Sears List of Subject Headings

Sears List of Subject Headings

Sara Rofofsky Marcus (Walden University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch483
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Introduction And History

In 1876, Charles A. Cutter, a librarian at the Boston Atheneum, published Rules for a Dictionary Catalog, in which he listed three objectives for a catalog. These are still taught today, and have been regarded by many to be the classic objectives for a catalog (Jeng, 1997). According to Cutter, these objectives of a bibliographic system are:

  • 1.

    To enable a person to find a book of which either

    • a.

      The author

    • b.

      The title

    • c.

      The subject, is known

  • 2.

    To show what the library has

    • a.

      By a given author

    • b.

      On a given subject

    • c.

      In a given kind of literature

  • 3.

    To assist in the choice of a book

    • a.

      As to its edition (bibliographically)

    • b.

      As to its character (literary or topical) (Cutter, 1904).

While these objectives still apply, it is the identification of a subject, given kind of literature, or character of a book that is of importance as they relate to the Sears List of Subject Headings. In order to meet 1c, 2b, 2c, and 3b of Cutter’s objectives, controlled vocabularies of terminologies, which contain one term per concept were established and become known as lists of subject headings (Akers, 1969; Kaplan & Riedling, 2006). There are various subject heading lists with authorized headings that are used as the standard headings for a particular catalog to enable collocating of materials on a similar subject (Karpuk, 2008; Taylor, 2006). However, as Sanford Berman has indicated in his research, these headings lists do not always present the best terms (Berman, 1971).

The most popular list used in school media centers and small-to-medium sized libraries is the Sears List (Kaplan & Riedling, 2006). Other subject heading lists include the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) used for college and university libraries, the Weine Classification Scheme for use in Judaica collections, and Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) developed by the National Library of Medicine. According to Joseph Miller, former Vice-President of Cataloging Services at H. W. Wilson Company and editor of the most recent edition of Sears, some specialized libraries use a an in-house list of subject headings for the main focus area of the collection and Sears for general materials in the collection (J. Miller, personal communication, February 19, 2010).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Principle of Unique Entry: This principle states that only one subject heading represents each unique topic that occurs in the collection of knowledge held by a library.

Pre-Coordinate Indexing System: Terms are created before the items are analyzed. This is generally a predictable, limited set of terms, with one term for each concept.

Commonly Used Subdivisions: A list of words that can be used as subdivisions for nearly every subject. A list of these is included at the beginning of the Sears List .

Subject Authority: An accepted term from a published list of standard terms to be used as subject headings in the catalog.

Key Heading: A model for using subdivisions under other headings of the same type. A list of these is included at the beginning of the Sears List .

Indirect Heading: A heading that uses a comma in order to collocate headings on similar topics alphabetically (e.g., Gays, Male).

Concept: An idea, person, place, or thing that requires defining.

See Also (SA) and XX: Lead the user to another term that is on the same level of scope as the term in question, or to a term that is narrower in scope than the one in question.

Related Term (RT): Leads the user from one authorized heading to another heading that is on the same level of scope as the heading in question.

Subject Heading List: A written record of authorized and unauthorized subject entries and relationships between authorized and unauthorized headings. This also includes divisions of subjects, and notes indicating the scope of an authorized term.

Pattern Heading: A model for using subdivisions under other headings of the same type. A list of these is included with the Library of Congress Subject Headings .

Dictionary Catalog: A listing of items held in a library by author, title, and subject in a single alphabet.

Broader Term (BT): Leads the user from one authorized heading to another heading that is broader in scope than the one in question.

Subject Heading: A descriptive term or phrase from a subject authority that conveys the meaning of a topic. These form a controlled vocabulary presented in a thesaurus-like structure with links to broader, narrower, and related terms, as well as terms considered but not used.

Use For (UF) and X: Appear under authorized headings, indicating to the user alternate terms that should not be used, but rather included under this authorized heading.

Use and See: Lead the user from a term that is not authorized to a similar term that is authorized.

Narrower Term (NT): Leads the user from one authorized heading to another heading that is Narrower in scope than the one in question.

Phrase Heading: A heading that uses more than one word in proper order. This includes those headings that use a preposition.

Subject Entry: A term or phrase used in a dictionary catalog to express the subjects of items held in a library.

Free-Floating: Subdivision: A list of words that can be used as subdivisions for nearly every subject and is included with the Library of Congress Subject Headings .

Principle of Specific Entry: This principle states that the subject heading selected for each item shall be only as specific as, but not more specific than, the content of the item in hand.

Controlled vocabulary: A list of terms selected to be used as subject headings. This list contains one authorized, or permitted, term or phrase for each concept. The purpose is to ensure that all similar materials are assigned to the same descriptive term or phrase.

Direct Heading: A heading that presents the words in proper English order (e.g., Gay Males).

Subdivisions: Descriptive terms or phrases that further narrow the subject heading to bring out specific aspects of the subject heading.

Authorized Heading: A heading that has been determined by the creator of the subject heading list to be the correct one to use.

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