Doing Research at the Library of Congress
IIB. The Four Ways to Find Proper Subject Headings
d. "Browse" lists of subdivisions
The fourth way to find the right subject heading(s) for your topic is
to exploit yet another important display feature of the Library's online catalog:
"browse" lists of subdivisions. If you start from the "Basic Search" screen
and select "Subject Browse"
(see Figure 3, Subject Browse in the Library of
Congress Online Catalog), you can simply type in the first word of a subject term, and all strings starting with that word will automatically appear for your inspection.
The importance of subdivisions may be illustrated by a question that was
asked about Thomas Jefferson's thoughts on religious liberty. Simply typing
in the name Jefferson, Thomas as a subject automatically brought up
a whole roster of subdivisions, among them:
Jefferson, Thomas, 1743–1826--Bibliography
--Views on freedom of religion
None of these subdivisions appears listed under Jefferson's name in the
LCSH red books; but they do appear in the catalog
itself. The third subdivision,
--Views on freedom of religion, is obviously directly
leads to Merrill D. Peterson's Thomas Jefferson, Religious Liberty and
Tradition (Jefferson Institute, 1987), which is a whole book on the
The second subdivision, --Quotations, leads to
works such as The Real Thomas Jefferson (National Center for Constitutional Studies, 1983) and Seeking the Moral Wisdom of the Founder of American Government (L.
Faucett, ), both of which provide compilations of Jefferson's own words,
categorized by subject (including the subject of religious liberty).
The first subdivision, --Bibliography, leads
to both Frank Shuffleton's Thomas Jefferson: A Comprehensive, Annotated Bibliography of Writings About Him (1826-1980) (Garland, 1983) and Eugene L. Huddleston's Thomas
Jefferson: A Reference Guide (G. K. Hall, 1982). Together, these two
annotated bibliographies list dozens of sources on Jefferson and religious
Scanning through menus of subdivisions in a catalog greatly increases
your chances of recognizing relevant resources that cannot be clearly specified
in advance. Most people interested in a topic such as "Jefferson" and
"religious liberty" might think of typing in those keywords in a Boolean
combination; but few would think of searching for published bibliographies
or quotation books unless they had a mechanism that brought such
resources to their attention when they weren't looking for them. This is
exactly what browse displays will do for you. They are the kind of mechanism
that researchers earnestly yearn for in Internet searches; but Web
search engines such as Google or Yahoo or the others cannot provide them.
The Library's catalog offers a major advantage over Internet search engines
in this regard: it can orient you in a systematic manner to the range of
search options within your topic. It provides a structured list of all of
the topic's various aspects, often phrased in ways that you would not think
of by yourself.
It must be emphasized that most of the subdivisions appearing
in online browse displays are not recorded in the LCSH red books.
Most are "free floating," which, in cataloging terminology, means that they can be assigned where appropriate (and according to various rules) without the assignment
being explicitly recorded in the LCSH list. In other words, you will see
many more aspects of a topic spelled out in the online browse displays
than you will see listed in the red books themselves.
Another example of the utility of browse displays showed up when
a researcher asked for help in finding books on the history of
Afghanistan. On his own he had done a keyword search simply combining "Afghanistan"
and "history," and had been overwhelmed with "ranked" results
that proved nevertheless to be largely useless, because the keywords
appeared in so many inappropriate contexts. By doing a browse search for
subject headings rather than a keyword search, however, he achieved a
much better overview of the resources available to him. Simply typing in the name
of the country produced nearly fifty screens of subdivisions, among them
the following [with "free floater" indicating subdivisions not explicitly
listed in the red books]:
Afghanistan--Bibliography [free floater]
Afghanistan--Biography [free floater]
Afghanistan--Boundaries [free floater]
Afghanistan--Civilization [free floater]
Afghanistan--Commerce [free floater]
Afghanistan--Constitutional history [free
Afghanistan--Description and travel
Afghanistan--Economic conditions [free floater]
Afghanistan--Emigration and immigration [free
Afghanistan--Encyclopedias [free floater]
Afghanistan--Foreign economic relations [free
Britain [free floater]
Afghanistan--Guidebooks [free floater]
Afghanistan--Historical geography [free floater]
Afghanistan--Historiography [free floater]
Afghanistan--History Kings and rulers--Biography
Afghanistan--Maps [free floater]
Afghanistan--Pictorial works [free floater]
Afghanistan--Politics and government
Afghanistan--Relations--India [free floater]
Afghanistan--Social life and customs [free
Afghanistan--Social policy [free floater]
Afghanistan--Study and teaching [free floater]
Afghanistan--Yearbooks [free floater]
Anyone interested in the history of this (or any other) country might
very well wish to pursue the many relevant aspects of the topic beyond
those indicated by the explicit subdivision --History. Without such
a browse display, however, it is impossible to get an overview, to begin with,
of the remarkable range of options available for pursuing the topic.
The rule for researchers, then, is this: whenever your topic has a
browse display of subdivision strings connected to it, take the
time to scan through all of them, even if the list is many screens
in length. In almost
all cases you will be able to recognize interesting aspects of your
topic that you could never have specified in advance, in Boolean combinations.
The larger a library's
collection is, the more readers require systems that enable them to recognize
options that cannot be clearly foreseen; browse displays in the online
catalog address this problem directly, as do the rosters of alphabetically
adjacent headings within the red books, and the network of cross-references.
These are some of the most powerful tools the Library offers in helping
readers to get oriented, and to see right from the start the range of
research options available in unfamiliar subject areas.