Friday, November 19, 2010

Principles of Sears List of Subject Headings (summary)


The subject cataloging deals with what a book or other library item is about. Its purpose is to list all the materials of a given topic in one uniform word or phrase by the use of subject authority such as Sears List.

Sears List provides a basic vocabulary of authorized terms together with suggestions for useful cross-references. It is alphabetical list of terms and it is unique among subject heading list. The cataloger must develop a larger vocabulary because it is not a complete list of terms. But it is likely to be needed in a typical small library and a skeleton or pattern for creating headings as needed


The first step is to ascertain the true subject of the material being cataloged. There is subject of a work that is easy to determine from its title and cannot be determine from the title alone. Only when the cataloger determined the subject content and identified it with explicit words can the Sears List be used to advantage.

There are books that have more than one subject. In that case, a second or third subject heading would be necessary. More than 3 subject headings should be assigned to a single item. Rule of three states that “As many as three (3) specific subject headings in a given area may be assigned to a work, but if the works treats of more than 3 subject, then a broader heading is used instead and the specific heading is used instead and the specific headings are omitted.

There are always a few works so indefinite in their subject content is better not to assign a heading at all.


Charles A. Cutter’s Rules for a Dictionary Catalog states “Enter a work under its subject heading, not under the heading of a class which includes that subject.” In subject cataloging uniformity means simply that all materials on a single topic are assigned the same subject heading.

The principle of specific entry holds that a work is always entered under a specific term rather than under broader heading that includes specific concepts. When a specific subject is not found in the Sears List, the heading for the larger group or category which it belongs should be consulted


4. a. Topical Headings

Topical subject heading is simply the words or phrase for common things to represent the content of various works. The word commonly used in a literary work should represent the item cataloged. Common usage is one criterion for subject heading. Abiding Cutter’s rule of specificity and choosing a single word or phrase from among its synonyms and near-synonyms are necessary to maintain uniformity in a library catalog. Subject headings should be clear and unambiguous.

In choosing one term as a subject heading from among several possibilities the cataloger must also think of the spelling, number and connotations of the various forms.

4. b. Form of Headings

Form headings mean the intellectual form of the materials. Some form headings describe the general arrangement of the material and the purpose of the work such as Almanacs, Directories, Gazetteers, Encyclopedias and Dictionaries.

Other form headings are literary forms and genres. Headings for major literary forms are used for collections only; for example Fiction, Poetry, Drama and Essays. Minor literary forms (genres) are much more numerous and assigned to individual literary works.

The distinction between form headings and topical headings in literature can sometimes be made by using the singular form for the topical heading and the plural for the form heading the peculiarities of language, however, do not always permit the distinction.

4. c. Geographic Headings

The appropriate subject heading for geographic areas, countries, cities, etc. are the names of the place in question. The Sears List does not attempt to provide geographic headings, which are numerous and far beyond the scope of a single volume. The cataloger must establish geographic headings as needed with the aid of standard reference sources.

4. d. Names

The appropriate heading for individual persons, families, corporate bodies, literary works, motion pictures, etc., is the unique name of the entity in question. There are three major types, personal names, corporate names and uniform titles. Like geographic headings, name headings, are numerous beyond the scope of Sears List and must be established by the cataloger as needed.


5. A. i. Single Nouns

A single noun is the ideal type of the subject heading, the simplest form and easiest to comprehend. Plural is more common, but in practice both are used for subject headings when they have two different meaning.

5. A. ii. Compound Headings

Compound headings link two words with “and”. Some headings links because they are form a single topic, they are closely related and they are closely synonymous. Other headings links with “and” for the relationship between two things.

The only rule is the common usage takes precedence and where there is no established common usage, alphabetic order is preferred.

5. A. iii. Adjective with Nouns

A specific concept is best expressed by a noun with an adjective. There were two possible reasons for inversion:

• An assumption was made that the searcher would think first of the noun.
• The noun was placed first in order to keep all aspects of a broad subject together in an alphabetical listing, as in a card catalog.

5. A. iv. Phrase Headings

Some concepts that involve two or more elements can be expressed only by more or less complex phrases, e.g. Insects as carriers of disease; Violence in popular culture.

5. B. Subdivisions

Two ways to specify the entry in subject heading
• Creation of narrower terms as needed.
• Use of subdivisions under an established term to designate aspects of term.

