Monday, June 11, 2012

Treasure Troves: Library of Congress Subject Headings

Full disclosure: I am a Library of Congress subject heading geek.  You know that tab in the book record that says "Find Similar Items"?  I love that tab.  I have found scores of new books & been led down new & interesting catalog byways using that tab.

Ignore, for a moment, the fact that I have actually found a book called The Urban Treasure Hunter, because I personally think that sounds like a pretty interesting title. Look at those subjects!  OK, "Cities and towns" is not so interesting, but would you expect to find "Metal detectors" as a subject heading, let alone "Treasure troves"?!  Here are some entertaining subject headings:

  • Want to learn to be a medium?  There's a subject heading for that.
  • There's only one book under the heading Toilets Social Aspects Juvenile Literature , but I know several kids who might read Flush!: The Scoop on Poop throughout the Ages.  What's not to like about 13 poems featuring "shock value, weird facts, and gross-out references" alongside collage paintings?  It was well-reviewed by Booklist, Horn Book Reviews, & Kirkus, but none of the copies are checked out!
  • Consider the subject heading Specimens.  You can find everything from fonts to upside-down books under its many subheadings.
  • Vertical gardening - for those who want to stand up & garden, or garden in small spaces.
  • Imaginary histories - alternate histories & imaginings of what might have been.
  • Interested in fake science, historical mysteries, or history's worst decisions? Don't miss History - Errors, inventions, etc.!

However, searching by subject is a horse of a different color.  Many customers have tried to search by subject & been frustrated.   I usually try to find a book on my required subject & then look in "Find Similar Items" to link to the subject heading the catalog suggests, because sometimes it's not what I might expect.  For instance:

It's important you, our customers, know that these headings are not arbitrary.  A brief search of the Library of Congress website led me to no less than 3 memos over the space of the year discussing the revision of headings for cooking & cookbooks, so clearly creating & revising the headings is a process!  I also found an essay on Library of Congress subject headings that takes you through some basic guidelines on how subject headings are formed, using Women's History as an example.

If you really want to geek out, a couple of branches of ABC Libraries have copies of  "the Red Books",  the full list of Library of Congress subject headings.  But beware - the full list runs to 5 volumes!

For more subject heading wackiness, The Silverfish Newsletter (the official blog of the students of the Information School at the University of Washington) had a series of posts called "Ridiculous Library of Congress Subject Headings".  Nomads-Sedentarization or Sit-down dancing, anyone?

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