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June2009
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Let Me See Some I.D.

You ever notice how on the copyright page of your favorite novel or work of non-fiction there is usually a series of numbered terms identifying what your book is about? For example, Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” lists Social classes—Fiction and Courtship—Fiction as two of its classifications. “Traveling the Freedom Road: From Slavery and the Civil War Through Reconstruction” includes African Americans—History—To 1863 and Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877) among its terms. David Baldacci’s “The Collectors” includes Secret societies—Fiction and even Library of Congress—Fiction (FYI: We’re not fiction, but our involvement in the story is).

Woman at Main Reading Room card catalog in the Library of Congress. 1930-1950 This boy has brought a book to Public School Eight, which he is showing to fellow pupils during class discussion. 1943

These are subject headings, maintained by the Library, to organize bibliographic records for ease of use when searching for particular topics. Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) have been actively maintained since 1898 to catalog materials held at the Library. A new heading “Aeroplanes” was handwritten into a copy of the 1898 edition of the American Library Association List of Subject Headings when the Library began to acquire and catalog materials about flight. “Refrigerators” was added as a heading in 1908. “Radar” entered its scope in 1943. “Segregation in Education” was established as a heading in 1955 with “School integration” following in 1972. In 1992, “Internet (Computer Network)” became a heading followed by “Internet Addiction” in 1998.

By virtue of cooperative cataloging, other libraries around the United States also use LCSH to provide subject access to their collections. In addition LCSH is used internationally, often in translation.

With the Library’s new Authorities and Vocabularies web service, both people and machines are now able to programmatically access authority data at the Library. LCSH is the initial offering.

One of the interesting aspects of this function is being able to follow a timeline, of sorts, of the subject heading you’re seeking information about. Not only are alternate labels and broader terms provided, but also a date is given when the term was actually created and the last time it was modified. This information can be useful in tracking shifts and trends in terminology over the years.

Over the next few months, the Library will also be expanding to other vocabularies commonly found in standards that the institution supports, such as the Thesaurus of Graphic Materials, geographic area and language, and preservation events and roles.

The Library is regularly updating its LCSH list. Weekly lists of new and changed subject headings are posted on the Cataloging Policy and Support Office website as they are approved.


A. Woman at Main Reading Room card catalog in the Library of Congress. 1930-1950. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-100400 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: Information Office <item> [General Collections]

B. This boy has brought a book to Public School Eight, which he is showing to fellow pupils during class discussion. 1943. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Information: Reproduction No.: LC-USW3-013968-E (b&w film nitrate neg.); Call No.: LC-USW3- 013968-E [P&P]