5. B. i. Topical Subdivision

Topical subdivisions bring out the aspect of a subject or point of view presented in a particular work.
Uniformity can be more readily achieved with subdivisions.

5. B. ii. Geographic Subdivisions

A topical heading with a geographic subdivision means simply topic in a particular places. If the work deals with the subject in general, only the heading itself is used, but if it deals with the subject in a particular place, the heading may be subdivided geographically. Geographic subdivisions can be either direct or indirect. The Sears List uses the direct form of subdivision, whereby topics are subdivided directly by cities, countries, metropolitan areas, etc.

5. B. iii. Chronological Subdivisions

Chronological subdivisions correspond to general accepted period of country’s history or to the spans of time most frequently treated in literature. This makes a search much simpler bringing all works on a single period history. Historical periods vary from one country to another and usually correspond to major dynastic or governmental changes. It is also be used under the country with subdivision politics and government. Other subjects relating to literature and arts may also be subdivided chronologically by century.

5. B iv. Form Subdivisions

Form subdivisions specify the form an item takes. Most common form subdivisions are Bibliography; Catalogs; Dictionaries; Gazetteers; Handbook; Manuals, etc. ; Indexes; Maps; Pictorial works; Portraits; Registers and Statistics. In applying form subdivisions the cataloger should be guided by the character of an item itself not by the title.

5. B. v. The Order of Subdivisions

Subdivision followed the standard order of [Topical]—[Geographic]—[Chronological]—[Form] as of May 1991, organized by Library of Congress in Airlie House, Virginia. Exceptions been made in the field of art.

5. B. vi. Geographic Headings Subdivided by Topic

Airlie House recommends subdividing geographic headings by topic, when these topics pertain to history, geography, or politics of a place.
California – History
Peru – Census
Italy – Politics and government
Bolivia – Boundaries
Paris (France) – Population
Alaska – Climate

The subdivision Defenses / Race relations are used under geographic headings. History / Biography used under geographic headings exactly as they are under topical subjects. Specific instructions for the application of subdivisions are given at the general reference for the subdivision in the List. The subdivision foreign relations can be used only under countries, e.g. United States – Foreign relations.

5. B. vii. Local Materials

State, local or community area materials have an exception to the practice of geographic subdivision. All local materials are entered under the name of the place.

Public buildings – Honolulu (Hawaii) would become Honolulu (Hawaii) – Public buildings
Bridges – Honolulu (Hawaii) would become Honolulu (Hawaii) – Bridges
Materials with geographic specificity other than local materials would still be treated in the ordinary way, with most topics subdivided geographically.


There are areas either the complexity of the material or the vagaries of the English Language create persistent problems.

6. A. Biography

Biography is a form of writing given the topical subject heading Biography as a literary form. It can be a form heading Biography or the form subdivision Biography. It has two groups the collective and the individual biographies.

6. A. i. Collective Biographies

There are works containing biographies of more than three persons. Collective biographies not limited to any area or to any class of persons, e.g. Lives of Famous Men and Women are simply assigned the heading Biography. Often collective biographies are devoted to persons of a single country or geographic area.

Ex: Who’s who in the Arab World
Arab countries – Biography

If there are many entries under any such heading, the biographical dictionaries, with a list a large number of names in alphabetical order, may be separated from the workers with longer articles intended for continuous reading by adding the form subdivision Directories, e.g. United States – Biography – Dictionaries.

Some collective biographies are devoted to lives of a particular class of persons, e.g. Women – Biography; or persons of a particular occupation or profession, e.g. Librarians – Biography. To persons connected with a particular industry, institution or field, e.g. Computer industry – Biography, Catholic Church – Biography. A subject usually broader in scope than a single category of persons associated at the subject, e.g. – Biography would be player – Biography and would be more suitable for a collective biography that includes managers, owners of teams, and other persons associated with the sport.

6. A. ii. Individual Biographies

The subject heading needed for the life of an individual is the name of the person. If a work is an autobiography, the author’s name is entered in the bibliographic record twice as the author and as a subject. Works about their writings or other activities – subdivisions are added to the person’s name, e.g. Jesus Christ and Shakespeare, William, 1464-1616. It should be noted that the use of subdivisions represents the exceptional, not the usual, treatment. For most individual biographies the name alone is sufficient.
Occasionally, a biography will include enough material about the field in which the person worked that second subject heading is required in addition to the personal name. The additional subject headings should be used only when the work contains a significant amount of material about the field of endeavor in addition to the subject’s personal life, not simply because the subject was prominent in that field.

