative project to build in the near future a national file of Spanish subject headings for the Social Sciences. The project, based upon the experience and rich collections of El Colegio de México, has attracted support from the U.S. Library of Congress and is being partially financed by the U.S.-Mexican Fund for Culture (sponsored by the Rockefeller and Bancomer Foundations). The paper mentions some of the difficulties found in translating LCSH, which is the main resource for the project. These difficulties can include semantics, syndetic structure, or pragmatic problems; most have been solved by supplementing the LCSH with Spanish-language subject heading lists or thesauri.


Entering the Millennium: A New Century for LCSH, by Lois Mai Chan and Theodora Hodges.
Abstract. Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), a system originally designed as a tool for subject access to the Library's own collection in the late nineteenth century, has become, in the course of the last century, the main subject retrieval tool in library catalogs throughout the United States and in many other countries. It is one of the largest non-specialized controlled vocabularies in the world.  As LCSH enters a new century, it faces an information environment that has undergone vast changes from what had prevailed when LCSH began, or, indeed, from its state in the early days of the online age.  In order to continue its mission and to be useful in spheres outside library catalogs as well, LCSH must adapt to the multifarious environment. One possible approach is to adopt a series of scalable and flexible syntax and application rules to meet the needs of different user communities.

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