what is a subject heading for a book?

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    When a book or other item is added to a library's collection, a specialist known as a cataloger examines it and decides what that book is about. The cataloger must describe the subject content of that book as completely as possible by using standardized, officially approved words or groups of words known as subject headings. He/she will assign between 1 and 5 subject headings to describe the content of a book. Subject headings assigned by a human cataloger, therefore, make it possible for you to do a subject search.

    Subject headings can be one word, two or more words, a phrase, a city, a country, a geographic region, or a person. For example, the following are all valid subject headings:

    HOSPITALS

    ELECTROCHEMISTRY

    WOMEN IN MOTION PICTURES

    DATABASE MANAGEMENT

    FRANCE ECONOMETRICS

    DATABASE MANAGEMENT

    HEMINGWAY, ERNEST

    Sometimes, the first word or phrase that comes to your mind is, in fact, the "correct" (i.e., the valid) subject heading. For example, books on CHILDREN'S LITERATURE or PHOTOGRAPHY may be found under those subject words.

    At other times, however, subject headings are expressed in less obvious terms. For example, you may look up the subject MOVIES in a catalog or index and find nothing. Then you try FILMS --again, no luck. You might assume that there is no information on the subject, but there are in fact many books and articles on movies under the subject heading MOTION PICTURES.

    Listed below are more examples of topics with subject headings that wouldn't immediately come to mind:

    Topic: Finding a job

    Subject Heading: APPLICATIONS FOR POSITIONS

    Topic: The American Revolution

    Subject Heading: UNITED STATES -- HISTORY -- REVOLUTION

    Topic: Medieval art

    Subject Heading: ART -- MEDIEVAL

    Topic: Date rape

    Subject Heading: ACQUAINTANCE RAPE

    Topic: Sleeping sickness

    Subject Heading: AFRICAN TRYPANOSOMIASIS

    Topic: Southeast Asia

    Subject Heading: ASIA -- SOUTHEASTERN

    As you can see, subject headings often use very formal language. Given below are some other characteristic features of subject headings:

    * Subject headings are usually given in plural form. Thus, SHARKS is used rather than SHARK and APARTMENT HOUSES, not APARTMENT HOUSE.

    * In general, slang, jargon, and highly specialized terminology are avoided in subject headings in favor of standard English. For example, drunkenness will not be found under terms such as "smashed," "bombed," or "wasted." Valid headings for drunkenness include ALCOHOL ABUSE, ALCOHOL DRINKING, and SUBSTANCE ABUSE.

    * Subject headings are sometimes inverted to emphasize the most important word. In such cases, you can determine the correct subject heading by simply reversing the words you're likely to think of first. For example, the subject heading for information on abstract art is ART, ABSTRACT. For American authors, the heading is AUTHORS, AMERICAN.

    SUBDIVISIONS - ADDING PRECISION TO A SUBJECT HEADING

    Since subject headings often cover somewhat broad concepts, additional words called subdivisions (sometimes called subheadings) are often added as a way to focus on a more specific aspect of the subject. Subdivisions are separated from the main heading by a dash (--) and identify various aspects of a subject that may be of interest to you. For example, AIRPLANES is a valid, but very broad, subject heading. Many subdivisions, however, can be found which focus on specific aspects of airplanes. Listed below are only a few of the many subdivisions under the main heading AIRPLANES:

    AIRPLANES -- BRAKES

    AIRPLANES -- DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION

    AIRPLANES -- FUEL CONSUMPTION

    AIRPLANES -- INSPECTION

    AIRPLANES -- SPEED

    AIRPLANES -- WINGS

    Subdivisions can be one of four types:

    * Topical subdivisions narrow the subject to a particular aspect. The subdivisions in the above example on AIRPLANES are all topical subdivisions. Other examples of main headings followed by topical subdivisions include:

    CORN -- HARVESTING

    WOMEN -- EMPLOYMENT

    MASS MEDIA -- SOCIAL ASPECTS

    * Geographical subdivisions narrow the subject to a particular geographic area, such as a country, state or city. For example:

    MASS MEDIA -- UNITED STATES

    * Form subdivisions specify a particular type or form of publication. They tell you about a book's publication format rather than its subject. For example:

    MASS MEDIA -- DICTIONARIES

    MASS MEDIA -- HANDBOOKS, MANUALS, ETC.

    * Chronological subdivisions narrow the subject to a specific date or time period. They are commonly seen when dealing with historical subjects. For example, when searching for information on any aspect of American history, always start with UNITED STATES -- HISTORY and then add a chronological subdivision such as:

    UNITED STATES -- HISTORY -- 19TH CENTURY

    UNITED STATES -- HISTORY -- 1865-1877

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