The real reason for not entering individual biographies under categories of persons is that it violates the principle of specific entry.

6. B. Nationalities

The general rule in the national aspect of the subjects is expressed by geographic subdivisions under the topical subject heading.
• Headings that are always stationary are never given national adjectives but subdivided geographically, e.g. Architecture – France.
• Headings that are not stationary are also expressed as topical headings with geographic subdivision, e.g. Automobiles – Germany and Corporations – Japan.
• When transported or replicated to foreign country they are given national adjectives to express national style, ownership or origin and subdivided by the place where they are found, e.g. German automobiles – United States and Japanese corporations – France.
• Persons are subdivided geographically except authors, novelist, dramatist and poets who are given national adjectives.
• Writers such as biographers, journalists, etc. are subdivided geographically.

1. Collective biographers of American poets
 American poets – Biography
2. Collective Biographers of American composers or journalists
 Composers – United States – Biography
• Persons from one country living or working in a foreign country.

 1. American composers in France
 Composers – United States and Americans – France

6. C. Literature

This includes two distinct types of material:
1. Consist of works about literature and such works are assigned topical subject headings for whatever they are about.
2. Consists of literary works themselves and those works are assigned to describe what the item is rather than what is about,

6. C. i. Works about Literature

Works about literary forms are the headings such as Drama, Fiction and Poetry.
• A work about history of poetry or about criticism of poetry, e.g. Poetry – History and criticism.
• A work about the technique of writing plays, e.g. Drama – Technique.
• A form subdivision may also be used.
1. Drama – Dictionaries
2. Poetry – Indexes

Lesser genres such as Science Fiction or Epic poetry are also applicable to works about literature with topical and form subdivisions added as needed.

Literary works are according to the categories characterized by nationality (American literature, Mexican literature and Brazilian literature), language, regions etc. Again for specific forms are expressed by subdivision.

There are also literatures characterized by areas larger than countries (such as Latin America literature or African literature), by languages not limited to or identified with a single country (Latin literature or Arabi erature) or by religions such as Catholi erature or Buddhist literature. When it is written in two or more languages it is identified in parenthesis, e.g. Canadian literature (French). Literatures of minority groups, written in predominant language of that country’s literature are identified by subdivision indicating the author group, e.g. Literature – African American authors. With indigenous minority groups written in their own language are given the name of that language, e.g. Navajo literature.

6. C. ii. Literary Works

Two types of literary works

1. Collection of several authors or anthologies.
• Heading for specific literary forms is literary anthologies.
• Heading for general anthologies are given broad headings, e.g. Literature – Collections; Poetry – Collections; or Drama – Collection.
• For national literatures and the forms of national literatures are given headings subdivision Collections e.g. American literature – Collections and Italian poetry – Collections.
• For minor literary genres such as Science fiction or Pastoral poetry are usually assigned to anthologies without any subdivision

2. Works by a singe author or individual literary works.
• It has no subject heading s. Literary works are best known by author and title.
In the Sears list the headings for minor literary forms and genres is about the topic.

6. C. iii. Themes in Literature

The appropriate heading for the material about topics, locales, or themes in imaginative literature is simply “Topic in literature”. Headings of this type are for critical discussions only, not for literary works.
• Materials about depiction of historical persons in drama, fiction, or poetry are entered under the person’s name with the subdivision In literature such as Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, 1769-1821 – In literature.
• Materials about the depiction of a particular war in drama, fiction or poetry are entered under the heading for the war with subdivision Literature and the war, such as World War, 1939 – 1945 – Literature and the war.

6. D. Wars and Events

Wars fought between two or more nations are given a name followed by a date or dates, as appropriate, such as War of 1812; Israel-Arab War, 1967; World War 1939-1945; etc. Civil wars, insurrections and invasions are entered the history of the country involved (following the dates as with other historical periods.) such as United States – History 1861-1865; Civil war; Cuba – History – 1961, Invasion; etc. Events that have names are given a heading for the name followed by the place and then by the date, such as Tiananmen Square incident, Beijing (China), 1989, and World Trade Center Bombing, New York (N.Y.), 1993. Battles are entered under the name of the battle, but inverted form, with the place of the battle qualified as needed. Recurring events, such as , festivals, etc., are given the recurring name, followed by the date, with the place in parentheses, if the place changes. Unnamed events such as individual riots or tornadoes are entered under the kind of event subdivided by the place of the event.

6. E. Nonbook Materials

The assignment of subject headings for electronic media and for audiovisual and special instructional materials should follow the same principles that are applied to books. Nonbook materials often concentrate on very small aspects of larger subjects, the cataloger may not find in the List the specific heading that should be used. In such instances the cataloger should be generous in adding new subjects as needed. Topical subject headings assigned to nonbook materials should not include form subdivisions to describe physical format, such as motion pictures, slides, sound recordings, etc.


In any system of classification that determines the arrangement of items in the shelves, a work can obviously have only one class number and stand in only one place, but in a catalog the same work can be entered, if necessary, under as many different points of entry as there are distinct subjects in the work (usually, however, not more than three).

Classification is used to gather in one numerical place on the shelf works that give similar treatment to a subject. Subject headings gather in one alphabetical place in a catalog all treatments of a subject regardless of shelf location. Another difference between classification and subject cataloging is that classification is frequently less precise than the subject entries for the catalog.


The library catalog is vital function at the very center of a library, and as such it is always growing and changing to reflect the growing collection and to meet the changing needs of the users. It is a challenge to the cataloger to add new records, revise existing records, and make all the appropriate references, and at the same time maintain the integrity of the catalog.

8. A. Adding new headings

The first thing to be determined is whether or not there is already an existing heading in the List for that concept. Upon consulting the List it becomes clear that those words are not headings but references. At other times the appropriate heading for a book is not a new heading but a new combination of an established heading and a subdivision. 

The cataloger should keep in mind that it is not only appropriate but essential that types of things and examples of things not found in the List be established as headings and added to the List locally as needed. The general references in the List should reinforces in the List should reinforce the point that the List does not aim at completeness and must be expanded. Even where there is no general reference, narrower terms for types of things and examples and instances of things must be added as needed.

8. B. Revising subject headings

All the inverted inverted headings in the Sears List, for example, were eventually revised to the uninverted form. With each new edition of the Sears List a library should consult the List of Canceled and replacement Headings in the front of the volume and revise its catalog accordingly. Any headings created locally based on the pattern set by a Sears heading, and strings consisting of a Sears heading and a subdivision, must also be revised if that heading is revised in Sears.

In card catalog the subjects are physically erased and retyped, either on all the cards on which they appear or on the subject entry cards alone. If in card catalog replacement of aterm ids desirable but the number of bibliographic records to be revised is prohibitive, a history note can be used instead.
In an online catalog the revision process depends upon the software employed in the catalog. If the software provides global update capability, the revision of many bibliographic records at once is simple.

8. C. Making References

References direct the user from terms not used as headings to the term that is used, and form broader and related terms to the term chosen to represent a given subject. The Sears List uses the symbols found in most thesauri to point out the relationships among the terms found in the List and to assist the cataloger in establishing appropriate references in the public catalog based upon these relationships. There are three types of references: See references, See also references and general references.

8. C. i. See References

A cataloger may want to use some or all of them as references, and many catalogers and other see references they deem useful. The references will be more useful; if the cataloger considers materials from the reader’s point of view. The readers profile depends on age, background, education, occupation, and geographical location and takes into account the type of the library such as school, public, university or special.

These are some term that might be used as See references in a catalog
1. Synonyms or terms so nearly synonyms that they would cover the same material.
2. Compound headings
3. The inverted form of heading, either an adjective-noun combination or a phrase heading, especially if the word brought forward is not also the broader term.
4. Variant Spelling
5. The opposite of term, when it is included in the meaning of the term without being specifically mentioned.
6. The former forms of headings revised to reflect the common usage, when the older term is still having much currency.
When the same heading is subsequently assigned to other works, the references are already in place. When the catalogers adds a heading to the authority file as needed, all the appropriate See references are entered as well the first time the heading is used.

8. C. ii. See also References

Under most headings in the sears list, following the Broader term label, is a term that is broader in scope than the heading itself. As a rule, a term has only one broader term, unless it is an example or aspects of two or more things. The broader term serves two functions in the list. The first is to aid the cataloger in finding the best term to assign to a work, and the second is to indicate where See Also references should be made in the public catalog.

Many headings in the sears list following the Related Terms label, one or more terms are listed that present similar or associated subjects. A reference is never made to the heading until there is work entered under the heading in the collection, and if the only work entered under a heading is lost or disregarded the references to that heading must be deleted. References to headings under which there is no materials in the collection are called blind references and to be avoided.

8. C. iii. General References

The field contains a general reference, not to a specific heading, but to a general group or category of things that may be established as headings as needed. An example is the subject heading, Clothing and dress, where the general reference on the record is to See also “types of clothing articles and accessories, {to be added as needed}.” 

Another function of the general reference is to provide instruction in the application of subdivisions. For every subdivision provided, there is a general reference spelling out the use of that subdivision.

8. D. Recording Headings and Reference

All the subject headings used in the catalog and all the references made the cataloger should always kept it. This local authority file may be kept on cards or on a computer .Some catalogers are tempted to do without this process and nothing more consult the catalog whenever there is a question of previous practice. It is not possible to consult the catalog at the heading.

Original cataloging do many libraries instead of getting their cataloging records from outside sources, either from computerized cooperative cataloging utilities or from vendors, often the same companies that sell them their books and other library materials. A library using sears list subject heading will need to apprise the vendor of the fact. When the cataloging records arrive in the library, only a cataloger can made the appropriate references in the local catalog, tailored to that library’s particular collection, which make the records useful to the users.


A library in the twenty-first century is certain to be quite different from what it has been therefore. More information will be available in machine readable form, and ready access to the internet will do doubt charge the way and users seek and find information. The challenge of catalogers in the future is to approach every new technology and theory knowledgeably and fearlessly, judge them against what we know are the soundest principles and embrace the good and reject the spurious, always keeping in mind the ultimate goal of meeting.


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Anglo- American Cataloguing Rules. 2nd ed., 1998 Revisions. Chicago: American Library Association, 1998.
Association for Library Collection and Technical Services. Subject Analysis Committee. Guidelines on Subject Access to Individual Works of Fiction, Drama, etc. Chicago: American Library Association.
Chan, Lois Mai. Cataloging and Classification: an Introduction. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994.
Chan, Lois Mai, Phyllis A. Richmond, and Elaine Svenonius, eds. Theory of subject Analysis: a Sourcebook. Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 1985 [contains excerpts from Charles A. Cutter’s Rules for a Dictionary Catalog.]
Dewey, Melvil. Abridged Dewey Decimal Classification and Relative Index. 13th ed. Edited by Joan S. Mitchell, et al. Albany, N. Y.: Forest Press, 1978.
Foskett, A. C. The Subject Approach to Information. 5th ed. London: Library Association Pub., 1996.
Haykin, David Judson. Subject Headings: a Practical Guide. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1951. Reprint. New York: Gordon Press, 1978.
Interactive Multimedia Guidelines Review Task Force. Guidelines for Bibliographic Description of Interactive Multimedia. Chicago: American Library Association, 1994.
Intner, Shiela S., and Jean Riddle Weihs. Standard Cataloging for School and Public Libraries. 2nd ed. Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 1996.
Lancaster, F. W. Vocabulary Control for Information Retrieval. 2nd ed. Arlington, Va.: Information Resources Press, 1986.
Library Literature & Information Science. New York: The H. W. Wilson Co., 1921-
Library of Congress. Cataloging Policy and Support Office. Subject Cataloging Manual: Subject Headings.5th ed. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1996-
Library of Congress. Office for Subject Cataloging Policy. LC Period Subdivisions under Names of Places. 5th ed. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1994.
Lighthall, Layne. Sears List of Subject Headings; Canadian Companion. 5th ed. New York: The H.W. Wilson Co., 1995.
Taylor, Arlene G. The Organization of Information. Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 1999.
Taylor, Arlene G. Wynar’s Introduction to Cataloging and Classification. 9th ed. Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited. [in press 2000]
Zuiderveld, Sharon, ed. Cataloging Correctly for Kids: An Introduction to the Tools. 3rd ed. Chicago: American Library Association, 1998.


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